Saturday, May 27, 2006

blue butterfly, West Virginia. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I believe in the great and growing Being of the Species from which I rise, to which I return, and which, it may be, will ultimately even transcend the limitations of the Species and grow into the Conscious Being, the eternally conscious Being of all things."

H.G. Wells
Why We Fight

Dictatorships begin gradually, with the consent of the governed fueled by emotions like fear and rage and greed. A little freedom or due process or deliberation is lost here and there, but there are reasons. A particular group is targeted, but there are reasons. The emergency powers granted the executive become his normal powers, and the emergency never ends. And it turns out that these powers imply even more powers. It's an old story, and apparently we're falling for it again.

It follows from 9/11: attack justified a strong president and war-- the open-ended, no specific- enemy war on terror that turns out to have meant war on Iraq by any means necessary. A pattern of dismissing international relationships and abrogating international agreements, all in the service of an imperialism masked by emotional assertions of benevolence and pure motives.

The military or even worse, private armies, become the solution to every real and perceived problem. And then rights and powers of the people and the checks and balances of government are violated with impunity, and justified by bogus theories like the unitary executive, which is just a two word definition of dictatorship.

It's happening so fast that it's hard to keep up, but here are some of the signs: Attorney General Gonzales telling the press they can go to jail for exposing government wrongdoing, including his; Gonzales stopping investigations into possible criminal behavior by the NSA and others, including him, with bogus use of secrecy claims. And yes, although it's not popular to say so, the FBI raid on a Congressional office, which violates Constitutional separation of powers the same way that NSA spying violates constitutional civil liberties. And now the confirmation for CIA director of the architect of a criminal enterprise, the NSA spying.

We are well on the way to a dictatorship and Congress and the press are allowing it to happen, and they are often its instruments. It has reached the point that partisan politics and other considerations are feeding into the pattern. Democrats who should be defending separation of powers are only too happy to see a Republican Congressional leadership lose a political issue by defending the Constitution. If we really believe we are endangered by a dictatorship, we'd better keep our eye on the ball.

ADDENDUM: Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley: "... unfortunately, civil liberties don't swing back like other issues. Civil liberties is a very precious commodity. When you lose them, it tends to run out of your hand like sand, and it's hard to get it back. And that's one of the dangers here, that presidents, when they acquire power, rarely return it to the people. And so we have to be very concerned. This country is changing in a very significant way, and it's something that citizens have to think about because if there is a war on terror, and I believe that we must fight terror, obviously, but we're trying to defend that Constitution. And we're really at a point where the President is arguing about his own presidential power in ways that are the antithesis of that Constitution and the values that it contains."
Without Enrony

While it's useful to know that Kenny-Boy Lay and Jeff Skillings are unlikely to get anywhere on their appeals for convictions on fraud and conspiracy, I wish the press coverage was more forthright on what they did: they stole huge amounts of money from thousands of people, utterly changing their lives, and they systematically cheated millions of considerable amounts of money while creating economic and political chaos in California, and robbing state government and the people who justly deserved to be served by the programs and agencies paid for by our taxes.

These guys are monumental criminals, and what they did isn't "scandal" or even "corruption." They are robbers, extortionists, liars, con men and thieves. They held an entire state hostage, and stole from their own employees. The people who did their bidding in such enterprises as manipulating energy flows are no less guilty of those acts, but these guys were the executives of evil, the architects of criminal enterprise. They deserved the same fair trial as anyone else accused, but allowing them to continue hiring expensive lawyers using their ill-gotten gain should stop now. Their assets aren't theirs. That's what the verdict means.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mulagyalis by Beau Dick (Tlingit) Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The fact that many a man who goes his own way ends in ruin means nothing."


The Climate Crisis

Some Inconvenient Hunters

While oil companies pour millions into absurd ads singing the praises of carbon dioxide, and rabid right swiftboaters spread their usual false stories (claiming that Al Gore and others used five cars to travel a few blocks to a screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," when in fact they all walked), Gore's movie opens to widespread attention, which for the forces of darkness makes it an inconvenient hit.

But that's not all that's happening in the Climate Crisis. NOAA issued its official prediction for hurricane season: 13 to 16 named storms, with 4-6 hurricanes of level 3 or higher intensity. NOAA's predictions last year were way low. Ocean temperatures are warmer than normal, which feeds the storms. Other stories indicate New Orleans is in the crosshairs again this year, and though levees are repaired, there's not a lot of confidence they would hold under the stress of a major storm.

Longterm, the results of two new studies assert that global heating may be more intense than the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions--by as much as 78% higher. According to the BBC, the studies take into account various feedback mechanisms not measured in other studies.

And closer to the ground and to today, there's this story:

A recent nationwide survey shows that it's no longer just radical environmentalists who think global warming is real. About half of America's hunters and anglers -- including many who said they voted for President Bush in 2004 -- told pollsters they are witnessing firsthand, in the outdoors, the effects of some form of climate change, according to the results of a nationwide survey of sportsmen released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation, an environmental group based in Washington, D.C.

