Monday, December 31, 2007

R.I.P. 2007

Posted by Picasaclick on this to see the full-sized collage

Some of those we lost this year

Filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni; filmmaker, stage director and writer Ingmar Bergman; political leader Benazir Bhutto; actor Roscoe Lee Brown; filmmaker Frank Capra, Jr.; singer Denny Doherty (the Mamas and the Papas); author David Halberstam; critic Elizabeth Hardwick; singer, actor and arts advocate Kitty Carlisle Hart; TV performer Don Herbert ("Mr. Wizard") journalist Molly Ivins; nature preservation advocate Lady Bird Johnson; actor Deborah Kerr; cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs; mime Marcel Marceau; novelist, author, filmmaker Norman Mailer; writer Grace Paley; singer Luciano Pavarotti; jazz musician Oscar Peterson; actor Anne Pitoniak; actor Tom Poston; jazz musician Max Roach; classical musician and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich; author and JFK advisor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; singer and arts advocate Beverly Sills; TV talk show host Tom Snyder; novelist and author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; actor Jane Wyman, political leader Boris Yeltsin---and 899 American soldiers killed in Iraq, plus an unknown number of Iraqis.

There's a little more on some of these and their legacies at Boomer Hall of Fame, and Books in Heat. I met several of these people, and most of them touched my life in some way. I am grateful for their presence, which will live beyond their absence.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Iowa Polls

This is about when the polls start to matter--three or four days before the voting. It's more of a mess this year because of the New Year's Eve/New Year's Day interval. But here's the latest:

The McClatchy poll shows the Dems still virtually tied, but the trend line has Edwards moving up, and Obama and Hillary down. It also suggests that the Huckabee bubble has burst, and Romney's trend is up.

The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll has the Dem finish as Hillary, Obama, Edwards, and the GOPers as a virtual tie between Romney and Huckabee. The GOP finding is consistent with McClatchy; however the Zogby poll is not considered as reliable as most others. The poll to watch will be the Des Moines Register, which has been the most accurate.

A couple of other findings from the Zogby that supports the Hillary lead--she's still strong among older voters, who are (based on historical precedent) the most likely to caucus. (McClatchy agrees.) Zogby also found Hillary's supporters are the most firm in their support. Both of these bode well for Hillary, if they prove out.

McClatchy found that events in Pakistan have not changed preferences, and that Edwards would get the most "second choice" votes. My initial guess a month ago of Edwards and Romney is looking pretty good, but these two polls suggest Obama could finish third. On the other hand, the Washington Post touts the Obama Internet-savvy organization and get out the vote effort, which could provide an unprecedented counterbalance of younger voters. His crowds are reported to be younger. Young voters are probably the wild card in the caucuses.

Meanwhile, the American Research poll in New Hampshire also shows an upward trend for Edwards in that state, a lesser upward trend for Obama, and a large downward (9 points) for Hillary. But as in Iowa, it's essentially a statistical three-way tie. Romney and McCain are vying for top spot among the GOPers, both trending upward at the expense of Rudy. Huckabee apparently has no bubble to burst in NH--he holds steady at 11%, which thanks to Rudy's fall, places him third.

As the polls come in, I think I'll update this thread rather than start new ones, so if you're interested, you might revisit here.

UPDATE 12/31/07: This is the one I was waiting for: the Des Moines Register poll 3 days before the voting--which was just about the only poll that got the finish order right in 2004: it shows an upward trend line for Obama, who comes in first with 32% (up from 28% in November) while both Hillary (25%) and Edwards (24%) were flat: no change. Obama's lead now is the largest any candidate has had. There is some fluidity: 6% are undecided (the same percentage as in other polls) and up to a third could change their minds. The poll is of voters who are likely to attend the caucuses, and a great many of them are first-timers and even not registered (although they can register "on the way to the caucus"). A bright spot for Edwards: there was an uptick in his support during the four days of the polling, but there was also for Obama. Not good news for Edwards: the union household is split pretty evenly among the three candidates.

This poll also show GOPer Huckabee maintaining his lead, 32% to 28% for Romney. That's not a safe lead.

So three polls, three different Democratic leaders. The only commonality is that Hillary's support has remained firm--the question being how big it is. One thing does seem very likely: while the race between the top three Dems is very close, it is a three person race: no other candidate looks likely to get the 15% for viability in most caucuses. Perhaps for that reason, the Register poll shows that, contrary to McClatchy, the "second choice" votes aren't likely to change the outcome.

Update 1/1/08: To further muddy the waters, the CNN/Opinion Research poll (conducted Dec. 26- 30) shows a two-way tie on both sides. The GOPers are the same--Huckabee and Romney, with Romney showing the upward momentum and Huck downward. On the Dem side, though, the tie is between Hillary and Obama, with Hillary slightly ahead. This one shows momentum for both Hillary and Obama but not for John Edwards, who is a relatively distant third. Meanwhile, the Register poll may itself have given Obama new momentum. The other candidates attacked its new turnout model. It does seem that the outcome hinges on how many young voters actually caucus.

Also, Dennis Kucinich--who is polling at around 1 or 2%--has asked his supporters to give their second choice votes to Obama. He did this in 2004 as well, although then he steered his supporters to Edwards. The other candidates haven't weighed in, but observers believe that Dodd, Biden and perhaps even Richardson voters are more likely to back Hillary as second choice, but precedent indicates they are more likely to remain uncommitted, or in particular instances, to see if they can't get 15% for one of these second tier candidates by combining their votes. The Biden campaign is saying straight out that they're running for fourth.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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How Iowa Chooses

Iowa isn't just voting next week--they're caucusing. Today's Wall Street Journal (finally) explains what that means.

Democrats and Republicans gather at various locations in the 1,784 precincts of the state. Republicans make a pitch for their candidates and there is a secret ballot. Democrats gather in clumps around the room according to which candidate they support. But the key item for caucuses in both parties is this:

Candidates who don't receive support from at least 15% of participants are "eliminated," but their supporters can realign with another group. A final head count at the Jan. 3 gatherings will determine how county-level (not statewide) delegates will be apportioned.

According to this account, the lingo is that more than 15% makes the candidate "viable." But that first vote isn't the last. If your candidate isn't viable, you can join your second choice candidate, or the group that remains uncommitted.

This is why polls ask for "second choice" candidates, but that doesn't say a lot because whether your second choice will matter depends on who your first choice is--that is, if your first choice is a second tier candidate unlikely to get 15%, your second choice matters more than if your first choice is one of the top tier, who are more likely to get 15%. Unless of course your second choice is also a below 15% candidate--then it's your third choice that matters. Then again, there's nothing preventing anyone from switching for any reason or no reason, from any candidate (viable or not) or the uncommitted, until the final tally is taken.

