Signs of Progress in Reducing Carbon Emissions
On Earth Day, the anti-climate change agreement that had
been hammered out in Paris back in December was officially signed by
representatives of 175 countries.
There’s no doubt about the importance of the Paris Agreement
priorities. We keep hearing about
climate change and its dramatic consequences.
On the face of it, this seems to be an overwhelming situation and is
full of challenges and bad press. For
instance, we hear that car companies in Germany – no less – have cheated in
their reports of gas mileage. We hear
horror stories about the poor people in China who go around the streets of
Beijing wearing face masks to filter out the extreme air pollution. We hear that the Arctic ice cap is melting
Thus, on the face of it, it seems that nothing good is
happening. Clearly there is lots to do
to rectify these conditions. But
indicators we consulted from the International Energy Agency show that
some trends are headed in the right direction.
Yes, there’s a long way to go in counteracting climate change, but there
is progress. 
Lower Emissions in Several Parts of the World
Carbon dioxide emissions are already drifting lower in
industrialized regions. For the 34 major
industrialized countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD), total emissions peaked in 2005 and by 2013, the latest
available, they had fallen 6.1%, overall.
In the U.S., emissions are down 10.2% in that timeframe, and in Europe,
11.7%. Granted, there is more to do toward
achieving the Paris Climate Change agreement goals. But this is certainly a start. We’ll come back with a couple of examples
Emissions are, though, still rising in many of the world’s
regions. China and India are two obvious
examples, with CO2
output up 67.5% in China from 2005 to 2013, and
72% in India. Emissions in Africa are up
Even in these places, there are some signs of
improvement. In both China and India,
the increase in emissions is evidently tied to economic growth, which has been
quite rapid. But notably, emissions have
increased by less than GDP. In China,
GDP was up at a 10% average pace from 2005 to 2013, while emissions increased
at “only” a 6.7% rate. Two positive
developments are producing the slower rise in emissions: energy usage is also expanding less than GDP
and the energy that’s being used produces somewhat less emissions over
time. In India, GDP grew at a 7.5% rate,
while emissions rose at 7.0% pace. There,
energy use is also growing more slowly than GDP, although the specific kinds of
energy used there are still producing increasing amounts of CO2
By contrast in Europe and the U.S., the decline in emissions
is resulting from declines in energy use and declines in the CO2
content of the energy used. So there’s a
shift toward “cleaner” energy. Here is a
little bit about the efforts of two major U.S. companies to reduce their own
Specific Companies Take Specific Actions
General Electric reduced its energy use by almost 19% from
2004 to 2014. For carbon emissions, companies’ carbon footprints are often
characterized as emissions per dollar of revenue, and over that ten-year
period, GE cut down that measure from 59 metric tons per million dollars of
revenue to 33.9 metric tons. Among other
projects, it has redesigned the engines it makes for Boeing aircraft, and it has
restructured operations at a power plant in Greenville, South Carolina, by
simply installing real-time sensors and instituting a measuring system. Its plans going forward are directly tied to
the 2-degree-Celsius formula emphasized in the Paris agreement
American Airlines has found several interesting ways of
reducing fuel consumption, obviously the main source of any airline’s carbon
emissions. They’ve learned they can
taxi around airports using just one engine.
They’ve learned they can reduce the weight of a flight meaningfully by
switching from paper flight plans to using iPads and also having flight
attendants use small Samsung tablets instead of a 5-pound paper instruction
manual on the planes. Finally, they
attached “winglets” to the tips of the wings of 240 of American’s planes,
improving the planes’ “lift”; this change alone saves 700,000 metric tons of
carbon emissions a year.
Low-Carbon Investment Strategies
In addition, from a different perspective, we note with
considerable interest that companies with low carbon emissions or small carbon
footprints constitute a growing theme for investors. Standard & Poor’s has even devised indexes
of stocks for low-carbon-emissions companies and fossil-fuel-free companies. The “S&P 500 Carbon Efficient Index” has been
marginally stronger than the full S&P 500 index over most time periods in
the last several years. Since the
beginning of 2012, an index of fossil-fuel-free companies has outrun the
overall market by 5%. While that’s not a
huge difference, it does suggest that investors view lower-energy or
clean-energy companies in a favorable light.
Here are two examples of that investment strategy. At that Paris Climate Change conference, the
New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced that the New York State
Common Retirement Fund would invest $2 billion in a fund created by Goldman
Sachs which emphasizes companies with small carbon footprints. The Common Retirement Fund is the pension
fund for New York State employees and is said to be the country’s third largest
pension fund. Similarly, the
non-profit McKnight Foundation, with a total of $2.1 billion in assets, can
perhaps be identified as a pioneer here; back in 2014, it invested $100 million
in a broad-based carbon-efficient fund managed by Mellon Capital.
The distinction for these two investment initiatives is that
they are active in-vestment strategies.
Previously, funds that wanted to emphasize climate and environment
concerns generally used a di-vestment strategy, eliminating coal and possibly
oil companies from their portfolios. But
selling these shares has had little impact because those companies are so large
that having a few shareholders sell out doesn’t mean much. Instead, enlisting fund managers to devise investment
strategies for companies that operate using desirable practices makes a more
positive, constructive statement.
Thus, there are tangible efforts at individual investor and
company levels that encourage and support the implementation of carbon
reduction actions. Environmental issues
have the advantage that they are clearly measurable, so we can see
progress. As we said at the outset,
there is a lot to do, but there is progress.
 Tina Rosenberg. Op. cit.
Labels: Economy, Environment, Financial Markets, World
The FBI versus Apple: A Catch-22
We knew this would probably happen sometime – a court fight
over smartphone security issues. Sure
enough, the FBI is hard at it with Apple.
The terrorists in San Bernardino, California, back in December were
using an iPhone. The FBI wants Apple to
hack the phone and Apple is saying no.
