Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

clouds over the Indian ocean. (click on it to be awestruck.)
Posted by Picasa

Climate Weak

In an editorial last Saturday, the New York Times dubbed it Climate Week: "The coming week could set a record for the number of high-profile hours spent discussing global warming and what to do about it." First, the UN. Then several days of the Clinton Global Initiative. And finally, President Bush's speech to an international conference on the topic organized by the White House. Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie--the Earth is threatened (droughts, storms, Alaska becoming a sinkhole, disease, species dying off, the Arctic ice disappearing faster than anyone would have believed) so the world's Leaders meet to hear the scientists debate and come up with a Plan to save the World. Or something like that.

"The problem needs all the attention it can get," the Times opined. "But if talk is good, it is also cheap."

First of all, if you missed reports of this momentous week, that was easy enough to do: the media barely covered it. So much for the climate Crisis. So many more important stories than that.

The talkers were impressive. At the UN, California Governor Schwarzenegger said: "The consequences of global climate change are so pressing it doesn't matter who was responsible for the past.What matters is who is answerable for the future. And that means all of us." Al Gore spoke. He called for a global Marshall Plan to confront the Climate Crisis and world poverty. Then the organizer of the event, the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki Moon asserted, ""Our goal must be nothing short of a real breakthrough," Ban said. "Inaction now will prove the costliest action of all in the long term."

The Washington Post went on to say that this meeting was a preliminary to real negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, which will begin in December. Ban called on industrialized powers to show greater leadership in cutting emissions and said that poor countries will require incentives to lower emission levels "without sacrificing economic growth or poverty reduction." Although Ban did not outline a specific proposal for emission caps, a senior U.N. adviser said Ban believes a legally binding limit on industrial emissions is essential.

Other leaders were more specific, including the otherwise conservative president of France. "Let us together set objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, noting that the European Union is committed to a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050. "Failure to act would mean going beyond the point of no return."

It's worth noting at this point that dealing with the Climate Crisis is not a political issue that always breaks along party lines in Europe--in the UK, the conservatives are, if anything, even more gung ho than the Labor Party. And in general terms, it isn't a political issue at all.

Then came three extraordinary days of the Clinton Initiative meetings, virtually uncovered by American media. Many large and less large programs were announced to address an array of problems such as poverty and disease, but here's a short list of what was accomplished on the Climate Crisis alone:

A coalition of eight American utilities collectively serving nearly 20 million customers in 22 states announced Thursday that they would focus on energy efficiency.

Over the next five years, Standard Chartered Bank will commit to underwrite $4 to 5 billion in debt to renewable energy projects with a total project value of $8 to $10 billion. The bank will target clean energy projects in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and focus their efforts in areas such as wind, hydro, geothermal, solar, biomass and coal bed methane. The bank says it may play the role of lead arranger of debt, financial advisor or equity investor.

In another initiative announced Thursday, the X Prize committed to give prize money of up to $300 million to innovators making breakthroughs in energy and climate change, education, health, and poverty alleviation by conducting a dozen global competitions for large scale inducement prizes. X Prize defines a problem and then sets a challenge to find the solution. In this new round of prizes, innovators will have to show outcomes such as a reduction in CO2 or improved mortality rates. Innovators who reach the targets first will be able to claim millions of dollars in prize money.

Working with the Alliance for Climate Protection, Mark Buell and Susie Tompkins Buell will develop a $5 million project to continue moving the United States towards the point at which leaders in both major political parties and all sectors of civil society compete to offer effective proposals, policies, and programs that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Then on Friday came Bush. The New York Times report began: Seeking to dispel the widespread impression that his administration is isolated on the issue of global warming, President Bush said today that the world’s biggest polluters can limit damage to the atmosphere while still promoting prosperity. At the international conference he called, Bush added: “The best way to tackle this problem is to think creatively and to learn from others’ experiences and to come together on a way to achieve the objectives we share. Together, our nations will pave the way for a new international approach on greenhouse emissions.”

