Saturday, September 02, 2006

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California Leading: The Climate Crisis

It's been another week of grim warnings. A report by a coalition of environmental and aid organizations warned that the weather in the Carribean is becoming less predictable and more extreme, due to the Climate Crisis--both global heating and the environmental degradation and other changes it causes. John Holdren, new president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a stern warning in one of his first public pronouncements, to the BBC: "We are not talking anymore about what climate models say might happen in the future. "We are experiencing dangerous human disruption of the global climate and we're going to experience more," Professor Holdren said.

He emphasised the seriousness of the melting Greenland ice cap, saying that without drastic action the world would experience more heatwaves, wild fires and floods. He added that if the current pace of change continued, a catastrophic sea level rise of 4m (13ft) this century was within the realm of possibility; much higher than previous forecasts.

Fortunately there was better news in the growing awareness of the Climate Crisis reality. The World Bank has officially recommended that the Climate Crisis and its effects be figured into development and anti-poverty plans globally (and also warned of possible severe economic consequences due to the CC.) Bill McKibben, who has been writing about the CC since 1989, believes public awarness and demands that the CC be confronted are finally becoming powerful:
And so more environmentalists are starting to decide that 10 years of only behaving reasonably may be enough -- that the time has come to let leaders know that a sizable portion of the population is truly upset, and that it won't rest until the nation's on track to tackle the problem. Progress is by no means impossible: Vermont independent James Jeffords has introduced a credible bill in the Senate calling for an 80 percent reduction in carbon by 2050. But if the bill is to have any chance in a capital dominated by the energy lobby, it needs strong backing from think tanks and scientists -- and from people in the street. The lesson of every movement in US history is that being right is only half the battle; being loud helps, too.

To support his thesis of support, this little tidbit: the biggest cheer at the MTV Awards was for Al Gore and his message that it will be the younger generation who will demand the CC be confronted, because it's their future.

As for actual action, California took a stunning step to jumpstart the "Stop It" element of slowing down global heating for the future by cutting greenhouse gases emissions now. California legislators passed a plan which Governor S has promised to sign with a graduated series of steps culminating in reducing emissions in the state by 25% by the year 2020. The SF Chronicle describes some of the implementation, as well as speculating on the effect this will have on other states and the federal government.

How about the economy? The doom and gloom right wingers went on record immediately: the Competitive Institute's press release was entitled, "California Joins the Third World." But others believe the loss of expanding and polluting fossil fuel operations can be more than offset by new and cleaner industries, and by the energy of innovation. The Chron:

But others sense an opportunity. They argue that California can cut greenhouse gas emissions with little increase in the price of electricity and, down the road, will reap an enormous payback by having retooled its economy for the 21st century. Much of the rest of the world is working to turn industry greener -- California could lead the trend in the United States, they say. Global warming, they say, ultimately represents a much more insidious economic threat than any regulatory mandate. "California's economy is vulnerable to climate impacts, but it can benefit from climate action," Michael Hanemann, professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, said in a statement.

California's gross state product could grow by $60 billion to $74 billion in the next 14 years if it takes advantage of opportunities created by greenhouse gas restrictions, according to Berkeley researchers. "The economic evidence supports a cap on global warming emissions," Hanemann said.

Advocates believe that companies focused on energy-efficient products or renewable sources of power will flock to California and thrive. As more states and countries try to curb emissions, these "clean-tech" businesses will be ready to help them.

As Al Gore has been saying, and others agree, there is growing recognition--even within fossil fuel dependent industries and the Republican party--that efforts to curb CO2 emissions will grow because the science is basically beyond dispute, and the evidence of ongoing climate change is increasingly obvious. But emphasizing the opportunity, both in the "Fix It" and "Stop It" efforts, to put the country to constructive and creative work on a crisis affecting billions of people, the planet's ecosystem and much of the life on it, including human civilization, is the proper motivator. And California may lead the way.

Angelides can hit hard on health care. Posted by Picasa
California Leading: Health Care

Last week the California legislature--both houses--passed a bill that would revolutionize health care in the state, and likely would create major pressure on the rest of the nation and the federal government. It is the closest to a single-payer universal health care plan as the U.S. has ever seen.

