Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Japan’s Notable Population Experiment

Somewhere around 2010 Japan’s population peaked at 128 million.  Since then it has fallen by about 1 million.  The world’s population reached 7 billion around 2011.  It has continued to rise as about a twelfth of a billion people are added each year.  At that rate the world would have about 15 billion people by the year 2100.  This is a worst case scenario.  Experts expect the growth rate to decrease significantly over time, but still yield a growing population of 11.2 billion at 2100.  For those who believe we already have more people than the planet can tolerate, an increase of over 50% is difficult to contemplate.  Meanwhile, Japan’s population is expected to continue falling for the foreseeable future—at the rate of about 1 million people per year.  It is projected to reach a population of 86 million in 2060.

Why should we be interested in the future of Japan?  If the world is to continue to be hospitable to humankind, we must dramatically lower our impact on it.  The best way to do this is to decrease the number of people competing for limited resources and producing various forms of pollution.  Economists tend to deny the viability of an economy with a falling population.  They argue that an aging population requires an ever growing number of workers to support the increasing number of seniors.  Unfortunately, this implies populations growing without end.  Japan seems determined to follow along its current path.  If it can continue to provide a healthy economy for its people, it will demonstrate that foolish economists are in fact foolish, and will set an example for the rest of the world.

The journal The Economist always promotes the conventional wisdom of the economics profession.  In a recent article it took Japan and its leaders to task for not opening its borders and allowing hordes of immigrants in to provide cheap labor for its businesses.

“The country has remained relatively closed to foreigners, who make up only 2% of the population of 127m, compared with an average of 12% in the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Yet Japan is especially short of workers. Fully 83% of firms have trouble hiring, according to Manpower, a recruiting firm, the highest of any country it surveys. And the squeeze is likely to become much worse. The population is projected to drop to 87m by 2060, and the working-age population (15-64) from 78m to 44m, because of ageing.”

One of the most firmly entrenched orthodoxies of the economics profession holds that low unemployment and high worker demand inevitably leads to inflation.  According to the IMF Data Mapper, Japan currently has an unemployment rate of 3.3% and an inflation rate of -0.2%.  Japan has long had low unemployment and a deflationary economy.  Sometimes societies deviate from economic models.

The article looks hopefully for slight trends toward greater approval of immigration.

“Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, says he would prefer to raise the relatively low proportion of Japanese women who work, and to keep all Japanese working later in life, before admitting droves of foreigners. But his government has nonetheless taken a few small steps to boost immigration. It has quietly eased Japan’s near-ban on visas for low-skilled workers, with agreements to allow foreign maids to work in special economic zones. It is now talking about relaxing requirements for Filipino carers. The authorities have also made student and trainee visas easier to obtain, and turned a blind eye to those who exploit them to recruit staff for jobs that involve very little study or training at kombinis (the ubiquitous corner stores, often staffed by Chinese) or in forestry, fishing, farming and food-processing.”

“All this is starting to make a difference. Last year the number of foreign permanent residents reached a record 2.23m, a 72% increase on two decades ago—and the number of people on non-permanent visas is also rising. But the goal seems to be a surreptitious increase in the number of temporary workers and a more accommodating system for skilled workers, not the settlement of foreigners on a grand scale. Only tiny numbers of foreigners become Japanese citizens….and even fewer are granted asylum: only 27 in 2015, a mere 0.4% of applicants.”

The article then draws its inevitable conclusion.

“But the economic case for a bigger influx is undeniable. For those, like Mr Abe, who speak of national revival, there are few alternatives.”

But is Japan really in need of a dramatic “revival”?  And has a stagnant and now falling population been a problem?  Economists tell us that a growing number of workers are a good thing.  They also tell us that many occupations will be replaced by computers or automation in the coming years.  This apparent inconsistency is dealt with by claiming that eliminating jobs always creates new jobs.  Always?  It happened once in the past and generated great suffering and a few revolutions.  Projecting the future to be an extension of the past is a good way to get in trouble.  If instead of the necessity of creating new jobs, Japan can combine its falling population with its cleverness in automating tasks it may find itself on a healthier trajectory than the rest of the world.

Alec Ross assesses where Japan is headed in an important area related to its changing demographics in his book The Industries of the Future.

“Japan already leads the world in robotics, operating 310,000 of the 1.4 million industrial robots in existence across the world.  It is turning to eldercare robots in part because it has to and in part because it, uniquely, is in a great position to leverage its advanced industrial technology toward the long assembly line of the human life span.  But can robots really take care of humans?”

“Japan’s private and public sectors certainly think so.  In 2013, the Japanese government granted $24.6 million to companies focusing on eldercare robotics.  Japan’s prominent Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry chose 24 companies in May 2013 to receive subsidies covering one-half to two-thirds of the R&D cost for nursing care robots.  Tasks for these robots include helping the elderly move between rooms; keeping tabs on those likely to wander; and providing entertainment through games, singing, and dancing.”

All of this might seem fanciful, but if the economists have their way they will talk Japan into breeding or importing many millions of workers and condemning them to lives of low wages and menial tasks.  Let us hope that Japan is successful in this endeavor.  That will make it that much easier for the rest of the advanced world to free itself from the perceived need to continue to grow its population.

Japan has a viable economy.  It has maintained a positive growth in GDP per capita—the true measure of economic growth—comparable to that of other developed nations.  It has its societal peculiarities like any other country.  Let us leave it be and hope that it succeeds in gracefully lowering its population.  Japan and the world will be better places for it.  One should also recognize that massive, highly populated China is rumbling down the same path as Japan with similar aging and declining population issues. If China gets it wrong the whole world will notice.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Listen Liberal: Thomas Frank Tries to School the Democratic Party

Thomas Frank has long been an insightful commentator on political matters.  His latest effort takes to task Democratic leadership for directing the Party away from what Frank believes is its true mission: serving the needs of the middle and working classes.  He presents his case in Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?

In his introduction he details the growth in inequality in recent decades and points out that whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge mattered not as the health of the middle class declined.  He then states his intention to prove the following statements about the Democratic Party.