That would compromise one of the main features of those phones and set a
most unfortunate precedent. However, law
enforcement officials of all kinds are anxious for resolution because all kinds
of criminals use smartphones, which at present can be “tapped” only with great
legal and technical difficulty.
We do think this issue is worthy of discussion. It’s obviously controversial for Apple to
even have objected at this point in time, since the immediate cause is a
domestic terrorist attack in which 14 people were killed. And it’s easy to say, “but of course Apple
should provide the mechanism for opening the phone’s contents.” But Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, does have a
point that this is precedent-setting and the way to deal with it should be
6 Weeks' Worth of Data Locked in the Phone
This San Bernardino event is a great test-case. iPhones are secure to the owner/user. They can be backed up to a storage area on a
“cloud”. Data that are transferred to
the cloud can be obtained by investigators, and indeed, the FBI has already
obtained those data from terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook’s account. However, the attack took place on December 2,
and Farook had not backed up the phone since October 19. So plenty of fresh and helpful information
was likely recorded on the phone during the last six weeks just before the
attack: who Farook’s associates and ISIS connections might be, whether other
projects similar to his are being planned, and so on. The phone itself is owned by San Bernardino
County, which employed Farook; those officials, the owners, think it’s fine for
the FBI to inspect the phone’s contents.
But Apple Worries about Construction of a "Backdoor"
Apple, through a public statement by its Chairman Tim Cook
and also in an official court filing, is objecting to unlocking the phone. The company argues that the work it would do
to enable decryption of the contents of an iPhone could be applied to any
iPhone, thereby potentially eroding the extraordinary security provisions on
all iPhones. As it stands, the data on
any given iPhone are associated with the owner’s “Unique ID”. The FBI is wanting Apple to devise a
workaround to get to the data without the ID.
This is known in the jargon as a “backdoor”. Apple is, quite logically, very concerned
about creating such a backdoor technology.
Conceivably, then, any iPhone a thief or other criminal got hold of
could be hacked.
We were watching a Fox News program late last week in which
a retired Army colonel was being interviewed on this issue. The colonel said something like, “this is a
national security issue and of course Apple needs to develop this decryption
software!” The news anchor conducting
the interview instantly blurted out, “but that’s why I have an iPhone –
precisely because it can’t
decrypted by anyone else.”
FBI Does See the Importance of the Phone's Security
FBI Director James Comey initially sounded impatient with Apple,
claiming that Apple’s defense, spontaneously described by the anchor in that
newscast, is based on marketing and reputation, not on the technology. Apple and many of its customers would not
agree; the security of the phone is a basic characteristic of the product. Given that there are in fact some 825 million iPhones around the world, their interests would seem a worthy consideration. And evidently, Mr. Comey himself
has come to a deeper understanding of what he was asking of Apple. Later, on February 25, he testified before
the House Intelligence Committee that this encryption issue is “the hardest
question I’ve seen in government.”
Addressing the Law Enforcement Need Now
There is legal precedent, of course, for telecommunications
companies to provide call data to law enforcement agencies. In 1994, Congress passed the Communications
Assistance for Law Enforcement Act which requires carriers to build
surveillance capability into their networks.
So AT&T and Verizon automatically provide whatever such “wiretap”
access is called for in court orders; in the last half of 2015, there were more
than a quarter million such requests from all kinds of law enforcement agencies
in both criminal and civil proceedings.
In the first half of last year, 998 requests came specifically for
national security purposes. Sprint also
has had many thousands of such data requests.
Apple in fact does address these requests too. It reports that it had 971 law enforcement
requests for “account data” stored on iCloud or iTunes accounts in the first
half of last year, and it responded to 81% of them. In addition, it had 499 requests based on
national security needs.
The difference is evidently that the information the
carriers provide is only phone numbers and text message connections. According to The Wall Street Journal
“can’t provide access to . . . message content or calls made over mobile apps
such as WhatsApp, Skype or the blue iMessages sent between two iPhones.
Formal Legislation Likely Needed
Regardless of the specific outcome of the San Bernardino
case itself, it is likely to add to already building momentum for formal
legislation on this situation; that is, there should be some general rules so
people who own phones can know what to expect, and representatives of the
people should make those rules. Indeed,
the Chairman of AT&T Randall Stephenson this week noted, “The rapid pace of
technological innovation is challenging laws crafted in a very different era
for totally different, and much less complex situations. Recent developments, in particular, bring
home the need for legal clarity.” And
the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is working on a bill that would
create criminal penalties for companies that don’t comply with court orders to
decipher encrypted communications. It
remains to be seen what the specific language of such a law might require.
So, most immediately, the dilemma remains. More, in the San Bernardino situation, there
is considerable irony. We noted that the
county government owns the phone; Farook was only the user of that phone. That government is in possession of software called
“mobile device management” that would have enabled the county to make provision
for the FBI to open the phone. But Farook’s
department did not sign up for it to be installed on their inspectors’ phones. Another irony is that, even as the federal
government is fighting for the right to get Farook’s phone decrypted, the
federal government provides grants to tech developers to create more encryption
A clear summation of this Catch-22 was given last spring by
a former CEO of Sprint at a cybersecurity conference: “Which CEO is more
patriotic, the one who provides all the information the government requests to
help catch a criminal or prevent a terrorist attack? Or the CEO whose company creates tools that
make it difficult for law enforcement . . .
to acquire a customer’s information, believing that protecting civil
liberties is a higher calling?”
+ + + + + +
We don’t cite all the general
sources about this story, which are plentiful; most of our material is from
various articles in The Wall Street Journal, beginning right after the federal
court order to Apple was made public on February 16. We also sourced The Economist magazine and www.foxnews.com
, as well as Apple CEO Chairman Tim Cook's "A Message to Our Customers", a letter dated February 16 and found on Apple's homepage at www.apple.com.
The footnotes cover specific
aspects and quotes.
 Ryan Knutson. Op. cit.