The San Francisco Chronicle says the plan would eliminate private medical insurance plans and establish a statewide health insurance system that would provide coverage to all Californians.

This bill has a long history, and in the years since it was first proposed, has been refined and its provisions vetted for cost and benefit. It is a very solid plan, and this year has finally gathered widespread support.

"We know the health care in place today is teetering on collapse," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles. "We need to do something to improve it, to reform it, and this is what we are bringing to the table."

Now attention is on Governor Schwarzenegger, who is on record as being against single-payer health care, but in his current re-election campaign is offering no alternatives to fix the health care system. He has not taken an official position on the bill, which he must either sign into law or veto.

The polls show a close race for governor, with Arnold ahead of Democrat Phil Angelides. But fixing health care is an urgent priority in California. As the Chronicle says, as many as 7 million people are uninsured in the state, and spiraling costs have put pressure on business and consumers. This ought to be Angelides crusade right now.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Jupiter, one of our remaining planets. The two white ovals
are storms, which are themselves larger than some former
and present planets. Posted by Picasa
Truth Decay

Update: A version of this is in the European Tribune rec list--worth the trip for some outstanding and articulate comments. Meanwhile, "Campaign Memo: the Katrina Spot" remains the top rated submission at Political Cortex and has some folks at E Pluribus Media (where it was frontpage Tuesday) trying to figure out how to make a version of this spot.

The imagery of decadence may suggest Roman orgies or American idols, but those are the more florrid and less important signs. What decadence means is decay, and we've got lots of that in the USA.

Decay may be a natural process of organisms but civilization is built on the ability to repair, renew and replace infrastructure, institutions and even ideas. The easiest of these is infrastructure, because mostly what that takes is maintenance and repair, the kind of attention that is the basic responsibility of government and the community as a whole. It's not exactly rocket science, it's supposed to be almost automatic. Guess what. We're failing at it and have been for years. It's decay. It's decadence.

The Seattle Times this week put it bluntly: Experts warn U.S. is coming apart at the seams.

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem."I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.

The decay includes corporate failures like the shutting down of the Alaska pipeline. But it's a private and public problem that affects us all: The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating "at an alarming rate." It noted that half the 257 locks operated by the Army Corps of Engineers on inland waterways are functionally obsolete, more than one-quarter of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, and $11 billion is needed annually to replace aging drinking-water facilities.

But it's not just a decay of attention. It's a decay in the moral center of civilization, which is to meet present needs and provide for the future. Corporations have always been tempted to let maintenance slide to save money in the present; a stock-driven business climate with a quarterly report morality and mentality has lavishly rewarded those who give in to that temptation. Masked by a partly sincere, mostly cynical pre-civilization view of public responsibility, reactionary Republican control of government has diverted money to the already wealthy rather than to people who get the job done, and the motive is mostly greed.

Joyce Marcel summarizes what else has been happening while we've been pouring immense assets down the bottomless pit of Iraq, and enriching the wealthiest people in the history of the world at the expense of everyone else now alive, or who will be alive in the foreseeable future:

Meanwhile, the Euro has surpassed the dollar in value; it's been this way almost from the day it was founded. China, which holds the paper on America, is now the world's fastest-growing economy. India's is the second-fastest. Moribund America, however, slides deeper and deeper into debt. We have no jobs. We make no things. We make no capital investments in our future. Our housing bubble, which has sustained the economy for years, is bursting as I write.

The only analogy - and I'm not the first person to make it - is that we are behaving like drug addicts and oil is our drug. We live in constant denial. We've cashed in all our assets, borrowed from everyone who will let us, robbed our parents' wallets, and now we're breaking and entering to get our daily fix. While we head for the gutter, the future has galloped past.

But real societial decadence is confirmed by attitudes towards such failures. If the response is denial and apathy, it is certain to go on until joined by ignorance. Today we have all three in interlocked array. All three are indicated by some of the more typical imagery of decadence--the amusements which absorb a civilization while its infrastructure and institutions fall apart around it. As the self-destruction gets more obvious, the amusements get more excessive and frenzied.