But Bush again refused to endorse mandatory measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and in its own decorous way, the Times story said nobody was buying it. Noting that "the conference drew only midlevel officials from many participating nations," it said: Germany’s environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, took a detached view of the conference, noting that the Bush administration would be gone in less than 18 months, and that it was unlikely to change its position. He said he spent two days this week discussing climate change with Democrats in Congress with an eye toward the post-Bush future.

In its story on the conference, the Washington Post wrote: After nearly seven years on the defensive, Bush tried to assume a leadership role in crafting "a new international approach" to preserving the world's climate. Yet he found himself largely isolated at a meeting that he had organized to address the issue, lambasted by foreign officials, U.S. lawmakers and environmental activists who saw his effort as more show than substance.

The Post quoted John Ashton, the UK's special representative for climate change ("what has emerged at this conference, and also at the United Nations, is how isolated the administration is now on this issue, especially on the issue of mandatory targets") and some snark from Rep. Edward Markey, the Democratic chairman of a new House committee on global warming ("The president says his goals are aspirational, but his goals are really procrastinational . The UN is saying the planet is urgently sick, and the Bush administration is saying, 'Take two aspirin and call me when I leave office.' " )

The UK's Guardian was more blunt than that: European ministers, diplomats and officials attending the Washington conference were scathing, particularly in private, over Mr Bush's failure once again to commit to binding action on climate change... A senior European diplomat attending the conference, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting confirmed European suspicions that it had been intended by Mr Bush as a spoiler for a major UN conference on climate change in Bali in December. "It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade," the diplomat said. "I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure."

So for Bush, it turned out to be Climate Weak. But until he is gone, and unless a Democrat is elected, only incremental steps by individual cities and states, corporations and perhaps countries are likely to be possible--as well as initiatives like those announced at the Clinton conference, the most successful of the week's climate events. But those efforts won't be enough. It will take the world, and especially the United States of America.

There is more to say about the Bush position and what may be behind it, and about what the Democrats are and are not doing on the Climate Crisis. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Senator Barack Obama
Posted by Picasa

The Debate and the Obama Difference

UPDATE: a version of this made the recommended list at Daily Kos. I've since revised this to reflect the kos version.

They just don't get it--the Washington media, the Washington politicians. They're all shaking their heads because Barack Obamba didn't "distingush himself" from the other candidates in last night's debate by going on the attack. One of Hillary's hit men
said today, " I think people are still wondering what really Obama's strategy is." The talking bobbleheads agreed that he had a lousy debate.

Only he didn't. And I'll bet that any analysis of voter positive response, moment by moment, went up sky high on several of his responses.

Obama was asked about his experience. He gave examples to support his contention that the next President has to do three things: bring people together and get things done, stand up to special interests and win, tell the truth to the American people even when it's tough.

When asked about health care he told the plain truth, that the announced plans by the candidates are pretty similiar (except for Dennis Kucinich, who favors the only truly universal coverage, the single-payer plan), so the question is "who can inspire and mobilize the American people to get it done, and to open up the process"--and here he drew a clear distinction with Hillary's previous efforts to create a national healthcare system, one that voters could not fail to hear, even if it fell on the tone deaf ears of the media bobbleheads--"if it was lonely for Hillary [getting her healthcare plan passed in 1993], part of the reason is that you closed the door--80% of the American people at that time wanted universal health care, but didn't feel they were let into the process."

Now as an analysis of what happened in the early 90s, this is incomplete, but as a statement of what's at the core of his campaign, it's clearer. But there was more clarity to come. (These quotes are my own transcription and hence "unofficial"--I was unable to find a transcript or any reference to them.) Obama said:
"One of the most important things the next President can do is to bring us together--instead of trying to fan the flames of division that has become so standard in Washington."

Lots of politicians, most notoriously Richard Nixon (whose minions coined the "bring us together" slogan) and G.W. Bush ("I'm a uniter, not a divider") have talked in similar terms, and most of them were lying. What few commentators notice but I'll bet voters see is that in the debates Obama is walking the walk. He is reasonable and tolerant and hopeful, as well as appropriately precise and forceful. The media in particular is never going to get it because conflict is their bread and butter. Novelty and conflict are the only two story lines they know.