“This is not because they are incompetent or because sinister Republicans keep thwarting the righteous liberal will.  It is Democratic failure, straight up and nothing else.  The agent of change isn’t interested in the job at hand.  Inequality just doesn’t spark their imagination.  It is the point at which their famous compassion peters out.”

“What I am suggesting is that their inability to address the social question is not accidental.  The current leaders of the Democratic Party know their form of liberalism is somehow related to the good fortune of the top 10 percent.  Inequality, in other words, is a reflection of who they are.  It goes to the heart of their self-understanding.”

Those are rather serious charges for a liberal to hurl at the liberal political party.  Let us proceed with his arguments before deciding if Frank might be correct.

Frank describes Democrats as “the party that was once such a militant defender of workers and the middle class.”  The “once” referred to was the good old days of Roosevelt as contrasted with the bad new days of Clinton (Bill) and Obama.

After the Roosevelt and Truman years and the prosperity that followed, the Democrats might have declared victory and rested on their laurels, but they knew that the world and the people in it were changing and they would have to change with them.  As the Democrats deliberated over the years, they incorporated a premise that Frank found unjustified and inconsistent with their principles.

“What remained constant throughout these decades of wandering was a certain knowledge of what Democrats were not.  On this, everyone agreed: Democrats could no longer be the party of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition, with its heavy reliance upon organized labor and its tendency to see issues through the lens of social class.  Through the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties, and into the Aughts, as different Democratic reform movement came and went, this was the universal thesis: The New Deal coalition was done for.”

By the 1970s it was clear that the Labor Movement was not going to produce an organized worker class.  And if there was such a thing as a worker class it was divided among itself as the southern laborers refused to unionize and insisted on reelecting anti-union legislators.  If the South was not on board then the northern unions were always at threat of having work moved south.  In addition, the working class seemed ominously attracted to the 1968 campaign of George Wallace.

“Democratic leaders decided to reorient the party after 1968 not because this was necessary for survival but because they distrusted their main constituency and had started to lust after a new and more sophisticated one.”

While the nation never quite generated a “worker class,” Frank believes it did create a “professional class,” based on “merit, learning, and status.”

“….we must understand that there are different hierarchies of power in America, and while oligarchy theory exposes one of them—the hierarchy of money—many of the Democrats’ failings arise from another hierarchy: one of merit, learning, and status.”

“ We lampoon the Republican hierarchy of money with the phrase ‘the one percent’; if we want to recognize what has wrecked the Democratic Party as a populist alternative, however, what we need to scrutinize is more like the Ten Percent, the people at the apex of the country’s hierarchy of professional status.”

Frank seems to use the term “professional” to refer to those who are highly educated or highly trained in a particular field and have attained recognition as being expert in that area.  One might think that it would be a good thing for politicians to surround themselves with such people in order to obtain expert advice in formulating policies.  Frank disagrees. 

Recognized professionals are assumed to have advanced to their high status because they earned it and thus are worthy of their place.  Unfortunately, it is easy to turn this around and imply that those who have not achieved the status of “professional” are in some way unworthy.  Since the path to professionalism is via education, then one can conclude that the answer to inequality is to provide poor people better education.

“The professional class is defined by its educational attainment, and every time they tell the country that what it needs is more schooling, they are saying: Inequality is not a failure of the system; it is a failure of you.”

The concept of merit by which the highly educated justify their lofty positions puts them at odds with what Frank views as the Democrats traditional constituency.

“….professionals do not hold that other Democratic constituency, organized labor, in particularly high regard.  This attitude is documented in study after study of professional-class life.  One reason for this is because unions signify lowliness, not status.  But another is because solidarity, the core value of unions, stands in stark contradiction to the doctrine of individual excellence that every profession embodies.  The idea that someone should command good pay for doing a job that doesn’t require specialized training seems to professionals to be an obvious fallacy.”

While one might assume that surrounding oneself with “the best and the brightest” is a great strategy, Frank warns that professionalism carries with it the burden of conformity and a certain deficit of imagination.

“….professional ideology brings with it certain predictable, recurring weaknesses.  The first of these pitfalls of professionalism is that people with the highest status aren’t necessarily creative or original thinkers….professionals do not question authority; their job is to apply it.  This is the very nature of their work and the object of their training….professionals are ‘obedient thinkers’ who ‘implement their employers’ attitudes’ and carefully internalize the reigning doctrine of their discipline, whatever it happens to be.”

“In addition, the professions are structured to shield insiders from accountability.  This is what defines the category: professionals do not have to listen.  They are the only occupational group, as the sociologist Eliot Freidson put it many years ago, with ‘the recognized right to declare…”outside” evaluation illegitimate and intolerable’.”

“Every academic discipline with which I have some experience is similar: international relations, political science, cultural studies, even American history.  None of them are as outrageous as economics, it is true, but each of them is dominated by some convention or ideology.  Those who succeed in a professional discipline are those who best absorb and apply its master narrative.”

It gets even worse.  Frank ascribes to professionalism the cause of the worst crimes Democratic leaders have committed over the years: the quest for bipartisan solutions.

“One final consequence of the ideology of professionalism is the liberal class’s obsessive pining for consensus.”

“This obsession, so peculiar and yet so typical of our times, arises from professionals’ well-known disgust for partisanship and their faith in what they take to be apolitical solutions.”

Much of Frank’s book is devoted to how this embrace of the professional class and its faults by Democratic leadership rendered the Clinton and Obama presidencies ineffective, if not actively harmful.  Clinton was surrounded by the conventional wisdom of his entourage telling him he had to move to the center and become less liberal, thus fostering harmful legislation.  Obama wasted much of his presidency trying to negotiate bipartisan deals.  He should have broken up the banks and jailed all the financial criminals.  And so on.

Finally Frank arrives at this conclusion.

“The Democrats posture as the ‘party of the people’ even as they dedicate themselves ever more resolutely to serving and glorifying the professional class.  Worse: they combine self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning.  And every two years, they simply assume that being non-Republican is sufficient to rally voters of the nation to their standard.  This cannot go on.”

“The course of the party and the course of the nation can both be changed, but only after we understand that the problem is us.”