Labels: American Society, Government Policies, Science and Evolution
A Lenten Task: Write Your Will
Many people give up something for Lent. Others might approach the season differently:
they take on some special task or duty during this time of penance and
meditation. What we present here takes
the latter tack; our idea is hardly original, but it’s still important and
bears repeating. We propose that, if you
do not have a Will and/or a Health Care Proxy, you take on the crucial lifetime
duty of composing these documents. That
surely contributes to a worthy observance of Lent
We’re currently involved as the proposed executor of an
estate and we’re learning a great deal almost every day about how the process
works in New York State. Our commentary
here is not meant to outline this but to highlight for you a few things that
have struck us as surprising. We also
include a few resources that may help.
In addition, some churches and other community groups offer classes in
this project, and we urge you to take advantage of these whenever they might
Resources for Writing a Will
Obviously, you can enlist a lawyer to help you write a
will. But for some simple wills, there
are other ways. Some time ago, Debbie
Loeb of the Farm’s Hodgepodge
page gave some relevant references. You can see them here: http://geraniumfarmhodgepodge.blogspot.com/2007_12_01_archive.html
. In particular, she mentions a book published
by Nolo; that book is now (2014 edition) titled Quick & Legal Will Book
($24.99). It includes links to downloadable forms for
making a will. Among Debbie’s other
sources, the forms on the BuildaWill.com
site cost $29.95, and the widely advertised LegalZoom.com
services appear to begin at $69. Clearly
there are other books and websites, including Wills and Trusts Kit for Dummies
Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wills and Estates
. While each of those is part of a popular
series, they were published in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and with law
changes, newer books might be better choices.
Look on Amazon.com
for their full
inventories. While we have a lawyer, we’re
also into the Quick & Legal Will Book
for ourselves; it – and others, we
presume – are careful to explain the conditions under which one should actually
consult a lawyer rather than using books or on-line forms.
Even if you already have a will, it perhaps is years old and
may well need to be updated. Indeed,
this last point, an old will, is where we started in our current estate venture,
with a 35-year-old instrument.
Fortunately, most of it still applies.
But it is the case that the decedent’s father is named as a substitute
or “successor” executor, and he passed away 20 years ago. In addition, the age of this will means that
in our local Surrogate’s Court, extra documentation is necessary for
authentication. Witnesses to the will may need to give sworn statements that they know the decedent; in one case, it is
the secretary to the lawyer who drew up the will who is furnishing some of this
back-up material the Court is requiring. This court filing process itself could thus be much easier
if the will had been kept up to date. A
word to the wise here.
Be sure to keep a
will in an accessible place that someone knows about
. While it might sound logical to put it in a
safe deposit box, it could then become tricky to get access to it. We did find out, though, that in New York
State, we could get a court order to open a box and inventory the contents; in
fact, our laws enable a survivor to do that to look right away for a will, a
life insurance policy and a cemetery deed.
And the court order we used was obtained within hours of our requesting
it, so if it is needed immediately on someone’s passing, that might be manageable. In a different example, a friend we knew some
years ago simply stashed some of these kinds of papers in a box on the floor of
her bedroom closet; the box was labeled “for Ruth”, her niece who would manage
affairs upon her passing. That worked
fine in the otherwise tense days right after that woman’s death.
Beneficiaries on Bank Accounts? In fact . . .
We lately also learned another fact about managing assets
and leaving them to people. Bank
accounts and some securities accounts, especially IRA’s, can have
beneficiaries. In this case, the assets
go immediately to the beneficiary upon the person’s death. They do not become part of the estate, so the
beneficiary gets use of them right away.
We had long known this about insurance policies, but it’s true for other
assets, and in fact in some cases, it is legally required to name a
beneficiary. This is a similar notion to
owning real estate “with rights of survivorship”, so the property immediately
becomes fully owned by the relevant joint owner. So visit your bank or securities account
manager and arrange for this. It greatly
simplifies the transfer process, and that may help a lot if your survivors need
funds before an estate can be settled.
Another document that’s vital is a Health Care Proxy/Living
Will. In New York State, these are now
combined into a single document. Perhaps
they are in your state as well. The need
for this is clear. If you can’t speak
for yourself, how do you let people know if and when it’s all right with you to
let you go? Here’s a Hodgepodge
commentary about this issue, actually written by a hospice chaplain: http://geraniumfarmhodgepodge.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_archive.html
. It’s especially hard to think about these
things, particularly in the prime of life. But doing so can help a lot. This document, too, needs to be in an
accessible place; our own lawyer advised giving copies to, obviously, the proxy
person themselves and to the alternate and also to our primary care
physician. Carry a copy in your purse –
maybe a man could have one on a flash drive he carries in a pocket? – and tack
a copy to your refrigerator door, a place where, we understand, emergency
personnel often look.
So, yes, all this is hard to think about. But you do everyone a favor and give yourself
peace of mind if you have an updated will.
And you help everyone around you by outlining your own preferences in
case there is a bad time in your life when discussions of life and death are
required, and when, by definition, everyone is terribly upset. Important Lenten observances, these are,
indeed. Good luck with them.
Labels: Health Care and Pensions, Personal Finance
Consumers' Sense of Inflation
Some weeks ago, at lunch with some friends, one of them was
complaining about the absence this year of a cost-of-living increase in Social
Security benefits. Indeed, that feels
irritating, and, more, for people who have their Medicare Part D premiums
deducted from their checks, their net benefit will actually go down a little.
The complainer at our lunch table further asserted that the
government “manages” the consumer price index so it can avoid the benefit
increase. Fortunately, the meal-time conversation then
shifted to more pleasant topics, but her comments registered with me as
something to talk about here. This is
especially the case because it seems people also have a sense that there’s more
inflation in general than the official numbers seem to show, making them
believe that the purchasing power of whatever their income, whether retirement
benefits or actual earnings from jobs, is being squeezed. Maybe it is . . . .