Speaking of conflict, debate host Tim Russert (who I find so hard to watch because he is such an obvious bundle of psychological conflict himself) tried a gotcha question towards the end by saying that Democrats have a problem on issues of "faith and values" so he asked them all for their favorite Bible verse, as if challenging the atheistic secular humanists to come up with one. The question itself says volumes, because its premise is that the only people who can have faith and values are Christians, and maybe Jews. We needed Jerry Brown on somebody on that stage to quote a sutra.

Anyway, the first to get this question was Barack Obama, and he said the Sermon on the Mount.

"Because it expresses a basic principle I think we've lost in the last 6 years...part of what we've lost is a sense of empathy towards each other. We have been governed in fear and division-- and we talk about the federal deficit but we don't talk about the empathy deficit--a sense that I stand in somebody else's shoes, I look through their eyes..." He referred to those who are "struggling to figure out how to pay the gas bill or send their kids to college--thinking about them at the federal level--that's the reason I'm running for President, I want to restore that."

Earlier, Russert reminded Obama that when he was elected to the Senate in 2002, he said the idea of seeking the presidency immediately was absurd. Why had he changed his mind only 6 years later? Because, Obama said, his approach was what Americans want and need right now. He senses the character of this moment.

What if he's right? I think that he is. I would vote for any of the Democrats on that platform over any Republican running, no question. I am bothered by Hillary on specific issues, like her vote on
Iran yesterday, and I don't like her political team. I am not crazy about Obama's positions on several issues, either, although in keeping nuclear power as an energy option on the table, he potentially raised the bar so high that it can't meet it in the forseeable future.

But this particular appeal transcends individual issues, and pertains in fact most directly to the meta-issue that once again was ignored by the questioners in this debate: the Climate Crisis. Responding to that is going to require much more cooperation and consensus and greater change. Just to overcome the entrenched interests, and the powers of disaster capitalism that the Bushites have put in place, is likely to be insurmountable without strong leadership that can change the terms of the political conversation. Here's something else he said:

"What the next President must do is stop fanning people's fears," Obama said. "If we spend all our time feeding the American people fear and conflict and division, then they become fearful, conflicted and divided. If we feed them hope and we feed them reason and tolerance, then they will become tolerant and reasonable and hopeful."

This is a profound point. To get to any civilized future without a century of catastrophe unparalleled in the past ten thousand years, we are going to need a change of soul: we are going to need reason, tolerance and hope, and we are going to need empathy. We are going to need it internationally as well as in America, and we are going to need to extend it to peoples we aren't used to considering as anything but alien.

Obama is right about the role of leadership in fostering this. As human animals we are capable of violence, greed and insane selfishness; we are also capable of cooperation, altruism, empathy, constructive sharing and peaceful means. No one can legislate or force which way we go. Mostly it is a matter of emphasis, of what is encouraged and expected. So especially in this country at this time, our chief leader, the President, can set a crucial tone. He or she can make the difference. We aren't going to eradicate parts of ourselves, but we can decide what principles will guide our actions. That's the reality of "values."

Some of us only need to imagine the difference, not only in policy but in our feelings and behavior towards each other and the world, if Al Gore had been President for the past six years, to understand the importance of what Obama is saying.

Can this message resonate? I think it can, but the experts will be the last to realize it. It is probably true, as Michelle Obama said in an unguarded moment, that Barack needs to win Iowa to have a shot at the nomination. But beyond that, there are hints as to what can happen. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first black governor (of Virginia),
says that Obama could shatter the Republican hold on the South. There's also data suggesting that Obama is the most popular Democrat among Independents and Republicans. In fact, while Obama is currently in a close race for the Democratic nomination in Iowa, he was also polling third in the Iowa Republican caucus.

