Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Ancient Citizens" by contemporary artist Georgina Cabrera, Mexico.
From Novica. com. Many so-called immigrants from south of the Rio Grande
are actually Native peoples, including some whose tribal lands
transcend U.S.-Mexico boundaries. Posted by Picasa
Three Days to Shake the Nation

It's going to be an active three days. Today (Saturday) in New York City there are events culminating in a mass demonstration for Peace, Justice and Democracy. This is a national demonstration, with people coming from elsewhere in the U.S. to participate. Jesse Jackson, Cindy Sheehan and Daniel Ellsberg are speaking. This event comes at the end of the month with the most American casualties of this year in the Iraq war.

Tens of thousands are expected to demonstrate in Washington Sunday against the ongoing
genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Events actually began Friday, when five members of Congress sought arrest in a protest outside the Sudanese embassy. One of those arrested was Rep. Tom Lantos of California, a survivor of the Nazi holocaust. Also bringing attention to this woefully undercovered story, actor George Clooney visited Darfur and returned to address the National Press Club in Washington.

Then on Monday, possibly the most massive event is a
general strike across the nation by immigrant workers protesting anti-immigrant legislation that has already inspired some of the largest demonstrations in the history of several American cities, including Los Angeles. The one-day strike on May 1 may involve millions of workings and thousands of businesses. Some businesses are planning to shut down for the day, either in support or from necessity. ("This means parents in Beverly Hills have two days to learn their childrens' names," quipped Tonight Show host Jay Leno on Friday.) Those who do go to work on Monday can show solidarity by wearing white.

Monday's events also include marches, and
Los Angeles is expecting even larger crowds than last time, up to a million people in all. Chicago and other cities also expect marches with large crowds. Schoolrooms may be empty in many places as well.

Friday, April 28, 2006

It follows as night the day: To combat high gas prices
Republicans once again propose to drill away the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Men can never avoid the ghosts they have called into the world. Evil always returns to its point of origin."

Franz Kafka

Captain Future's Log

Both Sides Now

We're so smart. But as much as science can tell us about how things work---at least on the level of allowing us to make and do things with that knowlege--we could still use some realistic humility about how much we really understand about, well, everything that's most basic and vital. Like water. Like clouds.

Since we haven't cared to try doing much to clouds, we haven't paid a lot of attention to them, even though we live in societies structured pretty much based on the idea that a single ruler has a direct line to the gods, as evidenced by his ability to bring rain for the crops. Besides which, clouds are very complicated, and our science has dealt with making simple things work for particular purposes. Until chaos theory, for example, the behavior of clouds was conceptually beyond us.

Now we're faced with a complex problem with complex causes, and time lag effects. With uncertainties and possibly with tipping points, unlike any humans have used science to confront before. It started out with the benign name of the Greenhouse Effect (interesting that we used a metaphor based on a human construction for a natural process, being set in motion or deformed by human activities.) Now even Wired magazine is calling it the Climate Crisis.

Today two satellites were launched from California to study the clouds: Cloudsat and Calypso. According to BBC News, "The Cloudsat and Calipso missions will study how clouds and aerosols (fine particles) form, evolve and affect our climate, the weather and air quality. Scientists say knowledge gaps in such areas severely hamper their ability to forecast future climate change."

This article is a good quick summary of the specific problems these satellites will address, but apart from advancing our knowledge about the specific effects of greenhouse gases and the likely outcomes for the climate, it also reminds us of how little we really know about what keeps us alive, and makes life possible on this incredible planet:

The new understanding obtained through the spacecraft will be fed into computer models, to improve their predictions. This should lead not just to better weather and air quality forecasts, but to reduced uncertainties in our expectations of future climate change.

"A tiny, tiny fraction of the water on our planet is in clouds and yet that tiny, tiny fraction is what provides the fresh water on which humans depend," Dr Stephens said.
Senate to Citizens: You're On Your Own

If the US Senate has expertise on anything, it's wind. And a Senate committee picked a curious time to issue its windy report on federal preparations for hurricane season: it says that FEMA is useless and should be abolished, Homeland Security is helpless, but unfortunately, with the start of hurricane season weeks away, nothing will be done about it.

According to the Associated Press: The bipartisan investigation into one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history singled out President Bush' and the White House as appearing indifferent to the devastation until two days after the storm hit. It said the Homeland Security Department either misunderstood federal disaster plans or refused to follow them.