The big variable is who will attend. Some of the problem is who can attend: even though the caucuses are held in the evening, lots of people work then--in retail, restaurants and other places open until 9, and notably police, fire and medical personnel who often belong to politically active unions. Employers are not required to give time off, because technically it isn't an election--it's a internal party matter.

In all, only about 10% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans are expected to caucus.

As things are shaping up now, if Obama wins it may be because of what some are reporting is a very strong new speech in the closing days, or because college students are able and willing to caucus; if Hillary wins it may be because her experience argument grafts onto concern about events in Pakistan, or because of her ad blitz or women who want to vote for a woman for President once in their lives; if John Edwards wins, it may be because of his strong organization in rural areas and the resonance of his anti-corporate argument where jobs moved offshore have created hardship and insecurity.

If Huckabee wins, it may be because his heavy fundie appeals have worked; if Romney wins it might be because his organization turns people out and some have become leery of Huckabee's weirdness; if McCain does well, it may be because the others seem untrustworthy and unappealing.

Who knows? Nobody. Who cares? Everybody involved. Iowa caucuses on Thursday, and New Hampshire votes the following Tuesday. The difference between who places first and third may be very slim, which may mean it means a lot, or not so much. All the chatter will immediately be about how the outcome will or won't affect New Hampshire. And nobody knows that, either.

At this point, it seems to me that if the top three Democrats finish as close as they appear to be in the polls (and once again the cell phone argument is being raised--the polls don't reach them, and lots of young people use them as their one and only phone), Iowa may not matter as much as it did last time.

But of course no one will be able to say that until a week from Wednesday, when the New Hampshire results are known. If Edwards wins Iowa (and I still think he's got the inside track) then he has to win New Hampshire--but it's not a given. If Hillary clearly wins Iowa, then she is likely to win New Hampshire--but that's not a given either. Last time, John Kerry from neighboring Mass. had an early lead there, and lost it in the Howard Dean (of Vermont) surge. But Kerry winning in the fields of Iowa made New Hampshire feel better about returning to him. Hillary's had a lead there for some time, but New York is not quite so close, and the suspicion has always been that her support was wider there (and nationally) than deep. If Obama wins in largely rural white Iowa, he's got a better chance in not so entirely rural white New Hampshire. At the moment he's close enough in New Hampshire polls that an Iowa victory could well put him over the top in NH.

Sound like tapdancing? You bet. Personally I'm betting that there will still be three Democrats standing--and three Republicans--by the time I vote in February.


Brief reviews of some books published in 2007 at Books in Heat.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Raven and the North Wind Moon Mask by
Posted by PicasaJordon Seward at

Go to Italy for the climate crisis

An event from this past summer has finally made the New York Times, a time lag likely due to the fact that it happened in Italy and not in the U.S. But someday soon, it could.

People began getting sick from a mystery illness in a small village in Italy. Symptoms were serious, some who had it died, and some who survived had lasting symptoms of arthritis. The virulence and unknown cause might have prompted panic had the outbreak lasted longer, but it caused a lot of fear and mistrust.

The disease turned out to be chikungunya, a tropical disease carried by tiger mosquitoes. These mosquitoes had never been seen anywhere near this village before. And this is its significance, according to the Times story:

“This is the first case of an epidemic of a tropical disease in a developed, European country,” said Dr. Roberto Bertollini, director of the World Health Organization’s Health and Environment program. “Climate change creates conditions that make it easier for this mosquito to survive and it opens the door to diseases that didn’t exist here previously. This is a real issue. Now, today. It is not something a crazy environmentalist is warning about.”

The time to prepare for such events here would reasonably be now, though according to the character of the past few years--dominated as it has been by decadence, greed, deliberate deception, willful stupidity and political cynicism--it will take a major outbreak of a tropical disease like dengue in the U.S.--possibly in L.A., contracted by Paris Hilton--for anyone here to pay attention. And if there is the subsequent relevation of a public health system unable to cope, panic may be a mild word for the reaction.

Of course we could act, we could prepare, just on the strong possibility that this will happen in the next five or ten years, if not tomorrow. But can you even imagine any presidential candidate talking about this, or even stranger, anyone in the media asking?

R. I. P Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is tragic and portentious. Although political assassination is not uncommon in that part of the world (Bhutto is the fourth member of her family to be killed for political reasons), the prominence of Pakistan in U.S. politics brings this closer. No one yet knows--and quite possibly will ever know--who committed and abetted this crime, but because of its prominence on American TV, it has reintroduced political violence in an election year in the U.S. It's not something I'd like to see again here, as I have seen it in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I hope all campaigns are taking this seriously.

Apart from that, even though the Hardball bloviators talked themselves into believing this will have a big impact on outcomes in Iowa and New Hampshire (favoring Hillary and John McCain because of their "experience"), my instincts resonate with Dana Millbank on Keith who doesn't think it will have much direct impact on the outcome. People aren't so concerned (i.e. scared) about it, at least not yet.

As for the impact on the region, it ain't going to be good. Just how bad remains to be seen.

Personally I find this very saddening. Whatever her policies and whatever the politics in that land I know so little about, she was a courageous woman--a Muslim women, in a part of the world where Muslim women are a major moderating influence. And I fear that politics by guns may spread further beyond battlefields, beyond stupid unthinking media metaphors, if we're not conscious and careful.


FYI-- Christmas Past Present (and feast of the seven fishes) plus a Steelers update at Blue Voice...several new posts of Trekkie interest at Soul of Star Trek...Alice in Disneyland at Boomer Hall of Fame and more on Alice at Stage Matters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

This time of year the hummingbirds are hanging
out close by. Though I've seen two feeding at the
same time, I've also seen the blur that is a third
one. The other day two perched near the porch for
much of the afternoon. I guess there's not as much
to feed on elsewhere, and the weather is uncertain, too.
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The Dreaming Up Daily Stat

Number of questions asked by hosts of
the Sunday public affairs shows in 2007: 2275

Number of these questions that mentioned
the climate crisis: 3

--from What Are They Waiting
You can read more about this and sign a petition
to "tell the reporters to focus on the human race,
not the horse race" in covering the 2008 elections here.

Listening to New Hampshire

The New Hampshire primary has some markedly different dynamics than Iowa--including the mechanics of a primary (which requires only simple voting) versus the caucus (which requires more time and actual discussion.) But at the moment both Democratic and Republican primaries are so close and in such flux that Iowa could be decisive.

