Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Reading

We Can’t Prevent Forest Fires — The wildfires in the Southwest are harbingers of the future, according to Richard Schiffman in The Atlantic.

Handout shows burnt out terrain off of Forest Rd. 141 in the Gila National ForestIf you doubt that climate change is transforming the American landscape, go to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sweltering temperatures there have broken records this summer, and a seemingly permanent orange haze of smoke hangs in the air from multiple wildfires.

Take a ride into the mountains and you’ll see one blackened ridge after another where burns in the past few years have ravaged the national forest. Again, this year, fires in New Mexico and neighboring states of Colorado and Arizona are destroying wilderness areas.

Fire danger is expected to remain abnormally high for the rest of the summer throughout much of the Intermountain West. But “abnormal” fire risks have become the new normal.

The tragic death of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell fire near Prescott, Arizona last Sunday shows just how dangerous these highly unpredictable wind-driven wildfires can be.

The last 10 years have seen more than 60 mega-fires over 100,000 acres in size in the West. When they get that big, firefighters often let them burn themselves out, over a period of weeks, or even months. These fires typically leave a scorched earth behind that researchers are beginning to fear may never come back as forest again.

Fires, of course, are a natural part of the forest lifecycle, clearing out old stands and making way for vigorous new growth out of the carbon-rich ashes. What is not natural is the frequency and destructiveness of the wildfires in the past decade — fires which move faster, burn hotter, and are proving harder to manage than ever before. These wildfires are not exactly natural, because scientists believe that some of the causes, at least, are human-created.

For one thing, the intensity of the recent fires, researchers say, is in part the result of a warming and drying trend which has been underway for over a decade, and which some climate scientists believe will become a permanent condition as anthropogenic climate change continues to increase.

Experts also blame the fire-suppression policy which has been in effect for much of the last century. In the past, frequent low-intensity lightning fires left behind a park-like patchwork of woodlands and open meadows. The Smokey the Bear philosophy of fire prevention interfered with this natural pattern. By always putting fires out rather than letting them burn freely, forests throughout the West have become thick and overgrown.

This well meaning but unwise policy decreased fire dangers in the short term, but increased them exponentially in the long run on 277 million acres of fire-prone public lands. When forests do burn now, instead of the gentler, meandering fires of the past, the unnaturally high fuel loads often make for rampaging fire-storms that typically destroy everything in their path.

Run For the Border — From Joshua Holland at Salon, here’s the next get-rich-quick scheme: border security.

Last week, John McCain gleefully announced that the Senate immigration bill would result in the “most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Indeed, an amendment authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., authorizes a massive increase in border security dollars — including $30 billion for hiring and training 19,000 new border patrol officers over the next 10 years, and over $13 billion for a “comprehensive Southern border strategy” (including 700 miles of high-tech fencing).

What the senators didn’t tout was that the wall is both functionally useless – and will enrich some of the largest military contractors in the world.

Only about half of the country’s unauthorized immigrants entered illegally through the Southern border to begin with. And with illegal entries at a 40-year low, and the undocumented population down by a million from its 2007 peak, the right’s fetish for security spending is shaping up to be a boondoggle for giant defense contractors with a consistent track record of bungling past efforts to “secure the border.”

The amendment passed with 67 votes, including the support of 15 Republicans. NBC News found it “striking” that “some of these Republican senators had opposed previous immigration-reform efforts — like the 2010 DREAM Act.” But, really, it’s not so striking. Immigration reform is being loaded up with a ton of the sort of “bloated government” and “wasteful spending” the right can get behind: military spending.

Perhaps by design, the defense industry is pushing friendly lawmakers to advance the pork-laden bill. Eric Lipton of the New York Times reported that, “the nation’s largest military contractors, facing federal budget cuts and the withdrawals from two wars, are turning their sights to the Mexican border in the hopes of collecting some of the billions of dollars expected to be spent on tighter security if immigration legislation becomes law.”

Another Cheney — Jonathan Martin of the New York Times says Liz Cheney is thinking of running for the Senate.

LUSK, Wyo. — A young Dick Cheney began his first campaign for the House in this tiny village — population 1,600 — after the state’s sole Congressional seat finally opened up. But nowadays, his daughter Liz does not seem inclined to wait patiently for such an opening.

Ms. Cheney, 46, is showing up everywhere in the state, from chicken dinners to cattle growers’ meetings, sometimes with her parents in tow. She has made it clear that she wants to run for the Senate seat now held by Michael B. Enzi, a soft-spoken Republican and onetime fly-fishing partner of her father.

But Ms. Cheney’s move threatens to start a civil war within the state’s Republican establishment, despite the reverence many hold for her family.

Mr. Enzi, 69, says he is not ready to retire, and many Republicans say he has done nothing to deserve being turned out.

It would bring about “the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming if she decides to run and he runs, too,” Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from the state, said in an interview last week. “It’s a disaster — a divisive, ugly situation — and all it does is open the door for the Democrats for 20 years.”

The developments underscore the complicated relationship between the Beltway-centered Cheney family and the sparsely populated state that provided its political base. Dick and Lynne Cheney, who divide their time between McLean, Va., a home on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and a house near Jackson Hole, Wyo., are widely admired here.

Liz Cheney, who grew up in McLean and moved her family to the Jackson Hole area last year, is eager to establish her Cowboy State credentials, peppering social media sites with photos of her children’s horse-riding competitions and descriptions of Wyoming as “God’s Country.”

Ms. Cheney’s ambitions reflect a greater tension within the Republican Party as a younger generation feels less reluctance to challenge incumbents in the party, especially if they are seen as too consensus-minded or insufficiently conservative.

Doonesbury — Ghost writers in the sky.

3 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. So… if the R’s succeed in spending $43bn of federal money “securing” the border, how much will they spend subsidizing your and my grocery bills as veggies rot in the fields with no one available to pick them? Contractor boondoggle, indeed. When I was a government contractor, I was too much a fool to choose a service that John McCain would “gleefully” pay for… my error!

    • You’re right about needing people to pick fruits and veggies. However, the Messicans just take jobs away from our fine citizens who should be glad to work in the fields. /snark

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