In the 12-months through November, the consumer price index
(CPI) was up a mere 0.5%. And in the
period ended in September, which determines the following January’s Social
Security “cost of living” increase, the CPI was flat: it did not increase. And as our accompanying graph shows, that had
been true in most months of 2015. Thus,
according to this measure, there was no inflation.
The CPI Comes from Thousands of Items and Thousands of
Stores and Service Providers
It's important to know that the government does not, in
fact, “manage” these consumer price index data.
They are collected in great detail, according to huge surveys that ask
about what people buy and where they buy it.
Then, every month, employees of
the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) visit thousands of stores, service
businesses, apartment management offices, doctors offices and hospitals, among
other outlets, to collect price information on carefully specified items; these
items currently number some 80,000 every month.
The businesses they visit are selected from among those
specified in an occasional “Point of Purchase” survey also conducted by the BLS
from about 14,500 families. The items themselves
come from the “Consumer Expenditure Survey”, which collects information on what
people buy; if you happen to be a participant in these surveys or you know someone
who is, thank them for their help. Some
of them, 7,000 of them, have kept a diary of every single purchase they have
made over a two-week period, and another 7,000 have answered detailed questions
in a quarterly interview. Altogether, in
a recent two-year period, 28,000 diaries were consulted, along with 60,000
Finally, when the current prices are collected, they are
examined by BLS specialists who check to make sure the specifications for an
item have been followed as closely as possible so quality changes are not
factored in – for instance, the “car” is the same make and model with the same
features as the one last month. All
these BLS survey-takers and fact-checkers are civil servants, not political
If the CPI Is Flat, Why Might People Think There’s Inflation?
If you think, contrary to these carefully compiled
government data, that there is in fact “inflation”, you are hardly alone. A couple of private surveys agree: the
Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Survey shows that its 5,000
participants estimate that the CPI is running up at about a 5% rate and has
been for some time. A smaller poll of
1,200 nationwide taken for the New York Federal Reserve Bank indicates that
people think the CPI will go up 2.6% in the next year. Both of these exceed the growth in weekly
earnings also compiled by the BLS. From
December 2014 to December 2015, these wages for non-management workers were up
2.1%, less than either private survey inflation estimate. So workers’ pay as well as Social Security
benefits can seem inadequate to keep up.
We tried to figure out how this discrepancy might have developed;
how might people feel there is more inflation than there really is? We identified two factors.
One is that people’s inflationary expectations vary by age
and income. In the New York Fed’s
survey, participants over age 60 see a 3% advance in the CPI over the next
year, while those between 40 and 60 look for 2.4% and those under 40, 2%. Big difference. Income matters, too: people with incomes over $50,000 expect about
2.4%, while those whose incomes are under $50,000 believe inflation will be
2.9%. So if someone is better able to
absorb price increases, they are less worried about higher inflation. While there are just 2-1/2 years’ worth of
responses in this survey, this relationship has pretty much held throughout.
The other factor that stood out concerns energy prices. We all know that gasoline has been much cheaper
throughout the last year than it was through 2014. That and other energy items, such as
electricity, turn out to be the main force slowing the overall CPI. Excluding energy, the CPI was up 1.9% in
November from a year ago, compared with the mere 0.5% rise in the total
index. So clearly, there were a bunch of
items whose prices rose noticeably.
The most visible of these include rents and homeownership
costs, up 3.6% and 3.1% in November from November 2014. The demon health insurance rose 3.6%,
medicines were up 2.7% and dentists – which
many people pay out-of-pocket – 2.8%. Local public transit fares were up 2.5%, boys’
clothes 3.6%, infants and toddlers’ clothes 4.9%, certain fresh vegetables 4.1%
and restaurant meals 2.5%.
Clearly many other items either fell or rose much more
moderately, for instance, prices of women’s clothes fell 2.7% and shoes and
boots fell 0.5%. But the increases in such
basic items as rent, transit fares and medicines can give the subjective
impression of more general upward price pressures. And people can easily extrapolate this
impression into a forecast that more widespread inflation will return,
rendering their limited earnings even less adequate.
An Inflation Outlook for the Year Ahead
We checked out some economists’ forecasts of inflation for
2016. Their projections are not as high
as the consumer surveys, but they do look for some inflation. The National Association for Business
Economics survey published in early December shows the CPI up 2.0%. Another composite, the Survey of Professional
Forecasters, compiled by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, also has 2.0%,
while the Federal Reserve Board’s compilation of its officials’ forecasts shows
a slightly different inflation measure at 1.6%.
These numbers are close to the recent pace that excludes the drop in
energy prices. What this suggests is that if people’s
earnings are up 2.0% next year, they can “keep up” with inflation, and maybe
after a few more months, they will feel better about the adequacy of their
paychecks. But Social Security
beneficiaries – and government workers whose pay is also tied to the CPI – are
still stuck until early 2017. Just know
that the price index data are carefully and objectively collected and
combined. The government did not push
the numbers down deliberately to try to save itself money.
The Conference Board is a nonprofit organization that
studies and advises businesses in leadership issues, the economic and
regulatory environment and human capital topics. It conducts conferences and publishes articles
on these topics. Its consumer confidence
survey dates from 1967. https://www.conference-board.org/data/consumerconfidence.cfm
The Survey of Consumer Expectations from the New York
Federal Reserve Bank is new, just from June 2013. It is conducted by The Demand Institute, an
organization operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen. One of the New York Fed’s motivations,
besides compiling the basic information, is to provide additional background
information for monetary policy decision-making. https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sceIndex/index.html
Alcohol and Families
Following our article last month on alcoholism, our good reader
Lynn pointed out that we had missed an important dimension of that issue,
family relationships and alcohol. This
is, in fact, a multi-dimensional dimension and well worth our attention.
Basic, Readable Information on Alcohol
Before we move into that, we do want to give you a couple of
helpful links to general information about drinking and alcohol problems.