Right now it appears that John McCain is rising and could very well win the Republican contest. He's been endorsed by newspapers and his policy positions are closer to New Hampshire, particularly in recognizing the reality of the climate crisis, which that state is seeing within its borders. McCain's age is a problem, but his biggest ally is the general disenchantment with Mitt Romney. However, a strong first place for Huckabee in Iowa could present another alternative to those who have soured on both Romney and Rudy. (Huckabee has less of a natural constituency in New Hampshire than Iowa.) If McCain at least places in Iowa, his chances to win in New Hampshire are enhanced. At the moment, I'd suggest he's on track to win NH.

Among the Democrats, the key may be how Hillary's attacks on Obama affect Iowa. Obama is from neighboring Illinois, so his record is more likely to be known in Iowa than in New Hampshire. If Iowa swallows the Hillary campaign's largely false attacks, it could be tougher for him to sustain his current momentum in New Hampshire. A third place showing in Iowa could be fatal to Obama, resurrecting the Hillary coronation scenario. A second place to Edwards won't hurt him, though it won't help him. A second place to Hillary will hurt him, but maybe not fatally. (It's hard to see how Edwards wins anywhere else if he doesn't win Iowa.)

Watching Iowa

The Iowa caucuses are less than two weeks away, and the final polls will be starting soon. I have the sense that Hillary has made up some ground, although I totally don't respect the tactics employed. Her campaign has made one voter's decision: I definitely will not vote for her in the California primary. But she is closer to winning Iowa than she was even a week ago, is my guess.

She has been helped, I fear, by John Edwards and Barack Obama going after each other. You'd think they would have learned from Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt knocking each other out last time. While the national talking head consensus has become that the electorate is in the mood for a big change, which doesn't favor Hillary, Edwards and Obama are making it hard for people to feel good about supporting them, while Hillary smiles and smiles.

On the Republican side, the Huckabee boom doesn't seem to have collapsed yet, and it's a question now of whether Iowa Republicans have soured on Mitt Romney even more than they are skeptical of Huckabee, and whether the religious right has actually gone to Huckabee, with sufficient fervor to show up and caucus. Right now I'd say the chances of Huckabee coming in first have improved.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Charles Dickens
"A Christmas Carol"
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Mars on its closest approach to the Earth since
2003. Scientists have just found the first active
glacier on Mars--while China sees its most
important glacier for drinking water melting
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CC News: Fix It

Making us safe has been a Bushite mantra, but it's mostly been very expensive marketing for a nonexistent product. When it comes to protecting citizens from the effects of disasters and emergencies at home, a new study by the nonprofit Trust for America's Health concludes, "the United States is not safe."

Individual states and the federal government are at fault:Many states still lack a stockpile of drugs, masks, gloves and other equipment needed to battle a pandemic of diseases, despite five years of constant and detailed warning, the Trust for America's Health said in its report. Overall, federal funding for state and local preparedness will have declined by 25 percent in 3 years if the president's FY (fiscal year) 2008 request is approved," the report reads.

The report focuses on pandemics and public health consequences of emergencies. Also out this week, a Washington Post story that lists some (but by no means all) of the possible consequences for health of the climate crisis.
"We are not dealing with a single toxic agent or a single microbe where we can put our finger with certainty on an exposure and the response," said Jonathan A. Patz, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "Climate change affects everything."

It is the complexity of climate crisis effects that would test even a system ready to respond to known kinds of emergencies--and we still aren't anywhere near that. Public health is still in shambles, and the general infrastructure for emergencies found wanting in the above report applies to more than the health aspects. These effects are already happening, and they will happen more and more in our immediate future.

Months ago, Keith Olbermann quoted Winston Churchill: "The responsibility of government for the public safety is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence." This basic civics lesson is also a question for 2008 candidates. What will you do to truly prepare, to truly try to make America safe?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

CC News: Stop It

The Bushites giveth, the Bushites taketh away. President Bush signed the very compromised energy bill, which nevertheless sets higher fuel efficiency standards for U.S. cars. According to the Guardian: The legislation, though limited in scope, represents the biggest fuel efficiency push by the US since the 1970s oil crisis. But--the paper noted--The reaction of environmentalists was mixed: grateful that the White House has belatedly adopted some of the policies they have been advocating but warning that the measures were too limited and not due to be implemented for years."

At the same time, the Bushite EPA chair denied California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, overruling the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs, according to the Washington Post. "The decision set in motion a legal battle that EPA's lawyers expect to lose and demonstrated the Bush administration's determination to oppose any mandatory measures specifically targeted at curbing global warming pollution. A total of 18 states, representing 45 percent of the nation's auto market, have either adopted or pledged to implement California's proposed tailpipe emissions rules, which seek to cut vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016."

The difference is the states' fuel efficiency standards are greater and they will be implemented sooner. The Bushite action could result in a real showdown, as Republican governor Ahnold as well as Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown announced they would sue, and congressional hearings have already been announced.

NPR noted that support for alternative energy was largely stripped from the energy bill, including tax credits for solar panels. While the Bay Area is taking such matters into local hands with proposed city tax credits in Berkeley and San Francisco, a San Jose start-up company announced it has begun selling its potentially groundbreaking solar panels, which are much thinner than previous panels, and most importantly, at a price that would make solar power cheaper than coal.

As for the future effects of the climate crisis, two new studies say that sea level rises could be anywhere from 59% to twice as great as the major UN climate studies estimated.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Spirit Bear by Joseph Wilson (Coast
Salish) at
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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Freedom is heavy. You got to put your shoulder to freedom. Put your shoulder to it and hope your back holds up.”

August Wilson
Two Trains Running


A review of the August Wilson's Century Cycle and other comments at Stage Matters-- a review of the third season DVD of Doctor Who at the Journal reviews column (which starts with a shorter version of the August Wilson review)...some thoughts on a book sale at Blue Voice... and an interview with Star Trek's Chekov, Walter Koenig, at Soul of Star Trek.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Demonstrators in the Phillipines before the Bali
conference. AP photo.
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Bali High: Agreement Reached

UPDATE: Here's the opening graphs of the New York Times story:

The world’s faltering effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions got a new lease on life on Saturday, as delegates from 187 countries agreed to negotiate a new accord over the next two years — pushing the crucial debates about United States participation into the administration of a new American president.

Many officials and environmental campaigners said American negotiators had remained obstructionist until the final hour of the two-week convention and had changed their stance only after public rebukes that included boos and hisses from other delegates.

The resulting “Bali Action Plan” contains no binding commitments, which European countries had sought and the United States fended off. The plan concludes that “deep cuts in global emissions will be required” and provides a timetable for two years of talks to shape the first formal addendum to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty since the Kyoto Protocol 10 years ago.

