Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes, Taxes and Elections

Hurricanes don't usually reach up to Canada, but when they do they can be very disruptive.  Tied as we are to the States we are also very conscious of the damage inflicted on Americans, particularly in the south.  As we like to travel to the US, buy American products and enjoy American culture we are concerned.

It is unusual that such damaging weather can impose itself on the electoral process.  Many have already voted and their opinion will be reflected in who attains office.  They are missing the opportunity to see how both the president and the Republican candidate handle the challenge.  It is an opportunity for the President to look "presidential" while Mr.  Romney can look thoughtful and supportive.  At the moment both campaigns have to move away from the east coast, even though it contains a few swing states.

It is also an opportunity for the voters to reflect on the role of government, including how it can work for everybody and how it is paid for.

Working for everybody includes adding a seriousness to being prepared, supporting evacuation efforts of states and municipalities, providing timely financial support and communication when needed and being available.

The destruction of a major weather event affects everybody and we should all help to restore things back to a healthy normal.  When you go back to scratch or nearly scratch, it illustrates who all benefits from infrastructure.  As part of the 99% we need to get back to normal as quickly as possible to amongst other things restore our income and get our living structures viable.  We want to travel around to get to work or school, for medical attention, shop and visit friends.  The 1% wants us to get to work and to shop and of course they want to get around themselves.

A question might be how do we pay for this?  We all benefit from a restoration, but do we benefit the same?  If workers can't get to work, things don't get made or services don't get performed.  If consumers can't get out to shop or delivery trucks can't stick to their schedule some budgeted projections won't be met.  If workers don't get paid for the disrupted time some bills won't get paid.

In some ways a weather disaster just brings us down to the core basics.   Just like the first settlers to North America or becoming an independent country.  Everyone is in it together.  If we use our resources wisely the damage can be managed, but if we fail to be wise everyone will suffer, although not necessarily equally.

All that is to illustrate some of the logic behind a progressive tax system that some people want to flatten.  In aristocracies, those at the top didn't pay any taxes, but society as a whole did not benefit from this arrangement.  When we work together and pool our resources smartly everyone benefits including at both ends of the spectrum.  When those at the very top contribute their fair share they enjoy greater opportunities and security.  Those at the bottom survive and some of them will go on to not only improve their lot in life, but also contribute to the rest of us.

It is human nature to justify whatever you do (of course you wouldn't do anything immoral) and many of us assume those at the top earned it and those at the bottom deserve their lot in life.  Probably there is some truth to those assumptions, but not everyone got the same opportunity or has the same talent.  Many of us abuse others to either maintain our position or to improve it.  None of us has much control over such things as the weather, the stock market, traffic, disease and many other factors that impact our lives.

A weather disaster is of course unique both in consequences and in causes.  Emergency measures will be taken to mitigate the effects.  The weather is natural and for most of history not always predictable.  A common notion is we all need a "rainy day fund" to help us deal with any emergency.

Weather is still unpredictable, although we have gotten much more sophisticated it still seems a long term forecast has to be changed occasionally.  Scientists  have gradually understood how weather works and are able to measure changes to affect its predictability.  Some developments include the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases on our atmosphere.  Increasing heat affects ice at the poles and water temperatures in hurricane forming waters like the Caribbean.  Some types of pollution actually counter the heat retaining gases while at the same time causing their own problems.  Is any specific weather event proof of climate change--not necessarily, but more likely a factor.

All of us (100%) are part of the problem.  Everyone affects the atmosphere mostly in ways that are relatively insignificant.  Using energy derived from fossil fuels or buying products that are processed through fossil fuel energy is obvious.  Eating meat also adds to the problem.  With an increasing population there is even more pressure.  Thousands of years to reach where we are today, but most scientists who have studied the matter have concluded that we are finally getting close to a tipping point.

The average person is at the mercy of those in power.  We also to some extent are at the mercy of those who claim to be experts on climate change that include those who vote on legislation, corporate powers, scientists, and our friends, neighbours and relatives.  Who do you trust?  How much can you ignore or belittle so you can go about your life the way you have gotten used to?

The good thing is that we have developed better expertise to understand how our planet operates.  The bad news is that some people have entrenched interests that flow against what needs to be done.  I should be honest and recognize that all of us have entrenched interests.  I don't want to change my mode of transport, especially if it will cost more and cut into my standard of living--how about you?  I also realize that most of us with some sort of pension investment are tied into fossil fuels one way or another.  Imagine how someone who has made literally billions from fossil fuel feels about the issues.  Then there are those in the corporate structure who depend on avoiding disruption.

Elections are very much affected by money.  The average voter (really all of us) has limited knowledge of all the factors involved and frankly we would rather spend our time doing what we like doing and what we feel we have to do.  In the meantime those with large piles of money do recognize a threat to their power and will fight back.  From Watergate a popular saying was "follow the money."  It is true that some people do recognize a problem as an opportunity by adopting green energy and a more sustainable life style and can even make a lot of money by these efforts.  Some fossil fuel brokers see an opportunity to join this bandwagon.  However many of those tied up in fossil fuels clearly feel they need to fight back anyway they can.  You can be sure that a good hunk of the $2 billion raised for the two major campaigns is to help maintain the role of fossil fuels.  Canadians and Mexicans also have vested interests in fossil fuels.

The result is a lot of hypocrisy and exploiting other people's ignorance (again that is most of us).  The only defense is to become as knowledgeable as practical and identify core problems and discard prejudices and biases as much as feasible.  You make decisions on an hourly basis that have tiny effects, but that accumulate with other people's decisions and perhaps more importantly set an example.  In the free world, adults have a vote and certainly there are many factors involved to determine the wisest vote, but we need to prioritize what is most crucial.  It is easy to vote for those things that have a perceived positive benefit to us, but more difficult to think long term not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

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