The sportsmen are seeing climate change in the form of lakes that no longer freeze over for ice fishing in the winter, fall-hunting seasons without enough snow to track deer and other drastic environmental changes they consider a threat to wildlife, the group says.

Of those who say they have seen such changes, the majority attribute those changes to global warming, and many go a step further to blame the burning of fossil fuels as the cause of the warming.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hydrogen bomb test explosion. Posted by Picasa
Nuking Iran: America's Geopolitical Suicide

In an interview with CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Iran is months away from developing a nuclear weapon, not the five to ten years that most experts estimate. He said that while Israel is not comtemplating unilateral military action, he "expressed confidence" that President Bush "will lead other nations in taking the necessary measures to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power."

We don't know if Olmert urged military action when he met with Bush Tuesday, or even if this is a message already coordinated with the White House, but the spectre of U.S. bombing of Iran in the near future must again be faced.

Presumably, planners are anticipating possible military and political responses to bombing targets in Iran. But is anyone thinking about the geopolitical consequences of one possible aspect of such an attack: the use of nuclear weapons?

Because this act is in itself highly consequential. If it were to happen, it could well mark the beginning of the end of the U.S. as a world power, and certainly change how this country is viewed in the world, forever.

Continued at 60's Now
UPDATE: This essay front paged at European Tribune and E Pluribus Media.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sombrero Galaxy. ESO Chile photo. Posted by Picasa
The Enlightenment Project

If science, democracy and free markets are the way to change the world for the better, David Levine argues in a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle Insight, it's not going to happen automatically. We must pay attention to the poverty that belies this potential, and seems to support the message and the desperation of terrorists.

Although some extremists will always find reasons to oppose U.S. policies, they will remain isolated as long as most citizens of the world see that prosperous nations are working to make the world a better place. It is a challenge for prosperous nations to ensure that science and capitalism consistently improve the lives of billions of the globe's poor. Tragically, the terrorists who see the "enlightenment project" doing little to help most of the world often have a point. That is, for roughly half the world, several centuries' progress in the sciences and the reach of free markets have brought neither a consistent improvement in the quality of life nor the promise of a better life for their children.

The solution to many of the world's most persistent and tragic problems resulting from poverty are neither difficult nor expensive. Many have said this before, but Levine has a simple argument that may resonate with many people. Give this essay a look.

Monday, May 22, 2006

When Information is Power

The news that the Bush government may be monitoring phone conversations of certain journalists is quickly followed by the Bush Attorney General stating that journalists may be prosecuted for leaking classified information, such as recent (and Pulitizer Prize-winning) stories did by exposing the existence of secret prisons and NSA spying on Americans. As legal pundit Jonathan Turley said to Keith Olbermann, the Attorney General doing the threatening may well have been part of a criminal enterprise that one of these leaks revealed.

This intimidation of an already docile press threatens all of us, unless we're ready to give up our role of an informed electorate in a democracy, let alone bring lawbreakers to justice. Maybe a dictator, his secret police and the rich oligarchy that loots the treasury and manipulates policy is all we want now.

How else does the increasingly Stalin-like Bush government (Stalin lite perhaps, or Stalin with a dopey face) threaten us with these survelliance programs?

In the New Yorker, Sy Hersh explained how telephone survelliance has been conducted since shortly after 9-11:

A security consultant working with a major telecommunications carrier told me that his client set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between its main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center. This link provided direct access to the carrier’s network core—the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. “What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,” the consultant said. “They’re providing total access to all the data.”

All that data--who is calling a suspect number or even a place, and who is calling the original caller, etc.--generates so much "information" that there's not enough time or people to follow up on all of it. So some winnowing needs to occur. Hersh writes:

Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. “In the old days, you needed probable cause to listen in,” the consultant explained. “But you could not listen in to generate probable cause. What they’re doing is a violation of the spirit of the law.”

Laws are enacted to prevent abuses, because things don't always work the way they are intended to, and either through stupidity or cupidity, ordinary people get hurt. Doing key word searches of telephone calls and emails has vast potential for abuse--and we know enough about knuckleheaded and bureaucratic law enforcement and investigative agencies at all levels to know that abuse occurs regularly. It can also easily be used for partisan political and commercial exploitation--and we sure know that any tool that provides personal information is going to be eagerly adapted.

So what does it all mean to you? The San Francisco Chronicle has a feature called "Two Cents," a kind of organized man-on-the-street interview format, in which citizens respond to the question of the day. On Sunday, the question was "Ever say anything on the phone you don't want the NSA to hear?" One response was the most succinct explanation for why (apart from Constitutional principle) this survelliance should bother ordinary people who naturally believe they aren't saying anything suspicious, and they certainly aren't talking to terrorists. Jo-Anna Pippen wrote:

I'm sure in the last four years I've said: 'Michael Moore, shotgun, Internet, ACLU, Berkeley, indicted, Hillary, drugs, cell, data, gay marriage, SpongeBob, peace, France, oligarchy, bomb, cell, Cheney, contraception, AT&T, Democrat, 29 percent, White House, turd blossom, tequila, Jeb, firewall, NBC and New York Times.' I'm probably on a watch list already."