The Times story, and a later one from the BBC quoted the White House as insisting--as U.S. negotiators did--that the developing countries (India and China chiefly) commit to reducing emissions, and not only the developed nations. It's currently heads you win tales I lose whether the biggest greenhouse gas polluter in the world is the U.S. or China.

The Guardian report emphasized the drama of the final session, and had this report on the decisive moment:

But the road was extremely rocky. Talks stalled as Paula Dobriansky, head of the US delegation, signalled that America opposed calls from poorer countries for technological and financial help to combat climate change. It seemed any agreement was doomed. Then Papua New Guinea took to the floor and, in a highly charged speech, its delegate challenged the US: 'If you're not willing to lead, get out of the way.'

Minutes later, in an astonishing reversal, Dobriansky returned to announce, to cheers from the hall: 'We will go forward and join the consensus.'

While the need for the developing world to join this effort is real, the U.S. position on helping these nations do so, especially with technology, was stupid and venal. Such a tradeoff between the nations that chiefly caused global heating and the nations that are likely to be its chief victims is simple fairness, although it doesn't really do justice. And I'm reminded that even in the late 1980s, when James Burke created his After the Warming scenario of the climate crisis future, the rough justice and certainly the practicality of such an arrangement was obvious.

The reports are starting to come in at this hour that the nations of Earth represented at the Bali conference have agreed on a way forward in negotiating a climate treaty by 2009 to follow the Kyoto Accords. One Indonesian official referred to the agreement as "a breakthrough."

It's not clear yet exactly what they agreed on, except that there are no hard targets set for emissions cuts by developed countries--those are to be negotiated for the treaty itself-- and some indication that developing countries will participate. But the first reporting expresses that the long, hard negotiations resulted in some emotional moments towards the end. China was recalcitrant, but it was the sudden reversal of the U.S. that allowed agreement. (Apparently the U.S. team suddenly realized that they'd gotten what they asked for. Obstructionism can become a automated response. )

An earlier story did say that agreement had been reached to include forest conservation in the treaty, and apparently to organize stronger efforts internationally to halt deforestation, a major cause of CO2 emissions in the developing world.

Friday, December 14, 2007

London pre-Bali protestor. BBC photo.
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Let Us Begin

The news on the Climate Crisis front is not all bad. Keep in mind a few things Al Gore said in the past few days. In Bali, he told delegates that while Washington obstructs, there's a lot positive happening in the states, regions and cities of America. And in his Nobel speech, he spoke of the need for imagination and innovation:

"That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world. "

The San Francisco Bay area has examples of local initiative and innovation on view just this past week. Following a pioneering program in nearby Berkeley, the city of San Francisco is proposing to subsidize half the cost that homeowners and businesses incur to install solar panels. If implemented, the S.F. Chronicle story says, it will be the largest such program in America.

This same week a proposal emerged to create the California Institute for Climate Solutions, in which universities including the University of California and Stanford would coordinate their ongoing and future research.

These are just two examples in one part of the country. Meanwhile, innovation goes forward here and there. Honda is about to test market a hydrogen car, and it gets quite a good review in the New York Times. (Though the article doesn't answer key questions about it in terms of greenhouse gas pollution, it certainly sounds like an improvement over gas guzzlers and hybrids.)

The Times also had an article on airborne wind turbines, which harvest wind power where the wind is always blowing--way up high. Filled with helium, outfitted with electrical generators and tethered to the ground by a conductive copper cable, the 100-foot-wide Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS) will produce 10 kilowatts of energy anywhere on earth. A prototype is expected to be built this year, with private investment.

There was comparatively good news on how hard it will actually be to start cutting greenhouse gas emissions: and the answer appears to be, not as hard as you might think, at least in the beginning. The United States could shave as much as 28 percent off the amount of greenhouse gases it emits at fairly modest cost and with only small technology innovations, according to a new report, as the New York Times put it. Although some changes will require leadership and cost, some can be accomplished right now by individuals, families and communities.

Wordchanging, with links to the study, said: While initial up-front costs could be high, McKinsey says “a concerted, nationwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would almost certainly stimulate economic forces and create business opportunities that we cannot see today.”

There’s one caveat: “Achieving these reductions at the lowest cost to the economy, however, will require strong, coordinated, economy-wide action that begins in the near future.” That’s consultant-speak for act now.

In a previous article, Worldchanging said that this study shows that although initial outlays will be in the billions, 40% of the cuts in emissions will actually save money. Supported by both energy companes and environmental groups, including Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Royal Dutch Shell, and Pacific Gas and Electric, the study finds that the United States could reduce its projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 by three to four-and-a-half gigatons using technology that is largely already in place. “Eighty percent of the reductions come from technology that exists today at the commercial scale,” according to McKinsey director Jack Stephenson. The other 20 percent is from technology that is currently being developed, such as plug-in hybrids and cellulosic biofuels.

And in a week when a couple of studies warn that Arctic melting is happening much faster than previously believed, there was even a little positive environmental news: The destruction of the Amazon rainforest that's within Brazil forests has slowed by 20% in the past year, the third year in a row that deforestation has fallen. Though some question whether this progress is real and can be sustained, there's more to be said about Brazil as a key and a model for the environmental future.

None of this should minimize the hard challenges ahead. In a little noted comment in his Nobel speech, Gore warned: "The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do." But let us begin.

A melting ice sculpture in Berlin--part of the global
series of demonstrations to raise awareness for the
Bali climate crisis conference. AFP/BBC photo.
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Bali hi: Holding US accountable

Things are getting rambunctious in Bali. After the American Nobel Peace Prize winner told the conference, "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.” the German representing the European Union threatened to boycott Bush's play-conference on global heating next month in Hawaii if that obstructionism ends in stalemate at this conference.

The U.S. is not the only obstruction: you can count Russia, China, Japan, India and Canada among the polluting nations that don't want to be held to account on emissions. But the U.S. is taking the brunt of the criticism. From the NY Times story: “The best we hoped for was that the U.S. would not hobble the rest of the world from moving forward,” said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit American organization. “Our delegation here from the States has not been able to meet that low level of expectation.”

Gore's speech was covered more thoroughly in an outlet in India which described it as "a speech likely to go down in history as an oratorical milestone in the fight against global warming." (Hat tip to Meteor Blades at Daily Kos, who has been one of the few American journalists to report on this story every day of the Bali conference.) So through this story we learn that Gore did not offer his indictment of what the Bushites in power are doing to subvert the conference as an excuse for inaction.

Gore said: "My country is not the only one that can move forward. You can do one of two things. You can feel anger and frustration and direct it at the US. Or you can move forward and keep a large blank space in your mandate, saying our mandate is incomplete but we're moving forward in the hope that it will be filled in by the time we have a treaty in Copenhagen at the end of 2009."