We buried a reference in our previous piece to a treatment
guide from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It is clearly written and meant give basic
information about recognizing the extent of a drinking problem and the various
ways to seek help. It's called "Treatment
for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help".
the guide here: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm
can read it online or download a print "pdf" version.
Also we came across
another NIAAA brochure on drinking itself, "Rethinking Drinking:
Alcohol and Your Health"
basic stuff on quantities, calorie counts, even an "alcohol budget",
that is, the amount of weekly spending.
And resources if you decide you have a problem you need help with. Find this guide here: http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/
Now to our topic at hand on families. You may have noticed in our previous article that
the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder ("AUD") are not necessarily
physical. They also include mental or
emotional conditions, such as depression, trouble with concentration on work,
school or other activities, a need to drink more to achieve the same pleasurable
feeling, forgoing other pleasurable activities in order to have time to drink
more, and so on.
With issues like these resulting from excessive alcohol
consumption, it would come as no surprise that family relationships and
friendships face extra complications when drinking is involved. Two kinds of reactions take place among other
people in a home or with close relatives who have AUDs. First, those people have greater probability
of incurring an AUD themselves, and second, they also have emotional challenges
getting along with family members and with associates outside the family.
Alcoholism Increases Children's Likelihood of Drinking
To begin, here are some numbers. In the 2001-2002 NIAAA survey we cited last
time, a surprising number, 52%, of the total adult population had some family history
of alcohol use disorders. This includes
the immediate family as well as grandparents and aunts and uncles. The chances an individual in a particular
family will develop an AUD themselves depend on how extensive the alcoholism
already is in the family. When there is no family history of alcoholism,
someone's chances of having had a drinking problem in the last year are just
9%. But if any close relatives
experience alcoholism, the chances go to 16%, that is, nearly twice as
high. Further, if a parent is an
alcoholic, chances a child will be one are 19%.
We do caution that various surveys give various results on these
numbers; we chose this one because the number of people surveyed was so very
large; 43,093 people actually participated.
And the question here pertains only to the last year before the survey; the
results would be higher if a total lifetime were considered. The point is that the frequency of alcoholism
is remarkably affected by alcoholic situations already in the family.
One specific chain of causation we explored is the age at
which the young people in a household begin to drink. If there's no family history of AUD, the
median age at which someone begins to drink is around 19 years. But if there's any family history, this drops
by at least a year or perhaps two to 17 or a bit younger. The public data we found aren't precise
enough to be more specific. But what is
clear is that the younger someone begins to drink, the greater are the
prospects that they will themselves have AUD and/or various psychological
conditions. If someone started drinking
at ages 18 to 20, chances they have an AUD are just under 11%. But if they started drinking in the 15 to
17-year age range, this doubles to 22%.
So drinking problems in a family reduce the age at which the children
begin to drink and that increases the chances that they will at some point develop
their own alcohol issues.
Psychological Problems from Alcoholism in Your Family
Reader Lynn comments that a family history of alcoholism is
really difficult for a child, and professional research backs this up. Besides the drinking tendency itself, Lynn
points out that many children of alcoholics are subject to any number of
emotional and psychological conditions.
They never learn good coping skills for facing ordinary life situations
because they don't face life in an ordinary way.
As Lynn's comments and a handy summary from a professional
association explain, a number of detrimental factors come into play: daily routines are shuffled constantly,
children feel guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, confusion, anger and
depression. They don't know how to build
close relationships with other people, much less raise children of their own in
a constructive way. They might fail in
school, commit various delinquent acts and take huge risks, because they simply
don't know basic ways to live positively.
And, of course, as we have already alluded, the coping mechanism they do
learn is drinking or drug abuse, which they tend to fall back on much more than
the population as a whole. See
"Facts for Families: No. 17 Children of Alcoholics" from the American
Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; go here: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-Of-Alcoholics-017.aspx
Support Groups for Families
This is all tough stuff.
It's important for people to know they're not alone in dealing with
these situations; the support of others who grapple with these issues is
helpful, as well as professional care.
Alcoholics themselves can, of course, go to Alcoholics Anonymous. For family members, whom we emphasize here, there
are two groups we know of and call to your attention: Al-Anon and ACoA. Al-Anon – and its partner, Alateen – is
specifically intended for "families and friends of problem drinkers",
to quote the website, http://www.al-anon.org/
. Meetings, sponsor relationships and
literature all work to ease the tension family members and good friends feel
when constantly surrounded by the alcohol issue.
"ACoA" stands for Adult Children
of Alcoholics, found at www.adultchildren.org
. This organization is also based on the
"12 Steps" and includes, literally, adult children: people who are now adults out in the world
and who grew up in families where there were alcohol problems, or similar
issues that cause dysfunction. While we
had heard of ACoA, it is another resource offered to us by Reader Lynn. She highlights again that these people have
grown up without developing constructive approaches to problem solving; ACoA
gives them a chance to talk to others who must now also feel their way forward
against the same background. These
groups are a huge help. Both websites
help you locate meetings in your own vicinity.
That big survey of alcohol use is the National Epidemiologic
Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions ("NESARC"). Find an introduction on the website of the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh29-2/74-78.htm
. Extensive data tables are available
and much scholarly work has examined many facets of the survey. Many of the same people were re-interviewed
three years later, giving some notions of changes in their habits. And then a whole new survey was done in
2012-13, which those results just now beginning to be published.
The federal government is hardly the only party to conduct surveys
about this issue. Reader Lynn recommends
a piece with the striking title, "This surprising factor can make people
4,600 percent more prone to addiction".
It's from the "Raw Story" website, found here: http://www.rawstory.com/2015/05/this-surprising-factor-can-make-people-4600-percent-more-prone-to-addiction/
and talks – logically enough these days – about Whitney Houston and her
daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. The
survey work described there, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences
("ACE"), is by Kaiser Permanente in California; they initially talked to 17,000 people just in the San Diego area alone.