Our particular decadence is evidenced as much in, say, the surreal frenzy of the news media in covering every second of a plane ride by an addled man accused of a 10 year old crime, who anyone with sense had to suspect was not going to be charged, while completely neglecting actual news stories of far greater importance. And while the excesses of sexual predators may also be evidence, so is the reactionary fundamentalism and the extent to which frenzied attention on stem cells and creationism not to mention phony prophecies concocted out of misread lines from a mistranslated black book can be taken beyond absurdity into insanity.

As for ignorance, we're pursuing it with demented zeal. We're practically insisting on it. Here's Marcel again:

While people in other countries learn to speak two or three languages, America still has vigilantes on its borders trying to keep out anyone who doesn't speak English. Instead of welcoming the immigrants who are already here, it tries to demonize them. Artists, students and intellectuals find it difficult to get visas. They go to other, more welcoming countries instead.

Many of us have been living with pain during the past few years. We love this country, both the greatness and the promise of it. We love the way every new wave of immigrants has come here to make a better life and has made everyone else's life better as a result. But it seems that now openness and opportunity are gone. America is becoming a moral, cultural, religious and intellectual backwater, a banana republic without a hope or a prayer of catching up to the fascinating new world which is flourishing without us.

Of course we've got some very smart people here, and they could take us places we need to go. But mostly we marginalize and ignore them. We are going in so many opposite directions that standing still can make you dizzy. Coming apart at the seams may be an apt analogy of the final effect.

We've already seen our basic sense of the truth has decayed and been replaced by denial, apathy and ignorance, throughout the entire Bush administration. The Bushites have given lying a bad name: public relations manipulation that is as crude as it has been effective so far. Now smarting under the all-too apt analogies of Bush to Hitler (recall Kurt Vonnegut's immortal line: "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected") and the Bush government (with its hyper-nationalism and "unitary executive") as fascistic, the Bushites have appropriated the old playground taunt, "That's what you are--what am I?" After comparing Al Gore and lefty bloggers to Hitler and fascists, they're now systematically redefining the Evildoers (aka Terrorists) as Islamic fascists. What's next--the Climate Crisis revealed as a plot by the criminal mastermind, Mr. Tooth Decay?

Well, that's what you are, Bushites: Mr. Truth Decay.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Orleans 2005 Posted by Picasa
Ernesto Calling, Katrina Remembered

According to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, the sometimes tropical storm, sometimes hurricane Ernesto is a kind of hurricane season calling card---not terribly nasty, but affecting a lot of people over a long time, telling them that: we're back.

Ernesto won't be at sea long enough to crank up to the ferocious storm it could be, Masters says. But it's already bringing thunderstorms to the Florida Keys and will come ashore with wind and rain, and make its way up the state. It may then go back out to sea and energize again for forays into the Carolinas and up through the Middle Atlantic states.

It may tell the meteorologists something about the relative ocean temps all up the coast and how they interact with these storms this year. And it may remind people that hurricane season is here. But it is likely to be a pretty mild reminder, a nice nudge to get prepared. But not an indication of how severe things could get. Another twelve to 24 hours in the Caribbean, Masters suggests, and Ernesto could have been real trouble.

On this anniversary of Katrina, moveon. said: One year ago today Hurricane Katrina made landfall. For many of us, it was a moment of clarity: "this is what government looks like when it's run by people who don't believe in it." (Hat tip to Margaret for that quote.)

It's also a nice lead-in to the post which follows...
Campaign Memo: The Katrina Spot

The media is full of Katrina recollections and evaluations right now, and by Labor Day, they’ll be gone. Democrats can’t let America forget Katrina.

I say this because those responsible for the unnecessary tragedies in the Gulf, and the sickening fact that they continue, must be held accountable, and must be prevented from endangering more lives. This is a dangerous situation, for the American present and future, and just about all the nation can do at this point is to break the Republican rule of the federal government by electing Democrats to Congress.

So I am going to be unapologetically political here. Each congressional race is different, but there are themes and storylines that unite the Democratic quest to regain Congress. These stories should be part of all campaigns, but they can also be told nationally, as a national effort that supports local candidates.