"If you show anger, the entire world could lose momentum," he warned. The imperative is not for blame but for action. "We can't afford to talk for the next five years," he said, "when the scientists are telling us we have to take action within the next 10 years."

In truth, much of what the India story quotes from the speech is boilerplate Gore, recognizable from his Nobel address and even his testimony to Congress last year. But there was one stirring section I hadn't heard before: "Our capacity to strip away disguises is necessary now. We are one people on one planet, we've one future and one destiny. What we need now is capacity building in developed countries for political leadership."

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Through political luck or shrewd planning, who knows at this point, Barack Obama is rising above the pack at just the right moment to give him a credible chance to play dominoes with the primaries and come out the Democratic nominee.

Hillary Clinton's campaign appears to be faltering, and it may be the people she employs that's doing her in. I've always felt that I can live with Hillary as the nominee, but I can't live with her staff. In any case, she can survive losing in Iowa and even New Hampshire, and still win the nomination with a turnaround in February's megaprimaries. Then again, so could Obama. John Edwards probably has the will, money and muscle to hang around long enough to see if these two bump each other off. (I still think he's as likely as anyone to win Iowa.) The polls show the top three are very close, but Iowa is three weeks away. Three days before the voting will be the first time that the opinion polls may suggest the order of finish. Unless one of the other candidates pulls a surprise showing in the top three in Iowa, they're all pretty much done.

Political analyst Craig Crawford seems to think that Obama's confession of drug use in high school could still hurt him--even though it seems to have hurt the Clinton campaign more at the moment, which has reportedly been feeding the story. I don't think it will. Smirk did worse and at an older age, and voters ignored it. They ignored it with Bill Clinton's 60s youth, despite media frenzy. Obama wrote about it himself a decade ago, in the same context he mentions it today--as a cautionary tale to young people.

Of course, Republicans have no conscience about these kinds of attacks, but Smirk also got away with it because of his born again thing. Voters want to believe in redemption, and I think they really want to believe in it in a black man as well as a white fundamentalist. It doesn't tarnish Obama's image--think of all the white evangelists with a checkered past.

Otherwise, it occurs to me that Obama could turn up the wattage in his favor by making service a keynote of his campaign--service to the country and to humanity, like JFK did with the Peace Corps. It's also a way of channeling voter dismay and disenchantment with Bushworld. The U.S. doesn't have enough diplomats to staff its embassies--a call to service would help. A call to serve the needs of the nation, especially of the poor, of children and the old-- Obama more than any other candidate can do this credibly, especially with young people, who seem to be most enthusiastic about his candidacy. Such a call to service could energize his campaign even more, and jolt Obamamania into high gear.

I'm not competent to even suggest when the right moment to do this would be, but if the moment is right, it could do a lot to sweep him to the presidency.

Not Anyone's Finest Hour

It's pretty clear what the Bushite agenda is for the rest of Smirk's term: continued bullying, with special emphasis on pushing their failures into the next presidency, and protecting themselves from future law enforcement.

The "surge" of forces in Iraq was all about keeping that country from collapsing until after January 20, 2009, when the next President is inaugurated. The current obstructionism in Bali on the climate crisis is more of the same, though maybe longer term, until it's possible to blame the Democrats for not responding to health and environmental catastrophes caused by global heating. And of course, the CIA destroying tapes of torture is only the most awkwardly blatant of many furious mannings of the barricades to keep those responsible for horrors that violate laws from ever being held responsible in any court of law.

And the pathetic outcome is that the bullying is working. With an approval rating slightly higher than that for head colds, Bush refuses to compromise at all--in even the most usual ways--on any legislation before Congress, and he's getting away with it. Congress failed by one vote to put some muscle in the energy bill, especially in taxing the outrageous profits of oil companies, and passed a watered-down version. They've acceded to Bushite demands, only to be told that their humiliating obeisance was not craven enough. And so they're passing Bushite bills, and the Democrats are reportedly fighting amongst themselves.

It's crap like this that disgusts the electorate and makes people cynical about government ever working. (Fortunately for corporations, their insidious machinations and incompetence is seldom on the public record.) Fortunately there is an election coming up, so hope springs eternal, but right now it can't come too soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Posted by Picasain Bali. credit: APF

Bali Who?

The other day when I posted excerpts from Al Gore's Nobel Prize acceptance speech I felt a little foolish. I did so immediately after opening my email, before I'd checked news on the net. I thought everyone would be doing this story, but maybe I would choose different excerpts.

Guess again. The first American to win the Peace Prize in a generation, and winning it not for stopping a war or advocating an end to war, but in an unprecedented recognition that the global environmental climate crisis is the chief threat to peace for the next generation or more. But the American media ignored it. Completely. (Except for NPR.)

Now the U.S. media is all but ignoring the 180 nation climate crisis conference in Bali. Most of the coverage is coming from foreign sources, including from news organizations in China.

I suppose all blogs would like to present you with news you won't find anywhere else. But news of what one leader called "the greatest project in the history of human civilization"? He's Indonesian, so what does he know.

So for the latest news from Bali...excerpts (my edits, my emphases) from the French news agency AFP:

Talks on halting the juggernaut of climate change swung into top gear here Wednesday with a blunt warning from UN chief Ban Ki-moon that the world was counting on a breakthrough.

Meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, environment ministers have until Friday to agree a framework for tackling global warming past 2012, when pledges under the Kyoto Protocol expire. "If we leave Bali without such a breakthrough, we will not only have failed our leaders but also those who look to us to find solutions, namely the peoples of this world," Ban said.

"This is the moral challenge of our generation. Not only are the eyes of the world upon us. More important, succeeding generations depend on us. We cannot rob them of their future."

He said they had to focus not only on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions but helping those least to blame for global warming yet most at risk.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono echoed Ban's warning. "We are embarking on the greatest project in the history of human civilization. And the worst thing that can happen here is to end our conference with no consensus, no breakthrough, and it's all business as usual."

In a video message from Oslo, where he received the Nobel peace prize on behalf of the UN's top climate change panel, Rajendra Pachauri spelt out key points on global warming: The unbridled burning of fossil fuels is stoking a greenhouse effect that is warming Earth's surface with potentially calamitous consequences, he said. By century's end, millions of people -- many in poor tropical countries -- face the risk of drought, floods, storms and rising sea levels.

The Bali talks do not themselves seek to draw up a new climate pact but to set a format for further negotiations. However, delegates point to several sticking points:
-- DEADLINE: Ministers must decide whether negotiations for the post-2012 deal should be given a deadline to wrap up by the end of 2009. This would give countries time to ratify the new deal so it can take effect as soon as Kyoto runs out.