The report had nothing good to say about state or local governments either. Its chief recommendation was to get rid of FEMA completely, and start a new agency with a brand new acronym. That ought to do it.

But even acronyms take time. All that printing. Also structuring the department so it has the power to do what FEMA used to do, before it became the stepchild of Homeland Security. The new acronym would also be under Homeland Security, but it would be, well, different. The acronym, for example.

For better or worse, there's no chance of any of this getting done by the time the other big wind---the one that causes hurricanes--begins this year. So it seems that all the Senate has done is to tell folks down in the hurricane zone that it's officially time to panic.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cutting Off Your Nose

is the kind of political cosmetic surgery the Bush White House practices, but daily it is disfiguring more than its political image. In the ongoing Plamegame, Karl Rove was back testifying to the Patrick Fitzgerald grand jury today, in his soap opera attempt to avoid jail. Whatever the legal culpability, the damage to America and the world of an apparent act of cheap political revenge is shaping up to be much worse.

Bad enough to reveal the identity of a covert CIA agent, and one who is running an operation trying to get badly needed information on nations obtaining or building weapons of mass destruction, the ostensible excuse for the Iraq invasion. But now there is emerging news that is more specific on what Valerie Plame was doing, and our worst nightmare is confirmed: she was watching the nuclear program in Iran. Precisely what has the Bushites itching to bomb again.

And because she was outed, her entire operation had to be shut down, leaving the US with great diminished ability to sniff out what is really going on in Iran.

According to Raw Story, the unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad...

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

river, forest, earth. Posted by Picasa
"The Hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change..."

It's not just a whisper anymore:

"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," said Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Holland told a packed hall at the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."

His job title makes this close to the first announcement of the coming conventional wisdom. Hurricane season just got way warmer. More here.
Trapped in America

Thinking about a little summer travel? Gasoline is anywhere from $3 to $3.30 a gallon for regular, and it's not even May. By the fourth of July we could be looking at $4. So unless you're an oil executive, a road trip is pretty much out of the question.

Also by then the oil futures will have become the airlines' present, and flights will cost more. But that's an incidental, minor worry. Because your chances of getting a flight you can pay for are minimal anyway. The whole thing is chaos. You might have cell phones up your wazoo and instant text messaging on your electric toothbrush, but if you want a reservation, let alone a good price on a trip of any distance, be prepared to spend several hours talking to India. This prediction is based on known experience, an acquaintance who the other day spent literally 6 hours straight trying to book a relatively simple round trip. Nobody knew what they were talking about, and the prices changed wildly even while they were talking. Time-consuming chaos and complete madness, all in a foreign language (excuse me, but they don't speak American over there.)

But if you actually happen to get a flight, you're faced with a couple of extra hours at the airport, and vacation without a nail clipper or scissors, or anything that known terrorists---how many of them again?--are wont to use. Not even in your checked luggage, because kicking a hole in the cabin floor to get to the nail clippers in your black suitcase (easy to find among the other black suitcases) is a well-known terrorist trick.

But even if your flight leaves more or less on time and goes more or less where it was supposed to, your adventure has just begun. You made a reservation for a rental car at a particular price, so fool that you are, you expect the actual car to be gassed up and waiting when and where you were promised. Not a chance.

It's gotten so bad that it's made Dilbert. He goes to the counter for the mid-sized car he reserved but they have nothing to give him but a single glove somebody left behind. Not so funny when it happens to you, but if they accidently have a vehicle for you, there's still the dizzying doubletalk they give you as well as a price that is nowhere near what you agreed to, and funny thing, always higher.

But if you happen to want to leave the country, none of this matters because you're an American, and thanks to our clueless leaders, nobody in the whole wide world wants you. So stay home. It's your choice.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Everybody But Bush? (And Why GE is ASKING for Government Regulation)

Things get lonely when you're at 32% (in today's CNN poll) and gasoline prices are rising past the horizon. Now even Republican lawmakers and corporations---even energy corporations--are abandoning Bush on the Climate Crisis. They are suddenly recognizing that it's real, and we need to do something about it.

We're not just talking Ahnold, but members of Congress. The corporations include General Electric, and what they're talking about is very instructive. For all the rhetoric about de-regulation and getting the gubment off the backs of polluters like DeLay (a small time pest controller so aggravated by health regulations on the poisons he used that he ran for Congress), businesses have usually understood that government regulation is a way of leveling the playing field so nobody gets a competitive advantage by doing something that is eventually going to hurt everyone, businesses and customers alike.