While Hillary--or John Edwards, or just about any Democratic candidate--has the better shot than the Republican nominee at winning the 2008 election, it could be quite close, providing no mandate or sense of divisions ending or old politics being over. Barack Obama's candidacy has the potential of leading to an electoral landslide, adding more young people, Independents and desperate Republicans to an even larger majority of people of color, women and Democrats in general. Other Democrats may be able to turn things around as President. But I sense that with Obama we may have the best chance at a future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

"Piggies" by Franz Marc
Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

Everywhere there's lots of piggies
Playing piggie pranks
You can see them on their trotters
At the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To thee, Pig Brother

the lost (unused) verse of "Piggies"
by George Harrison

Raised on Robbery: The Neocon Conspiracy

In the wake of an analysis by a Nobel Prize-winning economist that the war in Iraq is costing America a million dollars every two minutes, President Bush has announced he will veto a bill to expand a proven children's health program, just passed by the House.

The war is costing some $720 million a day, according to the study by economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and public finance expert Linda J. Bilmes, issued last week by the American Friends Service Committee. That one day's spending could buy health care for nearly a half million children. It could buy homes for 6,500 families and provide 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity, according to the analysis. It adds direct long term costs resulting from the war(such as health care for soldiers) to current spending, but not indirect future costs, like higher oil prices, lost productivity and trade.

The expansion of the children's health program amounts to $35 billion, which would pay for about 40 days of the Iraq war, according to these figures. Yet Republicans in Congress as well as the White House complain that this constitutes excessive government spending, among other specious arguments.

But any standards of accountability let alone wise use of resources don't apply to their war for profit in Iraq. According to a spokesperson for the American Enterprise Institute, the organization most responsible for the Bushite neoconservative agenda, " If you think national security won't be harmed by withdrawing from Iraq, of course you would want to see that money spent elsewhere. I myself think that belief, on a certain level, is absurd, so the question of focusing on how much money we are spending there is irrelevant."

There are several insulting fallacies here, but the most serious is that the Iraq war is necessary for U.S. national security, which nobody but the neocons believe, and the vast majority of Americans clearly don't accept. But it is certainly the excuse used by Bushite big spenders (some of whom may believe it, but I doubt that all really do) for their no-bid contracts worth billions given to their corporate cronies, not to mention the unaccounted for billions, the clearly wasted billions, and the stolen billions. This of course is the work of the party that's against Big Government, at least when it comes to children's medical care.

The truth of the matter I am convinced is closer to what Naomi Klein writes in The Shock Doctrine: to Bushite neocons "the acceptable role of government in a corporatist state - [is] to act as a conveyor belt for getting public money into private hands." Certain private hands, like Halliburton's. That's one big reason why there are more contractors than soldiers in Iraq, and why the cost of this war is nearly three quarters of a billion dollars a day--the most outrageous robbery in history, and one that future generations will long be paying.

And that's why government can't support health care for poor children and children of families who can't otherwise afford it, in America, but any limit on pouring money down the drain of Iraq is irrelevant. If this keeps up, there really won't be any money for anything else, for a long time. Which is exactly what some neocons intend.

In many essential ways it's all elaborate dressing for extreme pigginess by a few. So let's all bow down to the unitary executive of Pig Brother.

UPDATE: The Shock Doctrine is getting a lot of good attention, including a video interview of author Naomi Klein by actor John Cusak. If you really want to understand what this book is about and what is has to say about all this, in a succinct 17 minutes, don't read my review, watch this interview. You can also find it on Huffington Post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

illustration with my review in
Sunday's SF Chronicle, by Rico
Posted by Picasa

The Shocks That We Are Heir To

I've mentioned The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein's new book before, but now it's out in the U.S. I reviewed it in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, and this is how I began:

The connections are daring in journalist Naomi Klein's new book, "The Shock Doctrine," but the result is convincing. With a bold and brilliantly conceived thesis, skillfully and cogently threaded through more than 500 pages of trenchant writing, Klein may well have revealed the master narrative of our time. And because the pattern she exposes could govern our future as well, "The Shock Doctrine" could turn out to be among the most important books of the decade.

The rest of the review is here.

There's also a good review in the Guardian.