-- POLITICAL SCOPE: The European Union wants a reference by industrialised countries that a cut of 25-40 percent in their emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, will be a guideline for the post-2012 haggle. The United States, Japan, Canada and others however are against that. "We want to be sure that the text that we have before us is going to be neutral -- it will leave all options on the table and, again, will not prejudge outcomes, which should be something that comes at the end of the two-year process," said US negotiator Harlan Watson.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel countered that such figures are essential for rich countries to show emerging giant economies they are serious about action.

-- DEFORESTATION AND TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER: There is no agreement yet on how future talks should address forest loss and a transfer of clean technology to developing countries poised to become major emitters.

One diplomat predicted that by Friday's deadline, ministers may be reaching for their phones to lobby for help from their leaders. The ministers have "a massive task at hand if they are going to rescue this meeting," said Greenpeace's Cindy Baxter.

However, on the issue of forests, yesterday the British paper the Guardian was, well, less guarded: Negotiators working on a new global climate deal in Bali scored their first success today with progress agreed on deforestation and how to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Officials said steps to protect forests were included in a new draft of the so-called Bali roadmap, and that they expected them to appear in the final text produced at the end of the talks on Friday. The move would make financial rewards for not cutting down trees a key part of a new climate deal. Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said: "It looks like we're going to get something on deforestation, which would be great."

It's no surprise that the U.S. of Bush is resisting anything substantive on anything, especially mandatory goals for greenhouse gas emission cuts. China is also flatly not interested in setting goals. Together these are the two major greenhouse gas polluters on the planet. But Canada and Japan are not being very constructive, either. With its newly elected pm, Australia has joined the coalition of the willing to do something to save civilization, but the question is what will the rest of the world do while it is waiting for the new U.S. president--who Al Gore told delegates is likely to have a different approach to the climate crisis, whoever he or she is. How strong a message will they send?

Update: To be fair, the New York Times now has an article, but it doesn't add much to the above.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Arctic Melting Means

In his Nobel speech, Al Gore referred to the melting of Arctic ice, and the prediction that summer ice will be gone in seven years. But apart from the likely extinction of polar bears, what does this mean in the context of Climate Crisis effects?

The AP had a story on this today, because some scientists, who initially "shocked" the community by predicting that summer Arctic ice could be gone as soon as 2040, are now saying it looks like it could be pretty much gone by 2012--in five years. The story explains some of the significance.

Jay Zwally is a NASA climate scientist: "The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming," said Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal. "Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines." The story goes on:

What happens in the Arctic has implications for the rest of the world. Faster melting there means eventual sea level rise and more immediate changes in winter weather because of less sea ice.

In the United States, a weakened Arctic blast moving south to collide with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can mean less rain and snow in some areas, including the drought-stricken Southeast, said Michael MacCracken, a former federal climate scientist who now heads the nonprofit Climate Institute. Some regions, like Colorado, would likely get extra rain or snow.

Melting of sea ice and Greenland's ice sheets also alarms scientists because they become part of a troubling spiral. White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun's heat off Earth, NASA's Zwally said. When there is no sea ice, about 90 percent of the heat goes into the ocean which then warms everything else up. Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.

"That feedback is the key to why the models predict that the Arctic warming is going to be faster," Zwally said. "It's getting even worse than the models predicted."

NASA scientist James Hansen, the lone-wolf researcher often called the godfather of global warming, on Thursday was to tell scientists and others at the American Geophysical Union scientific in San Francisco that in some ways Earth has hit one of his so-called tipping points, based on Greenland melt data.

"We have passed that and some other tipping points in the way that I will define them," Hansen said in an e-mail. "We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time — but it is going to require a quick turn in direction."

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

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"We Must Make It Right"--Al Gore's Nobel Speech

A novel--and Nobel--experience to find in my inbox an email from the Nobel Peace Prize winner with his acceptance speech. Passing on some excerpts seems the least I can do. Al Gore's entire speech, which he officially delivered today, was about the Climate Crisis. I've added my own emphases in bold.

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. And tomorrow, we will dump a slightly larger amount, with the cumulative concentrations now trapping more and more heat from the sun.

As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us it is not a passing affliction that will heal by itself. We asked for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth. And the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.

Last September 21, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented distress that the North Polar ice cap is “falling off a cliff.” One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as 7 years.

In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples in the frozen Arctic and on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. Unprecedented wildfires have forced a half million people from their homes in one country and caused a national emergency that almost brought down the government in another. Climate refugees have migrated into areas already inhabited by people with different cultures, religions, and traditions, increasing the potential for conflict. Stronger storms in the Pacific and Atlantic have threatened whole cities. Millions have been displaced by massive flooding in South Asia, Mexico, and 18 countries in Africa. As temperature extremes have increased, tens of thousands have lost their lives. We are recklessly burning and clearing our forests and driving more and more species into extinction. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed.

But unlike most other forms of pollution, CO2 is invisible, tasteless, and odorless -- which has helped keep the truth about what it is doing to our climate out of sight and out of mind. Moreover, the catastrophe now threatening us is unprecedented – and we often confuse the unprecedented with the improbable.

We also find it hard to imagine making the massive changes that are now necessary to solve the crisis. And when large truths are genuinely inconvenient, whole societies can, at least for a time, ignore them. Yet as George Orwell reminds us: “Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

In the years since this prize was first awarded, the entire relationship between humankind and the earth has been radically transformed. And still, we have remained largely oblivious to the impact of our cumulative actions.
Indeed, without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself. Now, we and the earth's climate are locked in a relationship familiar to war planners: "Mutually assured destruction."

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable. For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

We must abandon the conceit that individual, isolated, private actions are the answer. They can and do help. But they will not take us far enough without collective action. At the same time, we must ensure that in mobilizing globally, we do not invite the establishment of ideological conformity and a new lock-step “ism.”

That means adopting principles, values, laws, and treaties that release creativity and initiative at every level of society in multifold responses originating concurrently and spontaneously.

This new consciousness requires expanding the possibilities inherent in all humanity. The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world. One of their visionary leaders said, “It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship.”

We must understand the connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions. We must begin by making the common rescue of the global environment the central organizing principle of the world community.

But the outcome will be decisively influenced by two nations that are now failing to do enough: the United States and China. While India is also growing fast in importance, it should be absolutely clear that it is the two largest CO2 emitters — most of all, my own country –– that will need to make the boldest moves, or stand accountable before history for their failure to act. Both countries should stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must. No one should believe a solution will be found without effort, without cost, without change. Let us acknowledge that if we wish to redeem squandered time and speak again with moral authority, then these are the hard truths:

The way ahead is difficult. The outer boundary of what we currently believe is feasible is still far short of what we actually must do.