As for how being on a watch list can affect you, don't forget the "no-fly" lists that keep people from traveling by air, though nobody seems to know who makes these lists, what the criteria for inclusion is, and how they can be corrected. Beyond that, all this information can be stolen (just today, news that computerized personal data on more than 26 million military veterans was stolen) or sold, which could mean it can prevent you from getting jobs, medical insurance, credit, and who knows what else, depending on who gets the information and how they interpret what's in it.

This is how it happens: with the excuse of national security, of battling a hated enemy, certain things must be done. And if you're doing nothing wrong, naturally you won't object--will you? Because to object implies that you are doing something wrong. So if it doesn't seem to affect you, why make a big deal of it? You just hope there are a lot of doors to knock on before they get to yours.

But as the power of the people erodes, you find that you are unable to object effectively to anything, because the law is no longer on your side and the press barely exists except as celebrity gossip wrapping around advertisements. As slowly but surely, your freedoms disappear, you find that your life and those of people you know--your children for instance--are being controlled more tightly. You become the servant to those you once elected as public servants. But the public now serves them. As do you.

It's like gas prices. They raise them and then lower them, but never to the level they were before. So you get used to $2 a gallon, just as we'll soon get used to $3 a gallon (in fact, up here where gas is currently about $3.50, we considered a price in Oregon of $3.07 a bargain.) Our freedom is already restricted beyond what is necessary to serve the interests of the whole society. We all know we serve the interests of the rich and powerful, but we are more or less content with the freedom left to us. The choice of menu at McDonalds. The array of cheap products at Wal-Mart. And so on. So we're already used to humiliation at the airline gates, which no one would have tolerated before 2001, even though taking off our shoes is unlikely to have any real effect on stopping terrorist attacks.

And since we're not terrorists, we don't worry about torture or indefinite detention without charges in secret prisons, or in Iraq, or at Guantanamo. And since we're not criminals, we don't worry about the fact that one out of every 136 residents of America is in prison, and that more than 60% of them haven't been convicted of anything--most are awaiting trial or charges.

So we adjust to each loss of freedom, each sense of self-worth and power, each sense of a citizenry with the duty to question authority. And when we give up privacy and a free press, we're giving up our ability to limit unwarranted intrusions and injustices that may become up-close and personal without warning, without reason, and increasingly, without remedy.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bonobo ponders clueless humans Posted by Picasa
Scientists Baffled by Future-Planning Apes, Clueless Humans

On the BBC: Bonobos and orangutans are capable of future planning, according to a study published in the journal Science. .."Traditional learning theory has a hard time explaining this, and several scientists had postulated that future planning is something beyond the capabilities of animals, so we were very surprised to see this," said Dr Call.

The scientists looked at bonobos and orangutans because they represent our closest and most distant great ape relatives, respectively. Humans and bonobos evolved into separate lineages about five to seven million years ago; orangutans about 14 million years ago. "Because both orangutans and bonobos showed the ability to future plan in these tasks, this means this skill could have been present in the common ancestor to all great apes," Dr Call told the BBC News website.

After analyzing these findings, Captain Future called the BBC to suggest that these scientists now study why humans seem to have lost the capacity to plan for the future. But his call was mysteriously routed to the Dr. Who set. Happily, this led to a very nice conversation with K-9, veteran robotic dog aide to the Doctor, who agreed such an inquiry is a good idea.

K-9 baffles the Fourth Doctor. He's reappearing with the 10th this season in London. Posted by Picasa
Break Point

As Steven Wright famously said, "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?" So you get rid of the old stuff, but what makes it old? The idea of products built not to last irks us, but for a variety of reasons we routinely discard devices that work just fine. Obsolescence by any other name has helped nourish a sweet economy, but a hidden cost is coming due fast, in the poisonous waste quickly overwhelming the world's capacity to deal with it.

Giles Slade, who describes himself as an "unaffiliated scholar," produces these numbers in "Made to Break": At least 90 percent of the 315 million still-functional personal computers discarded in North America in 2004 were trashed (it was 63 million just a year before), and more than 100 million cell phones -- 200,000 tons worth -- were thrown away in 2005. Cell phones are especially dangerous, because their toxic components are too small to disassemble and recycle. They are also being trashed with amazing speed, with the shortest life span of any electronic product.

The overall effect is profound. "As the waste piles up in the United States, above and below ground" Slade writes, "contamination of America's fresh water supply from e-waste may soon become the greatest biohazard facing the entire continent." Even if there were places to take the stuff offshore, there won't be enough ships to carry it.

For the rest of this review in today's San Francisco Chronicle, go here.