ACE work is now done in many state government surveys of drug problems,
as well as alcohol.
Labels: American Society, Health Care and Pensions
Alcohol Problems and Getting Help
Readers who follow developments in the Episcopal Church may
know that resolutions were passed at the recent General Convention calling our
attention to the role of alcohol in the church and among its clergy and people.
This is certainly enough on its own to elicit commentary
from us. But we were in fact already
checking out issues on alcohol that we might explore in a Ways of the World
and the General Convention resolutions only add to the timeliness. Perhaps our information here can serve as one
small step in discussion within the church that carries out the mandate of the
resolutions calling for all of us to give attention and action to the impact of
alcohol in our lives.
We had previously been working on this topic for two reasons. First, we had lately become acquainted with
the Right Rev. Chilton Knudsen, current Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Long
Island. She visited our home parish, St.
Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn, to conduct the ordination of our deacon into
the priesthood. This indeed took place
on June 13 and was a very exciting celebration.
But Bishop Knudsen is about to leave Long Island and move to Maryland; beginning
in the fall, she will minister there to people and clergy left quite troubled
after their now-former Suffragan Bishop (a kind of associate) was involved in a
car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol. A young bicyclist was killed. Bishop Knudsen is a strong advocate of
recovery programs and a very good, compassionate person to work with the
heartbroken people of Maryland at this sensitive time. Meeting her just when her move was being
announced thus brought this tragedy closer to home for us.
Secondly, just over a month ago, results of a brand new government
study of alcohol and alcohol use disorders were published on a major AMA
journal website. The work, which we
learned about in a brief New York Times
feature, presents a
substantial body of information on the scope and treatment of alcoholism. Its major conclusion is that, regardless of
the type of treatment, only a modest fraction of people with alcohol use
disorders seek out any treatment in the first place. There remains so much stigma that people
continue to hide their situation from themselves and others, so that it
continues to plague them, their lives and their companions. This study, like the General Convention
resolutions, urges us to bring this problem out into the open and work on it;
it can be managed with constructive effort.
We'll try to do at least a little of that here.
The government study provides important background. It comes out of a nation-wide survey taken in
2012 and 2013 of more than 36,000 people over age 18. It shows that during the 12 months before the
survey, 13.9% of this adult population experienced some kind of drinking
problem and 29.1% had experienced such a problem sometime in their lives. Recalibrated to the total civilian
population, this is equivalent to 33 million in the last year and 68.5 million
during their lifetimes. It is all
clearly worth talking about.
What is a "drinking problem"?
"Drinking problem" is our phrase. It has only partly to do with the total
amount of drinking and is also concerned with symptoms that arise as a
result. In terms of drinking amounts
alone, lots of people do it; in this survey, some 71% of respondents had done
some drinking in the past year, including beer, wine and liquor. Of those who drink, nearly 40% had occasions
when they consumed 5 drinks in a single day, and almost 10% of those who drink
had 5 drinks in a day at least once a week.
Alcohol affects people differently, of course, and even
moderate drinkers can show reactive symptoms.
They may repeat prolonged drinking sets and suffer the attendant
hangovers; the drinking may interfere repeatedly with other activities,
including job, school or family relations; the people may believe they can take
undue risks while or right after drinking, which might include driving,
swimming, or unsafe sex; they may feel repeated cravings or believe they need
to drink more before any desired effect is felt. Alcohol use disorders are defined as the occurrence
of two or more of these reactions, out of a total of 11. Two to three conditions constitute a
"mild" alcohol use disorder ("AUD"), four or five make a
"moderate" AUD and six or more, a "severe" AUD. The phrase
"alcohol use disorder" is in fact a medical term and comes
from the latest American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders
, known as DSM-5
; so these people have a
Over the 12 months before the survey, 7.3% of the population
had "mild" AUD, 3.2% "moderate" and 3.4% "severe,"
bringing the total to 13.9%, or the 33 million people we mentioned before. The mean age at onset for these disorders was
26.2 years, that is, pretty young. The
share of 18-29 year-olds with an AUD was 26.0%, while among 30-44-year-olds, it
was 16.2%, and 10.0% of 45-64-year-olds.
Even if you notice that this share goes down with age, it's still
unnerving that 10% of upper-middle-age people have had an identifiable
"drinking problem" in the last year.
Over their whole adult lifetimes, 37% of 18-29-year-olds have had a
problem, 34.4% of 30-44-year-olds and 28.2% of 45-64-year-olds.
If this is a medical situation, do people seek treatment for
it? Unfortunately, not a lot. Of the people with an AUD over the past year,
just – just – 7.7% of them have sought help.
Now, maybe you could say that it could take longer than a year to
realize there is something amiss that needs treatment. Sure enough, in the survey, the mean age for
seeking help was 29.4 years, that is, three years after the mean age of onset
of AUD. However, the survey still shows
that for people with AUD sometime during their lives, only 19.8% have sought
This "help" comes in lots of forms. By far the most prevalent is AA or other
12-step-type approach, in which 15.4% of those with AUD participate. The next most frequent are rehab programs,
9.1%, followed by physicians or other health-care professionals, 8.7%. The doctors often prescribe a drug called naltrexone
hydrochloride, as well as at least two other widely used medications. Some doctors also use something called
"12-step facilitation." Various
cognitive-behavioral therapies also help.
It's important to be clear that these treatments do
help. Apparently the current survey
results do not cover effectiveness of treatment, but other previous surveys do
report on it. Thus the authors of the
report we have been citing here make this statement: ". . . participation in 12-step groups
increases the likelihood of recovery, consistent with randomized clinical
trials testing the efficacy of 12-step facilitation administered by health care
practitioners. Reviews . . . of
randomized trials involving thousands of patients have demonstrated the
efficacy of brief screening and intervention in primary care settings among
individuals whose alcohol problems are not yet severe." This discussion goes on to comment on the
effectiveness of other treatment forms, including the medications we mentioned
above. In one of the previous surveys of
this type, people were interviewed in two rounds, three years apart, and asked
in the second round about the extent of any recovery. Results there showed in particular that
attending a 12-step program was distinctly helpful and that it enhanced the
outcomes of other treatment programs.