So now a GE division is backing legislation to control carbon emissions, for the additional reason that if they are to invest in clean energy technology, they want some assurance that a market will be there:

Two years ago, we weren't talking about it; it's a dramatic change,'' John Krenicki, head of Atlanta-based GE Energy, a unit of Fairfield, Connecticut-based General Electric, said in an interview. He predicts that a greenhouse gas limit will be in place in less than five years.
GE Energy, the world's biggest maker of power-plant equipment, and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke Energy, the largest U.S. utility owner, are among companies that told the Senate Energy Committee earlier this month they welcome carbon regulation.
The companies say they want certainty before making billions of dollars in investments in ``clean'' technologies. They also are wary of having to deal with a hodgepodge of state standards.

This is how the marketplace works--with government---for everyone.
All Aboard---The New Impeachment Train

This is a story that is accelerating by the minute. A representative in the Illinois state legislature named Karen A. Yarbrough found an obscure rule of the US House of Representatives which says that a joint resolution of a state legislature can initiate federal impeachment proceedings. The U.S. House then has to take up the bill of impeachment.

She promptly put such a resolution forward in the Illinois legislature, charging George W. Bush with impeachable offenses. Now an impeachment resolution has been proposed in the California legislature, that includes not only Bush but Cheney. On Sunday, the L.A. Times published an editorial calling for Cheney to resign.

When news of this hits Washington, lawyers are going to be scrambling to see if this interpretation of the House rule really works. Republicans in the House are going to be sweating and scrambling to find parliamentary ways of derailing this. And other legislatures are going to be debating articles of impeachment.

All kinds of questions arise. If nine legislatures pass nine resolutions with different charges against Bush and/or Cheney, does the House have to consider them all? Is there anything like double jeopardy involved in impeachment? Or does that only apply to the Senate, if at all?

At the very least, the back and forth over the rule, and the legislatures vying to be the first to pass such a resolution, will put impeachment before the public in a way that not even a Neil Young song could. This is one of those unexpected and unforeseen possibilities that always seem to arise. In the past, a few good people in the right place at the right time, with the right procedures and rules, saved this Republic. So far it hasn't looked like it would happen this time. But maybe...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

noohlmahl mask by Joe David at Posted by Picasa
Dissenter In Chief

Yesterday John Kerry spoke at Fanuiel Hall, Boston's historic symbol of free speech, about the right and the responsibility to dissent, especially when dissent is necessary. It is a right and an act dear to the hearts of many veterans of the 1960s, and not just veterans of the war but of the anti-war. Some of us paid for that dissent, in large ways and small, for the rest of our lives. Here is some of what Senator John Kerry said:

Thirty-five years ago today, I testified before the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, and called for an end to the war I had returned from fighting not long before.

I know that some active duty service members, some veterans, and certainly some politicians scorned those of us who spoke out, suggesting our actions failed to “support the troops”—which to them meant continuing to support the war, or at least keeping our mouths shut. Indeed, some of those critics said the same thing just two years ago during the presidential campaign.

I have come here today to reaffirm that it was right to dissent in 1971 from a war that was wrong. And to affirm that it is both a right and an obligation for Americans today to disagree with a President who is wrong, a policy that is wrong, and a war in Iraq that weakens the nation.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that the best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles. When brave patriots suffer and die on the altar of stubborn pride, because of the incompetence and self-deception of mere politicians, then the only patriotic choice is to reclaim the moral authority misused by those entrusted with high office.

I believed then, just as I believe now, that it is profoundly wrong to think that fighting for your country overseas and fighting for your country’s ideals at home are contradictory or even separate duties. They are, in fact, two sides of the very same patriotic coin.

For more of the speech, go to 60's Now
. For the complete speech: Raw Story here.
UPDATE: A commentary on the speech and the speech itself.

Captain Future's Log

The Climate Crisis in Review

Sunday's New York Times Week in Review features a summary piece on the latest global heating science and public awareness of the issue, called Yelling Fire on a Hot Planet.

The Times is deliberately conservative, trying to review the certainties and uncertainties:

Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the prevailing scientific view: without big changes in emissions rates, global warming from the buildup of greenhouse gases is likely to lead to substantial, and largely irreversible, transformations of climate, ecosystems and coastlines later this century.