Those major storylines are Katrina and Iraq, and Democrats demanding accountability. As I wrote last time, the main message is that Republicans control Congress: Republican One Party Rule.

The storylines are that Republican rule is responsible for the ongoing tragedies of Iraq and Katrina. These catastrophes are characterized by lies and corruption, and it is the responsibility of Congress to get explanations, to get facts on what should be done and what will work, and take action.

But with Republican One-Party Rule we haven’t gotten the facts and we won’t. No one is asking questions and demanding answers. Government is broken. It’s time to end Republican rule.

Some pols believe it isn’t advantageous to sound a Democrats v. Republican theme. National polls may not tell us how local races will turn out, but they sure show one thing: the generic Republican candidate is a loser. I believe it is precisely the Democrats v. Republican theme that will work, because voters don’t like how things are going, they can register that disapproval and try to improve things in a fairly low-risk way by electing Democrats to Congress. (It’s low risk because it will mean a divided government, so they aren’t turning over the country entirely to the Democrats, yet.)

Anyway, I illustrate one storyline, Katrina, with this first draft for a TV spot. The writing isn’t polished, I didn’t time it or anything, but I think it’s useful.

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IMAGES: hurricane winds and water; computer weather maps of approaching hurricane

A terrible storm was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. The National Weather Service issued a public warning:

IMAGE: teletype of this warning:

VO: If the storm hits the city, “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer,” the Weather Service said. They warned that homes would be severly damage or destroyed.”Power outages will last for weeks. … Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”

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IMAGE: Bush being briefed via video

VO: The Weather Service warned President Bush that New Orleans levees could fail. It was Hurricane Katrina.

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IMAGES: levees, Superdome, etc.

Mayor Nagin ordered New Orleans to be evacuated, but hundreds of thousands who couldn’t get out were stranded when levees broke and much of the city flooded. Tens of thousands of people—including elderly and families with children-- were abandoned in the Superdome for days, with no food and water, while a shocked nation watched.

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IMAGES: Bush with guitar, Rumsfeld at Padres baseball game, Condi Rice on Broadway.

VO: While the pleas of the Democratic governor of Louisina went unheeded by the Republican administration in Washington, President Bush attended political events, and members of his cabinet went to baseball games and Broadway shows.

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IMAGE: Bush and FEMA director

VO:Not for hours but for days and weeks, the federal government was failing to avert one of the greatest tragedies ever on American soil. And President Bush’s response was to pat the director of FEMA on the back and tell him, “You’re doing a heckava job, Brownie.”

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IMAGES: Gore, Waters at airport, Kerry

VO: Still the disaster grew, and as FEMA failed and actually refused help that poured in from around the country and the world, citizens tried their best to respond, [continued as captions]

including Al Gore, who flew more than
100 patients from New Orleans to
medical facilities in Tennessee, Posted by Picasa

and Maxine Waters, Jesse Jackson and the Louisiana Black
Caucus, who rescued some of those stranded at the New Orleans airport, Posted by Picasa

and John Kerry, who took a plane of emergency supplies to the Gulf. Posted by Picasa

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IMAGE: Demonstrators at White House, holding up signs: SHAME

VO: Citizens saw what no one believed they would ever see in America, and they knew who was responsible.

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IMAGES: destruction

VO: Why wasn’t the federal government prepared? For years engineers told the government the levees could fail. Three years earlier, a in-depth study in a New Orleans newspaper warned that nearly a quarter of a million people would be unable to evacuate from New Orleans. Yet the Republican government cut back funds for those levees, and shortchanged emergency preparations. What was the Republican response?

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IMAGE: Bush viewing New Orleans destruction from Air Force One

VO: President Bush looked down on the devastation from Air Force One. “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” he said.

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IMAGES: construction, texts

VO Then the Bush administration awarded no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other crony corporations for relief and reconstruction. In Sept 2005 the Wall Street Journal warned that they were bringing “many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq.”

A year later, waste and fraud was estimated at up to $2 billion, New Orleans and the Gulf are still in shambles, lacking basic services and housing. And engineers fear the New Orleans levees are still not strong enough.