Frank often conflates the terms “worker class” and “middle class.”  If one walked the streets in the US asking people if they belonged to the worker class it is likely that very few would apply that label to themselves.  If one asked the same people if they belonged to the middle class almost all are likely to claim membership. A bit more precision is called for if the present, past, and future of the Democratic Party are to be evaluated.

Steve Fraser provides a comprehensive history of what passed as a worker class in the US and how it evolved in The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power.  If there ever was a worker class in this nation it would be associated with the unionization battles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  If one needed to conjure up a worker class at the moment it might be appropriate to associate that label with the collection of unionized workers of the current era.

Frank brings up the fact that there are European countries where union membership is national in scope, and where unions and management have settled into stable and well-defined roles.  The system works.  He seems to assume that if it can work in Germany it can work in the US.

Fraser’s narrative produces a much more complex situation in our country than in European nations.  The goal of worker unity here always seemed to be threatened by the demon pair of immigration and race.  Consider his description of the workers striking against United States Steel early in the twentieth century.

“Tragically, the labor question merged directly into the country’s racial dilemma.  The steel strike failed to humanize the industry in part because these impoverished and degraded workers didn’t constitute a united proletarian army after all, the fears of their foes notwithstanding.  They were instead ‘micks,’ ‘guineas,’ ‘Hunkies,’ ‘Polacks,’ and ‘niggers,’ whose mutual distrust and even hatred corroded their solidarity.  The once despised Irish, now lodged at the top of the workplace hierarchy, thought of themselves as ‘white’; the Slavs and the Italians couldn’t be sure just what they were as they faced the contempt of their Irish foremen and gang leaders.  But at least they knew they weren’t ‘darkies.’  Even while the strikers were displaying extraordinary courage in facing off against United States Steel and the vast infrastructure of power it could bring to its defense, the strike became a theater of primordial tribalism, proving how impossible it was to separate the labor question from the race question.  And African Americans could have no doubt they were the mudsills of the steelworker community, only allowed in at all to subvert the organizing efforts of their fellow workers as spies, as scabs, as people so intimidated and desperate they could be cynically manipulated.”

This “theater of primordial tribalism” managed to hold itself together for a few decades and the legality of unionization was established.  But this “worker class” continued to be unstable and racial strife coupled with Cold War ideology soon led to its inevitable decline.

The corporate world was always searching for opportunities to attack the New Deal and anyone promoting “foreign” ideas.  The apparent success of the Russian Revolution and the power of the Soviet Union spread fear throughout the nation that could be put to use.

“Even during World War II, but with immeasurably greater force right afterward, every element of the labor-liberal outlook—from racial equality to universal health insurance, from union power to public housing, from government regulation to economic planning, from welfare to women’s rights, from academic freedom to free expression in the arts—was subjected to a withering assault.  They were stigmatized as disguised forms of communism, indubitably ‘Un-American’.”

Labor leaders knew that their hard-fought gains would be at risk unless they managed to unionize the South.  If they failed, the South would become a haven for companies trying to escape the wage demands of unions.

“Its achievements in unionizing millions were historic.  But to continue them was vital: either grow or lose ground.  Cracking the ‘solid South,’ infamous for hostility to unions, and home (as the whole Sun Belt would eventually become) to firms running away from the threat of unionized labor, was strategically critical.  The labor movement tried.  But the attempt was doomed.  The region’s racial divisions were difficult enough to surmount.  A one-party political system run by landlords, the labor lords of the textile industry, the mercantile elite, and captive Protestant churches also stood in the way.  The anti-Communist persuasion that conflated unionizing with communism stopped the CIO’s Operation Dixie in its tracks.”

Succumbing to the pressures of the time along with its own internal weaknesses, the labor movement retreated to a mode in which protecting existing gains became the focus rather than extending their goals to a universal “working class.”

“Labor no longer appeared on the stage of public life battling for universal welfare, championing the cause of all working people; it seemed increasingly concerned with its conspicuously better-off membership, which was also conspicuously white and male.  The roots of today’s scapegoating of unions by business, policy makers, and even ordinary but less protected working people go back to that.”

In the era about which Frank writes, the union/worker class was sufficiently diminished, and even unpopular enough, that its support could not form the philosophical basis for a healthy Democratic Party.  The Democrats were correct in treating unions as a component of a broader constituency.

Frank likes to compare the expediency of the Clinton/Obama years with the “purity” of Roosevelt and the New Deal era.  However, it should be recalled that in order to pass New Deal legislation, Roosevelt acquiesced to the demands of his southern Democrats and effectively allowed all African Americans to be excluded from the benefits of social security legislation.  That was a political accommodation that was, in retrospect, as odious as any actions taken by Clinton and Obama that, in retrospect, have infuriated Frank.

Frank’s construction of a professional class and his description of its shortcomings are quite startling.  He seems to equate professionalism with the academic elite, find shortcomings in our university departments, then apply those faults to everyone.  Clearly, a professional class would also have to include legions of lawyers, physicians, business executives, financial managers, and educators—a diverse bunch indeed.

University elites would then constitute a small sliver of this class, but likely the most influential in government circles.  Are his criticisms of academic leaders valid?  Perhaps his most relevant criticism is that academic departments breed conformity of beliefs.  His best example arises in the field of economics where a given school might foster a particular ideology and only allow in faculty members whose beliefs conform to that ideology.  That is not the same thing as saying that candidates will change their belief system in order to conform and thus perhaps be hired.  There are other universities where different schools of thought dominate and departments look for a different class of candidate.  Competition is maintained within the discipline of economics even if individual departments might not encourage it internally.  This type of effect is common in many fields of study.  The really good schools will generally not allow themselves to fall into this conformity trap.

Frank suggests that university elites are somehow trained be obedient to their masters, the government leaders who hire them for their expertise.  To repeat Frank:

“….professional ideology brings with it certain predictable, recurring weaknesses.  The first of these pitfalls of professionalism is that people with the highest status aren’t necessarily creative or original thinkers….professionals do not question authority; their job is to apply it.  This is the very nature of their work and the object of their training….professionals are ‘obedient thinkers’ who ‘implement their employers’ attitudes’ and carefully internalize the reigning doctrine of their discipline, whatever it happens to be.”