Here's the "middle" view: The latest estimates, including a study published last week in the journal Nature, foresee a probable warming of somewhere around 5 degrees should the concentration of carbon dioxide reach twice the 280-parts-per-million figure that had been the norm on earth for at least 400,000 years. This is far lower than some of the apocalyptic projections in recent years, but also far higher than mild warming rates focused on by skeptics and industry lobbyists.

As a result, by 2100 or so, sea levels could be several feet higher than they are now, and the new normal on the planet for centuries thereafter could be retreating shorelines as Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets relentlessly erode. Rivers fed by mountain glaciers, including those nourishing much of south Asia, could shrivel. Grand plans to restore New Orleans and the Everglades would be rendered meaningless as seawater advances. Manhattan would become New Orleans — a semi-submerged city surrounded by levees. In summers, polar bears would be stuck on the few remaining ice-clotted shores around the largely blue Arctic Ocean. Nothing about species extinction, the interaction of climate with deforestation, overfishing and ocean pollution, continued development, etc.

Projections of how patterns of drought, deluges, heat and cold might change are among the most difficult, and will remain laden with huge uncertainties for a long time to come, said M. Granger Morgan, a physicist and policy expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. This is conservative, too, as is the assertion that current Arctic melting and more ferocious storms are linked to the Climate Crisis by a minority of climate scientists.

On Public Perception and the Road Ahead:

A Gallup survey last month shows that people are still not worried about climate change. When participants were asked to rank 10 environmental problems, global warming was near the bottom, far below water pollution and toxic waste (both now largely controlled). Toxic waste largely controlled? I don't think so. Out of sight of the New York Times demographic maybe. If water pollution is no problem, why is everybody drinking bottled water? Still, the basic point is well taken---Americans are worrying about problems that were basically confronted in the 1970s, not global heating, which had its first burst of publicity in the long hot summers of the late 1980s.

Here's the nub, though:Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the kind of problem people, and democratic institutions, have proved singularly terrible at solving: a long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before the harm is clear. Though the point is well taken, an example or two might be more enlightening. In many respects, this is a pretty new kind of situation. Science just hasn't been able to forecast as well, and we as a species haven't actually endangered the entire future and the planet as we know it before.

Stressing the problem's urgency could well be counterproductive, according to "Americans and Climate Change," a new book by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The book notes that urgency does not appear to be something that can be imposed on people. Moreover, it says, "Urgency is especially prone to being discounted as unreasoned alarmism or even passion." It is true that this is a difficult paradox, it is urgent to act now, though many of the problems won't appear right away. On the other hand, if "alarmism" (let alone "passion") is non-motivating, what the hell are we doing in Iraq, or fighting something nebulously called the war on terror?

Among its recommendations, the Yale book suggests something radical: drop the reluctance to accept adaptation as a strategy. Adaptation to climate extremes has long been derided by many environmentalists as defeatism. But, the book says, adaptation may help people focus on the reality of what is coming — and that may motivate them to cut emissions to limit chances of bigger changes to come. Actions could range from developing drought-resistant crops to eliminating federal insurance and other subsidies that have long encouraged coastal development.
I agree about what they call "adaptation." I'd rather call it dealing with the immediate crisis. But at the same time, prevent the greater crisis. The Climate Crisis and The Climate Catastrophe. And scientists, as well as the enviros, do too often fall into the either/or mindset of the culture at large, when they're trying to be "realistic."

Could stressing adaptation work? The Yale group calls global warming "the perfect problem" — meaning that a confluence of characteristics make it hard, if not impossible, to solve. Its impact remains clouded with scientific uncertainty, its effects will be felt over generations, and it is being amplified by everything from microwaving a frozen dinner to bringing electricity to an Indian village. So what? Uncertainty is no excuse. Try reading your own columnist, Nicholas Kristof, who wrote in a recent colum:"The White House has used scientific uncertainty as an excuse for its paralysis. But our leaders are supposed to devise policies to protect us even from threats that are difficult to assess precisely -- and climate change should be considered even more menacing than a nuclear-armed Iran....The best reason for action on global warming remains the basic imperative to safeguard our planet in the face of uncertainty, and our leaders are failing wretchedly in that responsibility."

"I wish I were more optimistic of our ability to get a broad slice of the public to understand this and be motivated to act," said David G. Hawkins, who directs the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group. Wishing won't make it so, bub. So get off your butt and make it so. So sayeth Captain Future.