We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource. So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. We are many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

an example of tube clouds, courtesy transportcafe
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Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Series

Here's the movie/ TV series we're apparently living in: Marty McFly goes back to the future and discovers that in the early 21st century the United States is becoming a totalitarian oligarchical pseudo-theocratic no-nothing paranoid dictatorship, thanks to the accession of George W. Bush to the presidency. Let's hope he's back to the past, figuring out how to prevent it so that this time-line can end.

Those of us inside this sad story are deep into Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the series, updated with cell phones and Internet Newspeak babble. Latest evidence centers on torture and the denial of Constitutional rights, and the astounding fact that Guantanamo, the American Gulag, is still open for business, and the Bushites are still fighting to retain their anti-Constitutional powers. There's the news that the CIA destroyed tapes of a torture session, and at least some outrage about it. It's clear now that so much of the Bushites' furious activity defending torture and spying is to protect their asses against courts to come.

Speaking of which, the Supreme Court is determining at this very late date just what rights those swept up by the Bushite Shock Doctrinaires in their war of terror really should have. On anything before the Court, I've found Linda Greenhouse to be the very best guide. Surprisingly, she seems to sense that the Court is not going to rubber-stamp the Bushite retrenchment to police state barbarism, but the actual decision won't happen until summer.

Another subplot of the series is the skittering towards theocracy and further intolerance, with damage not only to Constitutional freedoms but the unfettered creativity of thought so necessary to our particular future.

The Christian Right's political and organizational disarray, and the silence coming from the White House since reelection, may have suggested this is yesterday's news--until Mitt Romney's speech this week showed just how far we've fallen in recent decades. That the speech was billed as this Mormon candidate's statement mirroring JFK's famous speech to hostile Protestant ministers about being Catholic and running for President--that in fact Romney used JFK's speech as a virtual Cliff's Notes for his--showed how far we've moved from the Constitution.

There are a couple of good articles at salon on the subject (and as they point out, Mike Huckabee is an even more direct threat), but getting to them can be pretty annoying. And there's this specific comparison, with links to others. The JFK passage that's so telling is this one:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

Granted, that the "no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote" was a bit tongue in cheek, because even then the more fundamentalist wing was willing to do so. But it wasn't the norm, and it wasn't done openly. Of course now, it's become standard, and because it's accepted, so much more dangerous. Go back another 30 years to Sinclair Lewis warning that when dictatorship comes to America, it will come under the banner of Christianity.

Romney's speech didn't come out and call for America as a Christian nation (nor is Huckabee likely to, though he comes close), but he does attempt to hijack the Founding Fathers to support his notion that we've got no America, no Constitution, without organized religion and belief in God. Which god, whose god, that's never said, but it's part of the tradition to make a few references to "our Jewish friends" and even "our Catholic friends" while meaning the Protestant God. These days it's a little different than in the Christians vs. Communists 50s--there's more common cause among the most rabidly conservative wings of Protestant, Jewish and Catholic religions, as they come more and more to represent the whole of their bloc. Conservative--meaning traditional-- beliefs are honorable. Intolerance is another matter entirely, and that's where these folks are heading. Some of them are already there, openly. The next step is the Christian police state.

Romney's announced enemy is the "religion" of "secular humanism," a patently political attempt to make common cause with this contortion of categories spawned in the Reagan era that never quite caught on except as fund-raising bait in fundie mega-churches. Maybe a little better than the War on Christmas for rallying the Christian soldiers marching not as to, but to, war. Still, the implication leads to Guantanamo for secular humanists. Far-fetched? Look around, and tell me about far-fetched.

They'll be marching to war against their fellow countrymen, who must no longer be free to muse and make the most personal and most human judgments imaginable on the basic issues of our existence. To differ is to be cast out. It's as totalitarian as you can get, and leads directly to 1984 oppression and, even more directly, to dullness and stupidity.

Too bad. Really too bad. Because if we're going to have a future, we won't get there by mindless adherence to dogma, by blindness, dull comformity and stupidity. It is in enforcing these that religion becomes--in a kind of ultimate irony--soul-destroying. And these days, future-destroying too.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Posted by Picasaby Ananganak Pootoogoo at

The Climate Solzhenitsyn

I've been meaning to pass along part of Bruce Sterling's latest post at Viridian Design. He says that Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize shows that taking the climate crisis seriously "pretty much wins the global culture war" though there will still be those in America "who hate and fear Al and all his works on principle, and always will." But here's his main point:

The good news is there's at least one American statesman left whom the world considers of Nobel class caliber. Gore's a kind of climate Solzhenitsyn in the midst of a dark regime. People from outside the Soviet Union used to look at Nobelist Solzhenitsyn and think: "Well, we can't give up on 'em; here's this heroic guy endlessly scraping up and archiving true data about gulags and torture and prisons, even when the regime denies such things exist." In the continental superpower biz, what goes around comes around.

I'd like to engage in some brisk triumphalism here... yeah, like I won the goddamn prize by sending a lot of emails... but I prefer to take a lead from Al's own sobering response. Al's not making any big deal of this. I suspect that's because Al has sincerely and actually come to realize, on some bone-deep, post-cynical, wolves-at-the-door level, that there really is a global climate crisis. That's not a vehicle for generating Al Gore worship. It's an emergency. A deep, terrible, lasting emergency whose permanent scars for society all lie ahead of us.

Sterling has moved to Torino, Italy--a place I've wanted to visit for awhile, although I was more interested in the cafes and the chocolate, while Sterling is rhapsodic about what the city is doing to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. He's exhilarated about being there--the city of the future for real! It may not be universally transferable, especially to less cosmopolitan places like this one, but it sounds great. As long as they keep the cafes and the chocolate.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


It's about a month until the Iowa caucus and this fateful election really begins. Here's my prediction for the Iowa result:

1. John Edwards
2. Barack Obama
3. Hillary Clinton

1. Mitt Romney
2. Huckabee
3. John McCain

The most daring prediction there is McCain coming in as high as third. If he does come in third, he could win New Hampshire. Among the Dems, even with a second place showing, Iowa might help Obama the most for New Hampshire. Of course a lot can happen in a month. But the sense of inevitability for Hillary and Rudy has gone, at least for the moment. Then again, this could be a very weird year, when what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire doesn't matter as much as it did in 2004.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

noctilucent clouds in Arctic regions are a new kind
of clouds that may be related to global heating.
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Climate Crisis: The Democratic Plan

Update: On the Rec List at European Tribune and Docudharma.