It is not clear what Frank’s experience is in dealing with academic superstars, but most people would probably use adjectives like “arrogant,” “pompous,” “stubborn,” ‘intolerable,” rather than “obedient thinker” in describing them.  The idea that our universities turn out intellectual wimps is so foreign to experience that Frank risks invalidating everything he claims by promoting such ideas.

Where does the Democratic Party find itself today?  It has a coalition that includes African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.  It is the party of choice for young people, the college educated, union members, and many classifications of women.  They have dealt themselves a strong hand.  Who are the Democrats contending against?  Their opponents are mostly poorly-educated whites stoked by racial resentments—a form of white nationalism.  Many of the Republican voters are exactly the people who Frank claims the Democrats betrayed: members of his working/middle class.

You can’t help people who refuse to be helped.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ground Zero for Sea-Level Rise: South Florida

Discussions of global warming and its effects are usually posed in terms of what awaits us in the future.  However, for some places the future has already arrived.  In The Siege of Miami, Elizabeth Kolbert provides an excellent account of the impact of rising sea levels as they are now being experienced in South Florida. The article appeared in The New Yorker.

Many predictions of sea-level rise by the end of this century fall in the range of several feet.  However, these predictions are highly uncertain and others believe the rise could be much greater, including one of Kolbert’s hosts in the Miami area: Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department.

“Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.”

“’Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,’ he [Wanless] told me.”

These estimates of much higher sea levels are not unreasonable given that the Greenland icepack alone holds enough water to raise sea levels by twenty feet.

Kolbert provides perspective on what havoc a few feet of sea-level rise can cause.

“Many of the world’s largest cities sit along a coast, and all of them are, to one degree or another, threatened by rising seas. Entire countries are endangered—the Maldives, for instance, and the Marshall Islands. Globally, it’s estimated that a hundred million people live within three feet of mean high tide and another hundred million or so live within six feet of it. Hundreds of millions more live in areas likely to be affected by increasingly destructive storm surges.”

“Against this backdrop, South Florida still stands out. The region has been called ‘ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise.’ It has also been described as ‘the poster child for the impacts of climate change,’ the ‘epicenter for studying the effects of sea-level rise,’ a ‘disaster scenario,’ and ‘the New Atlantis.’ Of all the world’s cities, Miami ranks second in terms of assets vulnerable to rising seas—No. 1 is Guangzhou—and in terms of population it ranks fourth, after Guangzhou, Mumbai, and Shanghai.”

South Florida has characteristics that make it particularly vulnerable, like its topography.

“In Miami-Dade County, the average elevation is just six feet above sea level. The county’s highest point, aside from man-made structures, is only about twenty-five feet, and no one seems entirely sure where it is….Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, is equally flat and low, and Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, is even more so.”

The land consists of porous limestone which is easily penetrated by water.  In its natural state there was plenty of freshwater flow on the surface to keep salty sea water from penetrating too far inland.  With development, the region had to be dried out and water flow controlled.  Water level in a system of canals was kept at an elevated value in order to perform this same function.  But as sea level rises the system is no longer able to control what is referred to as the “saltwater front.”  The water table also rises diminishing the capacity of the land to absorb water from storms.

“Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have found that with just six more inches of sea-level rise the district will lose almost half its flood-control capacity. Meanwhile, what’s known as the saltwater front is advancing. One city—Hallandale Beach, just north of Miami—has already had to close most of its drinking wells, because the water is too salty. Many other cities are worried that they will have to do the same.”

In some places threatened by encroaching seas it is possible to consider building some sort of barrier to hold the rising water out.  Not so in South Florida where its limestone structure would allow the water to seep under any structure and equalize the levels on each side.

And it gets worse.  It seems the sea level in South Florida is rising much faster than for the world as a whole.

“For the past several years, the daily high-water mark in the Miami area has been racing up at the rate of almost an inch a year, nearly ten times the rate of average global sea-level rise. It’s unclear exactly why this is happening, but it’s been speculated that it has to do with changes in ocean currents which are causing water to pile up along the coast.”

Kolbert spent much of her Florida time in Miami Beach, a city on a small island off the coast.  Flooding is common there as high tides regularly cause sea water to flow up through the storm drains.

“The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation.”

Real estate developers seem to have gone about their business oblivious to any flooding concerns.  Kolbert relates what she encountered on a short drive with the geologist Wanless.

“Wanless turned onto a side street, and soon we were confronting a pond-sized puddle. Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf.”

“We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.”

“’This is today, you know,’ Wanless said. ‘This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise’.”

The people of Miami Beach know they have a problem.  The mayor seems to have a plan.

“He described the steps his administration was taking to combat the effects of rising seas. These include installing enormous underground pumps that will suck water off the streets and dump it into Biscayne Bay.  Six pumps have been completed, and fifty-four more are planned.”

When asked if all this effort constituted a “solution” the mayor stated his belief that technology would come to the rescue.

“Thirty or forty years from now, he said, ‘We’re going to have innovative solutions to fight back against sea-level rise that we cannot even imagine today’.”

Others, including the geologist Wanless, are doubtful that Miami Beach has a long-term future.

“To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.”

Kolbert and Wanless leave us with this image of what the future will bring.

“’If we don’t plan for this,’ he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, ‘these are the new Okies.’ I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.”

The interested reader might find these articles informative:

Putting Climate Change in Perspective

Climate Change: Global Warming and Global Dimming

Geoengineering, Volcanoes, and Climate Change Experiments

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Protecting the Wealthy: Republicans, Trump, and the Assault on the IRS

To those who might be wondering why the Republican Party leaders are continuing to support Donald Trump as their presidential candidate as he does everything conceivable to lose the election and embarrass Republican politicians everywhere, Paul Krugman provides an interesting perspective.  Krugman titled his New York Times article Pieces of Silver, clearly suggesting betrayal on an extraordinary scale is taking place.

“By now, it’s obvious to everyone with open eyes that Donald Trump is an ignorant, wildly dishonest, erratic, immature, bullying egomaniac. On the other hand, he’s a terrible person. But despite some high-profile defections, most senior figures in the Republican Party — very much including Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader — are still supporting him, threats of violence and all. Why?”