IMAGES: Capitol Hill

VO: Why wasn’t the Republican Congress demanding that the federal government do its duty to the American people?

Why aren’t they watching how that money is spent? Why aren’t they asking questions and demanding answers on behalf of the American people they represent?

An arrogant Republican leadership won’t allow real investigations or oversight. They close down committee hearings rather than let Democrats ask questions. They won’t allow a bill to be voted on that they don’t approve. They refuse to find the facts or to fix what’s broken.

No answers.
No action.

America is less safe, and less fair. Our government is broken.

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IMAGE: voters—all kinds-- at the polls

VO: Only you can fix it.

End Republican One-Party Rule. Elect Democrats to the US Congress--- to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Together, we can do better.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Transformation (1976) by Robert Davidson at Posted by Picasa

Campaign Memo

From the Beginning...

Things are going to get a little partisan around here from now until November, as the future seems to depend on breaking the reactionary Republican stranglehold on the US government by electing Democrats to Congress. Therefore, the first Campaign Memo...

This particular one has been frontpaged at E Pluribus Media and Political Cortex, and diary-rescued at Daily Kos.

It's crunch time. It's time to get the main messages out. With candidate speeches and blogs, big money ads and homemade video, with all the means there are. Because it's not going to be as easy as it sounds from the latest batch of predictions, each inflating the other. It's going to take work to close the deal.

It's time for Democrats to tell their story, and the first thing the party must recognize is that they need to tell it from the beginning. That's where most good stories start, but there are real world reasons for what I mean.

From the beginning means: don't assume. Don't assume voters know a lot. Don't be condescending or phony, but just deal with that fact. And understand the story they want to hear this election year.

Where is the beginning?

The documented lack of knowledge about government and politics extends to crucial matters. A 1996 study showed that younger voters could identify the town in which "The Simpsons" takes places more frequently than the identity of the party that controlled Congress.

That's the crucial fact: this is the beginning:

Republicans control Congress.

Republicans have used their absolute power to exclude Democrats from the process of making laws and calling the government to account for its actions. The Republicans have misued their power to create a "democracy free zone" in the U.S. Congress.

(The "democracy free zone" is a quote from Rep. Louise Slaughter. The Republicans' unprecedented misuse of power is documented by such political scientists as Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, and is summarized in Alan Wolfe's new book, "Does American Democracy Still Work?")

This is the beginning to the story of ACCOUNTABILITY. As Alan Wolfe writes, "...accountability, as its name implies, involves telling a story."

Accountability is giving an account of actions: why they are taken, what are the consequences, what went right and wrong, and why.

Democrats have two basic and very powerful stories to tell: Iraq and Katrina. A third story is the Republican misuse of power in Congress.

But the story behind the story is that Republicans are preventing us from fixing what is broken, from looking at the facts. They are preventing us from making things better.

The stories must show what's gone wrong, but also what Congress is supposed to do about it: 1. investigate, make the executive give an account of their actions. 2. Make better laws.

Why will this work?

Americans don't generally like one party to have absolute power. As Chris Bowers showed months ago, voters usually vote against the party they believe is in power.

That's generally because Americans don't pay much attention to politics, and they don't want to. They generally favor compromise, and they elect people they trust, and expect them to do what's best without voters watching them closely. But since they don't trust politicians in general, they feel safer if power is divided.

This year they have extra motivation for electing Democrats, which can carry over to 08. But the presidency and the executive aren't on the ballot this year. Democrats must take advantage of Bush's unpopularity by showing how electing Democrats to CONGRESS will help change things.

So Chris Bowers is right: the message is that Republicans control Congress. But the message is only the beginning, the beginning of the story--of every story--that Democrats tell to win this election.

Soul of Star Trek

From the New to the Final Frontier...

Even if you're not a Star Trek fan, you might enjoy this essay (with photos) about JFK's legacy for the future. As for Trek, there were many connections, not the least of which was that it was only months after Kennedy's assassination that Gene Roddenberry wrote the 16 page treatment for Star Trek.

And about that Shatner roast on Comedy Central...well, there's plenty at

Soul of Star Trek