In a previous post, I analyzed the emerging Republican plan for the Climate Crisis. Basically it is to mix denial with assertions of doing something, in order to essentially do nothing (or not enough) to stop greenhouse gas pollution, while waiting to use the opportunity of a climate-related disaster in the U.S. to shift attention to their version of crisis management, which is disaster capitalism.

The Democrats are much different, yet there are also two sets of problems I foresee for them--one of which has pretty much the same result as the Republican plan, and the other involves a lack of preparation for near-term crisis, and how the Republicans are likely to try to take advantage of that.

Crucial to this analysis is my insistence that the Climate Crisis has two very different parts: the threat of truly catastrophic changes in the future if we don't stop greenhouse pollution now (the "Stop It" component) and the need to address serious problems and disasters that are going to happen in the relatively near future because of climate change--problems it is too late to stop (the "Fix It" component.)

"Stop It" Requires Focus and Strength

On the need to address the Climate Crisis, on its predominant importance, and on the need to reduce greenhouse gases, the major Democrats--the congressional leadership and especially the presidential candidates--are all saying the right things. They clearly recognize the needs in the Stop It arena. The question here is: will they follow through with action that is sufficiently strong?

This question is dramatized by the UN climate crisis conference in Bali that began Monday. A quote from an AP story on its beginning hour: "The eyes of the world are upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the conference. "The world now expects a quantum leap forward."

The question is: do the Democrats have the will and the ability to lead that quantum leap? Several of the candidates have fairly bold proposals, though not as extensive or creative as those proposed by Al Gore in his congressional testimony last March--and this was before the latest scientific information and observations that generally show things are getting worse faster than previously believed. Endorsing this complete list would be a better start.

For the task ahead is monumental. We need to essentially end greenhouse gas pollution by mid century, and we've heard political leaders around the world state this--yet despite those words, emissions of the two most important greenhouse gases hit an all time high in 2006.

In the U. S. an obvious requirement would seem to be the election of a Democrat as President, and a Congress with a working Democratic majority. But that alone is unlikely to be enough. The nation must be focused on this effort--and related energy, economic, health and environmental matters--so to make that possible, it seems necessary that these candidates make the Climate Crisis a priority issue in their campaigns.

So far that hasn't happened, though it is much more of an issue this time than in 2004 or 2000, both with the candidates and the public. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Washington Post: "It's a huge issue. I've been stunned by this," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who found in a May poll that energy independence and global warming were cited as America's most important domestic challenge by 29 percent of respondents, second only to health care. "I think this is a top-tier voting issue that has crossover appeal," Greenberg said.

But it can't be a stealth issue, important to the public but not discussed as a major issue in public. That's where the problem is. The predispositions of the TV networks and other sponsors of the debate have made discussing the issue almost impossible. There is rarely even a related question. Planting a question in a campaign event audience on the climate crisis is the least of the sins of Hillary Clinton's staff--it may well have been a public service. When a debate was devoted to the topic in Los Angeles, only three of the candidates even showed up: Hillary, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Although I can't find any reference to it online at the moment, I read that there will be another such debate in New Hampshire--where it is a major campaign issue--involving candidates from both parties, with the Republican team captained by Ahnold, and the Democrats by Al Gore.

Years ago Bill McKibben used a phrase I still think is essential--he said that there had to be "emotional consensus" to effectively address the Climate Crisis. That's an emotional consensus in the American citizenry large enough to form a wave that sweeps change ahead of it. The next President will have to be the FDR of Climate Change, only this President won't have the stark reality of the Depression or World War II in front of the public every day--there will be signs and manifestations, but most of it will be in the future--including nearly everything that ending greenhouse gases pollution can accomplish.

If candidates are elected because of their commitment to stop greenhouse pollution, then there is a chance for change. But it will also require courage and concentration to actually do what is necessary. It will mean resisting politics as usual, and the usual compromises over substance. There will come a time, quite soon, when no respectable politician in either or any party will deny the reality of the Climate Crisis, any more than now deny that smoking causes cancer. But will legislation and presidential initiatives be strong enough? That's going to be the question.

Reading the writing on the wall, businesses--especially in the energy sector--are already advocating that the Climate Crisis be addressed, and they want to be players in devising how. Some of them may only want to make sure these efforts are sustainable. But some of them are probably angling to make these efforts as weak as possible.

We've already seen stronger legislation in Congress dropped by its sponsors in favor of weaker bills that can get more support, especially from Republicans. But this time the price of too little, too late may be the end of civilization, the end of life as we know it on the planet, or simply unstoppable centuries of suffering.

"Fix It": Anticipate or Lose

As hard as the conceptual leap will be to act now to create results in the far future, there's an equal or even greater conceptual challenge. Disasters and longer lasting catastrophes are going to happen, and sooner or later they will be understood as manifestations of the Climate Crisis. They're happening now, though either not in the large population areas of the U.S., or they are "natural" phenomena (droughts, heatwaves, storms) people have seen in the past, unrelated to global heating. But that connection will be made, perhaps in a big way, fairly soon. And in our either/or culture (particularly political culture), we may find it too difficult, too complicated, too "nuanced" to see the need to Fix the problems in the present and near future, while still Stopping the more catastrophic effects in the far future.

I believe some Republicans are ready to jump on such disasters as a way of owning the issue, and of deflecting change from efforts to end greenhouse pollution towards efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate crisis effects as they happen in the present or very near future. Conversely, I don't see evidence that Democrats are thinking about these problems, or talking about them. And if they aren't ready to respond when something happens, they may be leaving themselves open to devastating political attack.

Republicans--and even some Democrats--may well take advantage of anxiety and even panic by saying we can't afford to worry about the far future--we need to use all our resources to save ourselves in the present, and if we need to burn fossil fuels at a high rate to do it, we must.

Democrats must be ready for this argument. They must be ready to assert responsibility for the present and the future, at the same time. They must be ready to address disasters and crises, not with the "disaster capitalism" and fearmongering for political advantage that the Bushites used in response to 9-11, with the bogus war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, all to profit their corporate cronies. Or how they responded to Katrina, by using the disaster to rid the Gulf of the poor and people of color, while enriching corporate cronies.

Many of us realize the immense difference in response to 9-11 and Katrina that America would have seen if the Supreme Court had not appointed G.W. Bush, and Al Gore had become President in 2000. Democrats must articulate for the nation at large just what those different kinds of responses would be, and will be. Democrats must take this issue away from Republicans--a pre-emptive strike, if you like.

Democrats must make it clear that with the leadership of government, the cooperation and help of progressive business and unions, and the compassion and commitment of citizens, together we can address both parts of the Climate Crisis simultaneously: we can Fix what needs to be fixed for ourselves and the peoples of the world already in trouble, while we Stop greenhouse gases pollution from destroying the future.