He suggests a few reasons why party leaders refuse to dump Trump.  The first is that they refuse to act like honorable people because they are, in fact, not honorable people.  He also suggests that they are afraid to act because they have always known what is only now becoming apparent to everyone else: the Republican Party’s success has been based on the promotion of white nationalism.  Repudiating Trump would be the same as repudiating the Party’s voter base.

Krugman chooses to focus on the Party leaders’ long-time role as enablers of the wealthy.

“But there’s a third answer, which can be summarized in one number: 34.”

“What’s that? It’s the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the average federal tax rate for the top 1 percent in 2013, the latest year available. And it’s up from just 28.2 in 2008, because President Obama allowed the high-end Bush tax cuts to expire and imposed new taxes to pay for a dramatic expansion of health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Taxes on the really, really rich have gone up even more.”

If Clinton wins the election, the top tax rate is not going down, although, conceivably, it might go up.  If Trump wins the election, they will have the power to dramatically lower the taxes on their plutocrat rulers.

“So if you’re wealthy, or you’re someone who has built a career by reliably serving the interests of the wealthy, the choice is clear — as long as you don’t care too much about stuff like shunning racism, preserving democracy and freedom of religion, or for that matter avoiding nuclear war, Mr. Trump is your guy.”

This is betrayal at the Benedict Arnold level—if not greater.

“But whatever doubts they may be feeling don’t excuse their actions, and in fact make them even less forgivable. For the fact is that right now, when it matters, they have decided that lower tax rates on the rich are sufficient payment for betraying American ideals and putting the republic as we know it in danger.”

There is another act of betrayal taking place as Republican leaders continue their assault on one of our most important institutions, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  When one considers the level of dysfunction in our houses of Congress, comparisons with Greece come to mind.  However, there is one major difference that separates us from such a failing state: our citizens are generally willing to pay their taxes—so far.  The Republican-led congress has been cutting the IRS budget and has been trying to discredit its functionality in order both to support their small-government bias and to protect their wealthy allies from rigorous enforcement of tax laws.  Both approaches could have the dangerous consequence of convincing taxpayers that the system is rigged against them. “ If dishonesty is common, why should I be honest?”  And then we become Greece.

Martin Lobel provides some insight into what has been occurring in How Plutocrats Cripple the IRS.  This piece was published in The American Prospect.

“For every dollar appropriated to the Internal Revenue Service, the public collects more than $4 in taxes. Nonetheless, Congress has cut the IRS appropriations by $1.2 billion since 2010 while expanding the service’s administrative burdens by giving it responsibility for enforcing laws extraneous to tax collection, such as the Affordable Care Act.”

“Overall, the budget cuts reduced IRS staffing by 15 percent since 2010. That budget cut translated into a reduction of more than 2,200 revenue agents. The result: Tax fraud investigations plummeted by 43 percent for individuals and 58 percent for businesses. And that trend is accelerating. In 2014 alone, almost 1,000 enforcement personnel were lost, resulting in 11 percent fewer examinations in FY2014 than FY2013. And the IRS expects to lose between 2,000 and 3,000 employees this year. What makes it even worse is that many of those departing are experienced employees who will have to be replaced by inexperienced ones who won’t get sufficient training—budget cuts have forced an 85 percent cut in employee training.”

One way to diminish confidence in an institution is to render it inaccessible and unhelpful.

“Unfortunately, because of the 10 percent cut in IRS appropriations since 2010, there are fewer employees to respond. In 2015, only 38 percent of taxpayers could get through to the IRS on the phone. What does that do to a citizen’s respect for the IRS?”

“In response to pleas from seven former IRS commissioners, Congress did approve a $290 million increase in appropriations for customer service in FY2016, which should allow the hiring of up to 1,000 customer-service personnel. This should increase the number of calls answered this year from 38 percent to 60 percent, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Unfortunately, there was no increase in the IRS enforcement budget.”

Congress also directs the IRS to engage in dubious practices which seem to consist more of harassment than fiscally responsible behavior.

“For all taxpayers, the average risk of being audited in 2014 was just under 1 percent.  Interestingly, if you reported no adjusted gross income, the risk of being audited was 5.26 percent. Why? Because of Congress’s demand for more audits of Earned Income Tax Credit recipients—who are low-income earners.  Meanwhile, the audit percentage for those who reported between $500,000 and $1 million in adjusted gross income was 3.62 percent.”

And, of course, the wealthier one is, the greater the opportunity to benefit from a resource-poor IRS.

“Plutocrats, the richest 0.1 percent of Americans, get the most benefit from a weakened IRS. Because they have the money, the lawyers, the lobbyists, the accountants, and the secret campaign funds, they are able to ensure that the IRS won’t have the resources to effectively collect the money they owe to it. Plutocrats do this by devising tax shelters too complex for the IRS to challenge at an acceptable cost, and by having allies in Congress who intimidate the IRS from issuing tough regulations and who cut IRS funding to prevent adequate enforcement.”

“The IRS estimates that only about 1 percent of wages reported by employers to the government are underreported, but underreporting could be as high as 56 percent where there is no outside reporting of income to the IRS. That describes most of the income of the very rich, which comes from capital income and very complex financial plays designed to maximize profits and minimize taxes.”

The IRS does try to assess the tax returns of the very wealthy, but is hindered by its lack of support from Congress and by its lack of resources.

“At the very top, the audit figure did rise to 16.22 percent for those who reported adjusted gross income of over $10 million a year.”

“But many such investigations into plutocrats’ creative tax accounting were aborted because a great deal of sophisticated manpower is required to breach the walls hiding tax avoidance or evasion that are erected by the plutocrats’ army of financial advisers, lawyers, and accountants. A relatively simple example is a maneuver in which an investor swaps dividend-paying stocks with a bank, which lends the stocks to a third party in a country with a low tax on dividends. This transaction provides no economic benefit except to the lawyers, accountants, and bankers; its sole purpose is tax avoidance. The bank earns a fee for arranging the transaction, and the original owner still owns the stock but receives more money than he would have if he just held the stock and had to pay taxes on the dividend income. Everyone wins but the IRS—and the other taxpayers who have to make up the difference.”