Why People Don't Get Help
This latest survey asks people who didn't go for help, why
that was. A list of 29 reasons was
provided, and people could mark all that applied. Here are some of the most frequently chosen
answers, shown as a percentage of people who had thought about going for help,
but never did:
should be strong enough to this handle alone 37.5%
Thought it would
get better by itself 33.8%
Stopped on my own
or with family help 26.4%
Didn't think it
was serious enough 23.3%
Too embarrassed to
talk about it 23.2%
Didn't want to go 23.1%
Much less frequently chosen reasons include not knowing
where to go or lacking insurance coverage.
A few respondents mention lack of child care, even as others fear that
their children will be taken from them if they go for help. Do note that about a quarter of these people
who didn't get help were in fact able to solve the problem by themselves. But this means that three-quarters of them
couldn't or didn't.
So indeed, we all have a ways to go in education and
Other Conditions Can Complicate
We've not mentioned another major issue called
problems often accompany other illnesses and the two or more conditions work
together. PTSD, identifiable personality
disorders, prolonged depression, drug-abuse and nicotine disorders, among
others, are found, complicating the treatment and recovery of people with
AUDs. These added conditions make it all
the more important to address the subjective concerns, like those listed above,
of people who have "drinking problems" but don't seek help.
Finally, we want to mention AA again. An article in the April issue of The
asserts that AA has not been medically proven to be effective,
and that writer is critical of the weight given to it as the primary approach
to treating AUD. We are hardly in a
position to take an informed position on this topic. We do know a number of people who are active
in another 12-step program and that has certainly worked for them, many of them
for many years. You probably know such
people as well. It is the case that it's
hard to conduct scientific, controlled studies of the effectiveness of these
programs due to their voluntary and anonymous nature. What we see in the studies we looked at here
is that AA is by far the most widely used source of help and that earlier
survey work showed clearly that AA enhanced the recovery prospects of other
treatments. A major point to be made is
that there are a number of treatment formats and people can certainly try more
than one at any given time. That earlier
survey work also noted that belonging to a religious community is constructive
in facing an alcohol problem. Participating
in a community of caring people and regular attendance at services are indeed
We could have broken the text with numerous footnotes
throughout, but the material is already complex enough not to break the
sentences with the source designation. So here are the sources. We call your special attention to the NIAAA treatment guide, the fifth item below
The "current survey" is the National Epidemiologic
Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III, often called NESARC-III,
conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of
the National Institutes of Health. The
survey was taken from April 2012 through June 2013.
The main report of results:
Bridget F. Grant, PhD, Risé
B. Goldstein, PhD, MPH, and co-authors, "Epidemiology of DSM-5
Alcohol Use Disorder". JAMA Psychiatry
. Published June 3, 2015. This article is free to the public; no
subscription is necessary to access it, though a simple account identifier must
be devised and registered to download the pdf.
The New York Times
reference is "Problem Drinking Affects 33 Million Adults, Study
Finds". The New York Times
3, 2015. http://nyti.ms/1JqkdG6
. Accessed July 17, 2015.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a
treatment guide. One early section of it
is a quite readable list of the "Signs of an Alcohol Problem". Find this guide at http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Treatment/treatment.htm
. A 20-page pdf "Print Version" can be
accessed right by the title. The list of symptoms is given on page 3, and the entire guide looks quite helpful.
The "prior survey" we mentioned is NESARC, taken
in 2001-2002, with follow-up interviews of many of the same people in
2004-2005. Information from it on
recovery prospects is reported in Deborah A. Dawson, Risé
B. Goldstein and others, "Correlates of Recovery from Alcohol
Dependence: A Prospective Study Over a 3-Year Follow-Up Interval". Alcohol Clinical & Experimental
Vol. 36, No. 7, July
2012. Pp 1268-1277.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church, Health Care and Pensions
Magna Carta and America
Our annual July 4 commentaries on the American Revolution
seek to highlight the role of common people in the Revolutionary process: women who refused to buy household goods
imported from Britain, a local blacksmith in western Massachusetts who led an
early sit-in-type revolt against British authorities in that region, lay people
who discovered they could preach during the associated Great Awakening period.
This year, 2015, marks the 800th
the Magna Carta and that event has a link with common people and contributes to
the American Revolution. Thus, it can be
our topic for this year's Revolution article.
The agreement between King John and a group of barons was sealed on June
15; this very first document was a group of "Articles of the Barons". It was recast and publicized on June 19 as
"Magna Carta", the Great Charter.
Just last Monday, June 15, 2015, there was a special commemoration at
Runnymede, and you have also perhaps read articles about the document which
have already appeared in major press outlets.
Obviously, I am not a historian, but on such a propitious occasion, I would
offer some thoughts.
Some of these current commentaries want us to downplay the
role of Magna Carta, and writers of those might take issue that I link the document
to "common people". Those
critics are in fact correct: we cannot
say that Magna Carta marked the foundation of democracy, nor that it represented
a granting of freedom to "common people". Not at all.
What it did was exact from a ruler an official statement that the
position of ruler was itself subject to expressed laws, that the actions of the
ruler could not be arbitrary and that the ruler could not impose indiscriminate
demands or fees on those ruled. In the
very beginning on June 15, 1215, the document applied to "any baron",
an elite group, to be sure. But the
scope widened immediately: just days later, on June 19, this became "any
freeman". While broader than
just the 40 barons, the group "freemen" was still not very large; the
vast majority of people came under various conditions of feudal servitude. Then, in the 1350s, during the reign of
Edward III, "Six Statutes" were enacted by Parliament that included
the phrasing "no man of what Estate or Condition that he be, shall be put
out of Land or Tenement, nor taken nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor put to
Death, without being brought in Answer by due Process of the Law." Thus, virtually everyone would now benefit,
and even common people had rights that had to be respected by rulers.
