My wife's family is from idyllic Carmel, Calif., touted by tourism-promotion types as "Carmel-by-the-Sea."
When I go there, I try to consider major issues despite the serious challenges of beach, flowers and wine. These include questions such as, what do we do about the frightful, growing income gap in this country and about the fact that America's so-called leaders refuse to address seriously the question of global warming?
On Thursday, media reported that JPMorgan Chase's trading loss on credit derivatives could amount to $9 billion, $7 billion more than CEO Jamie Dimon previously acknowledged. America has 12.7 million unemployed. My college-educated daughter was one of them for six weeks. Looking at the median wage for her field and using my faithful solar-powered pocket calculator, I figured out that a quarter million of America's jobless could have been employed for a year simply with what JPMorgan Chase recently lost in bad trades. America's job-creation rate per month is running at far less than that.
Mr. Dimon's compensation in 2011 was $23 million. That would have covered a living wage for a year for about 640 unemployed Americans.
I realize the difficulties in somehow clawing back JPMorgan Chase's trading losses and Mr. Dimon's compensation and using the money from these "job creators" to actually create jobs for America's unemployed. It crossed my mind that one test Americans could apply fruitfully before the November elections would be to put that exact question to candidates and see what kind of answers they give.
The risk would be that Mitt Romney would provide an unacceptable Bain Capital-based "I know how to manage" answer. From Barack Obama might come a repeat 2008 "change you can believe in" persiflage, without Sarah Palin around to ask, "How is that hopey-changey thing going for you?" (Don't you miss her, awful as she was? And Bristol? With the Republican primaries over, none of the candidates this time has yet risen to the same level of dreadfulness, although Mr. Romney has still to make his vice-presidential choice.)
The other question troubling me in Carmel was global warming, or "climate change" if you are reluctant to launch right into battle. "When Hell freezes over," is when our politicians have so far showed themselves as prepared to respond to the disaster which looms nearer by the day.
The front page of The Monterey County Herald of June 23 reported cheerfully, "Sea Level to Rise Higher in California," according to a report of the National Academy of Sciences released June 22. The rise from global warming is expected to include most of the state, including Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay, and be greater than in other parts of the planet because most of California's coast is sinking due to geological forces. We're talking about rises in water level of up to 1 foot by 2032, 2 feet by 2050 and 5 feet by 2100.
Now, none of this makes any particular difference to me personally. I'll be dead before any of it occurs, and my in-law's house is up a hill from the ocean.
Pittsburgh? Well ...
The Post-Gazette of June 30 cited a new U.S. Geological Survey report to the effect that sea levels along a 600-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast are rising much faster than elsewhere in the world, with a particular "hot spot" between Boston and Cape Hatteras. That is confusing. Which coast's prospects are worse?
The good news from the second report is that Washington, D.C., lies about halfway between Boston and Cape Hatteras and it is low-lying and swampy. That means the water rising around our beloved leaders' feet might catch their attention as their toes begin to rot.
I will grant that not addressing global warming is easy to do, although it is arguable that America's "exceptional" status as a world power is under its most severe threat from the effects of global warming. These include thawing up north, which is opening the Northwest Passage, allowing for the exploitation of Arctic energy and mineral resources and making more powerful northern players such as Canada, Russia, even Denmark, Greenland, Iceland and Norway. Primitive American politicians who continue to insist that ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty would constitute an abrogation of U.S. sovereignty keep us dealt out of that game through their ignorant, 1950s, flat-Earth posturing.
As for evening out the playing field between America's 1-percent Jamie Dimons, with their eight-figure compensation, and the 15 percent living below the poverty line -- $11,491 a year for an individual and $23,018 a year for a family of four -- that is certainly achievable. But part of the problem is that our politicians constantly have their hands out to the JPMorgan Chases and Jamie Dimons of the world as they beg for campaign contributions.
The money they get is the money they use to try to fool the rest of us with media ads, robo calls, canvassers, rallies and giveaways to get our votes. The blessing of this country is that we can still vote against these people, including on the basis of their answers to queries, such as whether they would take down the JPMorgan Chases and Jamie Dimons and use the money to create jobs.
It's not too late, and we mustn't become so cynical about the whole business that we stay home. Voting with one's feet is about as intelligent as trying to operate a voting machine with those appendages.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1976).