“….such swaps generated about $259 million in fees for Bank of America alone in 2013.”

Lobel concludes with a sentiment quite similar to that expressed by Krugman.

“The media need to do a better job of informing the public of what is at stake and what needs to be done. Voters have to know who has been selling them out to the plutocrats so they can hold them accountable. Those politicians who have hidden behind the tax-cutting theology so as to feed off the plutocrats’ money have to understand that opposing an effective IRS and opposing real tax reform will result in lost elections. Otherwise, the shift of wealth to the top 0.1 percent, away from the middle class, will continue to undermine our economy.”

Lobel used this as his lede, but it serves equally well as a conclusion.

“You pay more because elites use their influence to pay less.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Refugees Find a Home In….Idaho?

The Republican Party has long been a home for those who feel threatened by newcomers who are “different” in some way.  Hispanics who have arrived legally or otherwise have been the most constant target of their ire.  With the immigration issues in Europe, and the acts of terrorism here and in Europe, Muslims have become the target of greatest suspicion.  Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for president (at this time, at least), has powered his candidacy by making threats to eliminate, partially, or entirely, immigration from countries with a significant Muslim population.  This issue has been made more acute by the large numbers of refugees fleeing from the turmoil in the Middle East.

An article in The Economist describes relevant developments that have occurred in the small and remote (from Washington politics) city of Twin Falls, Idaho.  First, some background.

“After terrorist outrages in Paris, California and Brussels, in some cases involving attackers who arrived as asylum-seekers, more than two dozen governors and numerous members of Congress have decried the decision, made by Barack Obama in September 2015, to increase the number of Syrians admitted as refugees in fiscal 2016 to 10,000, up from 2,000 the previous year.”

“What’s going on is that whereas 158,655 Syrians completed asylum applications in Germany in 2015, Mr Obama’s much more modest target may be missed. Between October 1st, the start of the current fiscal year, and May 23rd, a total of 2,235 Syrian refugees were resettled in America.”

What does this have to do with Twin Falls?  It turns out Twin Falls has been in the refugee business for decades—and has been quite happy with its role.

“Twin Falls knows more about asylum-seekers than many towns its size. Idaho, with just 1.6m people, has taken over 20,000 refugees since 1970s, with most placed in Boise and Twin Falls. The Twin Falls refugee resettlement centre is managed by the College of Southern Idaho (CSI). Go back to the 1980s and the centre brought Vietnamese boat people and Cambodians, among others. In the 1990s war in the Balkans sent waves of refugees from Bosnia (several Bosnian families stayed, and provide much oomph to the local soccer league). The most recent arrivals have come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan, as well as from Congo, Eritrea, Nepal and Iran.”

With the prospect of Syrian refugees arriving in town, one citizen, Rick Martin, took the lead in launching a petition drive to generate a county ballot initiative to vote on whether or not the refugee resettlement center should be closed down. 

“….rumours that Syrian refugees might be coming galvanised Mr Martin, who believes that Islam is ‘a violent religion, antithetical to American values.’ His grievances are broad: he says refugees take up much-needed affordable housing and drive down wages, and may have brought polygamy to Twin Falls. But insecurity tops his list: Syrians have already reached Twin Falls, he asserts, and there is a ‘very, very high potential that [Islamic State] sympathisers are in our community right now’.”

Given that Idaho is one of the most reliably Republican states in the union, one might have expected it to pass.

“….residents cheerfully call Twin Falls ‘ultraconservative’: the city and surrounding county, in the heart of Idaho’s dairy belt, gave the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, more than 70% of their vote in the 2012 presidential elections.”

What actually happened was that the petition drive was a complete failure.

“His ballot initiative failed woefully. He and his fellow-organisers had six months to collect 3,842 local residents’ signatures, but by the final deadline in early April secured only 894.”

Why did Mr. Martin have such a hard time?  City leaders decided to use a tool that rarely sees the light of day in current political discourse: the truth.  Those who actually have the facts gathered together and publicized what they knew.

“Refugees are not a burden on the public purse: they are helped to find work fast, and typically the newcomers pay more in federal taxes in a single year than they receive in their one-off resettlement grants. On average, refugees make over a dollar more per hour than the state’s minimum wage, and provide a useful boost to a healthy local economy. Unemployment in Twin Falls, a city of about 47,000 people, stands at 3.4%, well below the national average….”

“Refugees are screened for health problems and commit crimes at an exceedingly low rate….”

“Wiley Dobbs, superintendent of the Twin Falls school district, told the forum how special services for refugees and immigrant children, including two centres that prepare newcomers to learn in American schools, account for 0.42% of his budget.”

“Local businesses have long seen refugees as high-quality employees in a sparsely populated corner of the country.”

The author of the article suggests that the significant Mormon population in the region provides greater tolerance for diversity.

“Perhaps a quarter of the city’s residents are Mormons, and many churches of all denominations have long worked with refugees. Not least because so many young Mormon adults serve as missionaries around the world, Twin Falls families ‘appreciate having diversity’ in their schools and neighbourhoods, says Bill Brulotte, who directs federal programmes in the school district.”

The anti-refugee sentiment was defeated when residents were reminded of the truth.  Unfortunately, the truth is often a victim of the political shouting.  One must attack this destruction of the truth by continually restating the facts—loudly and clearly if necessary.

“….in the present political climate, a void free of facts is a perilous thing.”

A few hundred refugees per year show up in Twin Falls.  As of June, 2016, Syrians have yet to arrive, but one can have hope that they will be processed like any other group of refugees.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric emerging from the Republican candidate in this election cycle, it was both refreshing and enlightening to encounter a story that cuts through the political polarization and reminds us that there are good-hearted people to be found in both parties.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wolves and Dogs: Your Pet’s Heritage

Scientists tell us that humans evolved off of the chimpanzee line several million years ago.  That fact has produced the habit of comparing chimps and humans in order to determine shared characteristics that might explain why both humans and chimps do some of the crazy things they do.  While we are, in fact, genetically closer to chimps than any other species, that does not necessarily mean that we are burdened by many shared evolutionary idiosyncrasies. 