There's another important phrase in that quote, of
course: "due Process of the
Law". While those exact words are
not in Magna Carta, the concept is. In Article
39, it says, "No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or
outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him,
save by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the
land." So here is the invention of
"due process". Article 40
further exerts a "rule of law": "To no one shall we sell, to no
one shall we deny or delay right or justice." Defendants can't get off by paying a bribe,
nor can anyone be held because they can't pay one. Note that from the beginning, from Magna
Carta itself, such even-handed dispensing of justice applied to everyone, with no
restriction to "barons" or "freemen".
There is at least one other major item in Magna Carta. The barons were upset with King John because
of the sudden and arbitrary imposition of "aids" and the high rates
of "scutage" he demanded.
Scutage is a fee a baron could pay instead of providing military
service. John spent lots of money, but
he lost lands and other resources in his conduct of various wars and
battles. The barons wanted some
protection from his consequently exorbitant takings. Thus, Article 12 reads, "No scutage or
aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our
realm." And Article 14 goes on to
outline how representatives of the realm would be chosen for and given adequate
notice of meetings to design the required funding orders. This part was not particularly democratic in construct,
but it still formulated the operation of "no taxation without
Colonists arrived in North America carrying these rights
with them. In writing. Every one of the 13 colonies was organized as
a "company" granted land and legal right by the Crown. This was implemented through a
"charter". The charters
included clauses with some phrase granting due process of law. And more explicitly, they included statements
that the settlers and their descendants were entitled to the ancient rights of
English people. The charter of the
Virginia company was quite explicit: The emigrants and their children
"shall have and enjoy Liberties, Franchises, Immunities, . . . as if they
had been abiding and born, within our Realm of England." In Massachusetts Bay in 1629, the Charter
said settlers would "have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free
and naturall subjects . . . as yf they and everie one them were borne within
the Realm of England." These
Charters thus granted the rights of English citizens to the colonists, and they
also established the practice of written constitutions.
American colonists' reliance on Magna Carta is easily
illustrated in a statement that Ben Franklin made to Parliament during the
wrangle over the Stamp Act. Franklin, a
representative for Massachusetts in the Royal Court in London, "was hauled
in front of Parliament and asked on what basis he called for the repeal of the
Stamp Act. The colonists, he answered,
could not 'be taxed but by their common consent [. . . based on their rights]
as Englishmen as declared by Magna Carta.'"
Several contemporary writers indeed point out that the Magna
Carta seems more revered in the U.S. than in Britain. One in particular is a British member of the
European Parliament, Daniel Hannan. In a
recent Wall Street Journal
article, he says, “Magna Carta has
always been a bigger deal in the U.S.”
He explains that the site at Runnymede went unmarked until 1957, and
when a memorial stone was finally erected, it was the American Bar Association
who sponsored it.
A New York Times
writer, Sarah Lyall,
highlights further the longstanding importance of the Magna Carta here. Just last month, she explains, the Supreme Court
cited Article 40 in one of its own decisions, on judicial integrity: “Upholding a Florida law that forbids judges
to solicit campaign contributions, Chief Justice Roberts … wrote: ‘This
principle dates back at least eight centuries to Magna Carta.’” Lyall further quotes William Hubbard, current
president of the American Bar Association: “The idea that the law comes from
the people, and it’s not the law of the king, is fundamental.”
Thus, while governments changed and revolutions occurred in
England and in America, the principles set forth in Magna Carta not only live
on but assist in our government and in protection of common people to this
day. Lyall quotes Hubbard in conclusion,
“To think that those principles have survived 800 years gives me great hope for
 All quotations of actual paragraphs of the Magna Carta
come from Nicholas Vincent: Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pages
111 to 124. There are 63 paragraphs in
the original document, one of which, number 35, actually establishes a standard
size for a glass of wine, "namely the London quarter," and also
standard measures of cloth.
 Sarah Lyall.
“Magna Carta, Still Posing a Challenge at 800.” The New York Times. June 14, 2015. http://nyti.ms/1QYLYGs.
Labels: American Society
Prayers after the Shootings in the South Carolina Church
A week ago, a young man shot nine African-American people in cold blood in a church in Charlston, South Carolina. We interrupted work we were doing to send an email to Ways-of-the-World readers. As the funerals for these dear people are about to begin, we post much of the text of that email here. Note that this was written just as people were first hearing about this awful act.
My own Bishop, Lawrence Provenzano of the Diocese of Long Island, has responded immediately, and I write just now to share his message with you all.
"From the Office of the Bishop:
The BBC reported this morning at 8 am, EDT [June 17], that "Nine people have been shot dead at a historic African-American Church in Charleston, SC, and a hunt is under way for a white gunman.
Police described the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a 'hate crime.'
They issued surveillance images of the suspect and said he had sat in the church for an hour before opening fire.
Bishop Provenzano sends the following Pastoral Message to the clergy and members of the Diocese of Long Island:
Prayer. Deep, deep, soul-stirring prayer for the victims, their families, their church community, the city of Charleston, and for this nation!
Words can no longer suffice for the senseless hatred of this sinful act. Prayer and the witness of prayer by God's people must be our response.
I call upon our Diocese to pray with each other across parish lines, and neighborhood lines, and county lines.
Hold each other in prayer and witness to the unity in Christ we profess.
This is our response to hatred and sin.
The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Also included in that message is a note from the Brooklyn Borough President's office, which contains the information that among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
May Rev. Pinckney and all those killed rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon them.
As we write this afternoon, June 24, Rev. Pinckney lies in state in the South Carolina Capitol Building.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church, People, Prayer