A number of scientists have evaluated humans and the societies we have created and concluded that the animal we most closely resemble is the gray wolf.  Given that the animals we most associate with in our daily lives, our pet dogs, are all domesticated versions of the gray wolf, an intriguing element is added to this claim—Wolves, Dogs, and Humans: Who Domesticated Who? 

Wolfgang M. Schleidt and Michael D. Shalter ponder over what a long period of co-evolution between humans and wolves might imply in Co-evolution of Humans and Canids.  They begin with this observation.

“The closest approximation to human morality we can find in nature is that of the gray wolf, Canis lupus.  This is especially odd in view of the bad reputation wolves have in our folklore.”

“Wolves’ ability to cooperate in a variety of situations, not only in well coordinated drives in the context of attacking prey, carrying items too heavy for any one individual, provisioning not only their own young but also other pack members, baby sitting, etc., is rivaled only by that of human societies.”

Wolves were very effective hunters long before humans and other hominids emerged from Africa.  It would be surprising indeed if lessons were not learned from wolf behavior.

“Wolves ability to hunt as packs, to share risk fairly among pack members, and to cooperate, unsurpassed by any of the big cats, moved them to the top of the food pyramid on the Eurasian plains.”

Whether or not we changed in a fundamental way due to interactions with wolves as we evolved is an intriguing question worthy of conjecture.  What is of interest here is to consider what we can deduce about our beloved pets by learning more about their wolf ancestors.  Carl Safina discusses wolves, dogs and our interactions with them (and many other wondrous things) in his book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

Wolves are powerful animals with great endurance which is used to balance a rather modest speed relative to some of their prey.  Evolution seems to have designed them to attack larger, faster prey such as found in the great herds of ungulates that populated North America and Eurasia in pre-historical times.  They played a valuable ecological role as a predator.  Wolves would occasional attack as individuals by much more frequently as a pack of several.  They would seek out the easiest prey—perhaps the slowest or the least smart—and focus on it.  In this way they culled the herds of the weakest of its members.  They preferred to take down animals trying to run away.  A stationary animal with horns and hooves is more dangerous to a wolf because it can kick and gore more effectively than when running.  Wolves would attack a running animal by tearing away their flesh from the hindquarters with powerful jaws until they bled to death.  Smaller animals could be brought down quickly with a bite to the throat. 

“Wolf jaws exert twelve hundred pounds per square inch, twice that of a German shepherd.”

Unfortunately for wolves, choice food for them were the domesticated animals that humans began to accumulate in tidy little herds.  Although there is little to no evidence of wolves viewing humans as prey, their propensity for ravaging domestic animals made them exceedingly unpopular and generated all sorts of disparaging folk tales.  The net result was that wolves were to be killed whenever encountered.

The near elimination of wolves from the lower 48 US states created some problems.  Without wolves to cull herds, overpopulation and famine became a problem in some regions.  In 1995 wolveswere reintroduced (the last indigenous wolf had been killed in 1926) into Yellowstone National Park in order to control an elk population that had grown too large.  This provided scientists the opportunity to observe how the population of wolves evolved and what impact they had on the overall ecology. 

Observers have been studying the wolf population ever since.  Some animals are fitted with collars that allow tracking.  In this manner generations of wolves have been observed as they were born, matured, and died.  Most of what Safina tells us of wolf life is derived from those observations.

Safina spent considerable time with wolf observers in researching his book.  Here he records his impressions as he watched a wolf pack congregate in an open area.

“The wolves greet energetically, tails raised and wagging, lots of body pressing and face licking.  They’re greeting one another the way our dogs greet us when we come home.”

“It’s my first glimpse of the deepest impression I’ll take away about the comparison of dogs and wolves.  Wolves orient and defer to their elders the way dogs do to their human keepers.  Maturing wolves, though, become captains of their own lives.  Dogs remain perpetually dependent on and submissive to humans.  It’s been a simple substitution, with arrested development.  Dogs are wolf pups who never get to grow up to take charge of their own lives and decisions.  Wolves take charge.  They must.”

Wolves organize into packs which are essentially extended families.  The traditional pack is formed by a breeding male and female.  The pups are raised and as they get older participate in hunting and caring for the subsequent pups.  The breeding wolves are often referred to as the alpha male and the alpha female. 

The males of most animal species do little more for family life than to inseminate a female and then move on.  Primates exhibit a somewhat more attentive approach to raising offspring.  Chimp males will try to protect an infant if they believe they may have fathered it, but they also may kill a young chimp in order to force the mother into becoming sexually receptive again.  Female chimps have found it advantageous to have sex with many males in order to have as many “protectors” as possible.  Human males exhibit fathering responsibilities that vary from zero to compulsive.  However, society demands and usually receives from them a minimum level of care for their offspring.

Male wolves seem to be more dedicated to their role as a parent than might be expected of the average unconstrained human male.

“The wolves in an alpha pair show deep loyalty to each other in matters of defense and assistance.  (Loyalty in the dogs we love—their ‘best friend’ character—is the wolf in them.)  And alphas depend heavily on their children in crucial matters such as hunting, feeding and guarding pups, holding territory, and defending against attacking rivals.”

But boys will be boys.

“Like many ‘monogamous’ humans, wolves sometimes color outside the lines.  Males might slip across pack borders looking for hookups.  Females generally tolerate wandering males.  For a male, however, being inside another pack’s territory is very dangerous.  Yet males sometimes risk a nighttime tryst.”

And, as with human families, males focus on the “big” problems while the females worry about the important issues.  And what are the important issues?

“That includes where to travel, when to rest, what route you’ll take, when you’re going hunting, and the pack’s most important decision: where to den.”

Other similarities between wolf packs and human families are clear.

“Extended child care is a major part of wolf society and family life.  Pups stay with their parents for several years.  Older children help care for the younger ones while maturing into young adulthood, creating multigenerational groups.  Eventually they leave their parents to start their own families.  From dens and rendezvous sites—secluded spots for stashing very young pups—adults take turns hunting, bringing back food, playing with the pups, and enduring mock ambushes and having their tails yanked by some of the world’s most playful, insistent youngsters.”

Wolves do not have the benefit of multiple meals a day.  They eat one big meal—occasionally.  Animals they kill are usually much bigger than they are.  All that meat must not go to waste.  Not only are the attackers very hungry, but food must also be provided to the pups and caretakers left behind.  A large wolf can carry up to twenty pounds of food in his stomach, some of which can be regurgitated to share with others.  The result is a consumption of meat and organs that looks frenzied as consumption is maximized.  No second helpings will be available because there were other animals ready to pick over the remains of the carcass.  If you wonder why your dog seems to “wolf down” its food, it’s because he in some way remembers that he is a wolf.

Packs try to control a territory large enough to provide enough food to support themselves.  They attempt to mark these boundaries by leaving a scent.  The mechanism is usually urination or defecation.  Since scents dissipate over time, the boundaries must constantly be refreshed.  Some of our dog species have maintained this compulsion to mark and defend territories.

The normal variations in food supplies mean there is frequent conflict with neighboring packs.  Very few wolves get to die of old age.

“Wolf territorial fights resemble human tribal warfare.  When packs fight, numbers count, but experience matters an awful lot.  As adults of both packs beeline to or away from rivals or battle for their lives, juveniles can seem lost in the confusion.  Wolf pups under a year old often seem dismayed by an attack (it seems even wolves must learn violence), and a juvenile who gets pinned by an attacker may simply give up.  Wolves often target the alphas of the rival pack, as they fully understand that if they can rout or kill the experienced leaders, victory will be theirs.”

“The second-most-common cause of wolf death in the Rockies is getting killed by other wolves.  (Getting killed by humans is first.)

Perhaps the firmest message Safina wishes to deliver about the animals he describes in his book is that all possess unique personalities—just as humans do.  A wolf pup—or a human infant—can possess a completely different personality than that of a sibling.  And that personality will make a difference in their life prospects.  He suggests we should never think of an animal as an “it,” but always as a “who.”

“’Who’ animals know who they are; they know who their family and friends are.  They make strategic alliances and cope with chronic rivalries.  They aspire to higher rank and wait for their chance to challenge the existing order.  Their status affects their offspring’s prospects.  Their life follows the arc of a career.  Personal relationships define them.  Sound familiar?  Of course.  ‘They’ includes us.  But a vivid, familiar life is not the domain of humans alone.”

Wolves are as capable of producing, within their physical and societal constraints, as exceptional and as heroic individuals as humans are within theirs.

Safina provides the story of a male wolf known to human observers as “Twenty-one,” as told by Rick McIntyre.

“’If there ever was a perfect wolf,’ Rick says, ‘It was Twenty-one.  He was like a fictional character.  But he was real.”

At age two and a half Twenty-one left his home pack to make a life for himself.  He was extremely fortunate to come across a pack whose alpha male had just been killed.  Being an impressive specimen, the females took to him immediately and the young pups as well.  His new life as an alpha male had begun.  Twenty-one was among the first litter of pups born in Yellowstone after reintroduction.  This was a time when food was plentiful and his pack thrived reaching “a hard to believe thirty-seven wolves, the largest ever documented.”  Other wolves were thriving as well and there were plenty of opportunities for conflicts.

“Even from a distance, twenty-one’s big shouldered profile was recognizable.  Utterly fearless in defense of his family, Twenty-one had the size, strength, and agility to win against overwhelming odds.  ‘On two occasions, I saw Twenty-one take on six attacking wolves—and rout them all,’ Rick says.  ‘Watching him felt like seeing something that looked supernatural.  Like watching Bruce Lee fighting, but in real life’.”

But Twenty-one was unique not just because of his physical prowess, but also because of his magnanimity.

“He never lost a fight.  And he never killed any defeated opponent.”

Allowing someone who tried to kill you live, did not seem to be the wolf way.  It seemed the option of someone with such self confidence that he could say “I don’t have to kill you now.  I defeated you now and I can defeat you any time in the future if necessary.”

Twenty-one was unique as a fighter, but he was also unique as a pack leader.

“One of Twenty-one’s favorite things was to wrestle with little pups.  ‘And what he really loved to do,’ Rick adds, ‘was to pretend to lose.  He just got a huge kick out of it.’  Here was this great big male wolf.  And he’d let some little wolf jump on him and bite his fur.  ‘He’d just fall on his back with his paws in the air,’ Rick half-mimes.  ‘And the triumphant-looking little one would be standing over him with his tail wagging’.”

“’The ability to pretend,’ Rick adds, ‘shows that you understand how your actions are perceived by others.  It indicates high intelligence.  I’m sure the pups knew what was going on, but it was a way for them to learn how it feels to conquer something much bigger than you.  And that kind of confidence is what wolves need every day of their hunting lives’.”

Twenty-one also exhibited kindness, an attribute rare in wolves.

“Early on, when Twenty-one was young and still living with his mother and adoptive father, one of their new pups was not acting normal.  The other pups were a bit afraid of him and wouldn’t play with him.   One day, Twenty-one brought back some food for the small pups, and after feeding them he just stood there, looking around for something.  Soon he started wagging his tail.  ‘He’d been looking for that sickly little pup,’ Rick says, ‘and finding him, he just went over to hang out with him for a while’.”

“Rick suddenly seems to be searching inside himself for something deeper he wants to express.  Then he looks at me, saying simply, ‘Of all the stories I have about Twenty-one, that’s my favorite.’  Strength impresses us.  But what we remember is kindness.”

The great wolf followed an exceptional life with an exceptional death.

“The last day, it seems, Twenty-one knew his time had come.  He used the last of his energy to go up to the very top of a high mountain.  In a favorite family rendezvous site, where he’d been with his pups year after year, amid high summer grass and mountain wildflowers, Twenty-one curled up in the shade of a big tree.  And on his own terms, he went to sleep for the last time.”

If Twenty-one had been a human, he might have been considered the basis for a cult, or perhaps a religion—or at least an epic poem.

Don’t underestimate your pet dogs.  They have within them the potential for heroic deeds; it comes from the wolf that remains within them.

The interested reader might find these articles informative:

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