Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Hope, A New Year


“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
Emerson
Self-Reliance

Click on photo to enlarge. Photo from Hawaii by ipod484 on Flicker, where the man who holds our hopes for 2009 is vacationing. Happy New Year to him and to you, and to all of us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Earthrise: The Only Life We've Got


The most famous version of the Earthrise photo, taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968, forty years ago today. It inspired a new awareness and concern for the fate of our home world, the only live planet in the solar system. All photos from NASA; click photo to enlarge.

The Only Life We've Got

Update: a version of this was on the Recommended list at Daily Kos. It was the third most recommended diary of the day.

It was exactly forty years ago, on Christmas Eve of 1968, when millions of Americans watched a television show live from the Moon. Three U.S. astronauts—Bill Anders, Frank Borman and James Lovell were the first humans to go beyond Earth orbit and escape Earth’s gravitational influence, to circle another world.

They described the oppressive gray emptiness of the Moon’s surface below them, as viewers saw slowly rolling gray video images of what they were talking about. Then the astronauts read the first ten verses of the Book of Genesis, and sent holiday greetings to the people of “the good Earth.” More U.S. viewers watched this broadcast than any TV program of any kind before, and eventually an estimated one fourth of the world’s population saw it.

But the event of December 24, 1968 with the most lasting impact happened when no one was watching—when the astronauts were cut off from communication on the dark side of the Moon. They had been concentrating on the lunar surface, when Frank Borman caught a glimpse of color on the gray horizon, a conspicuous glow of blue and white against the black sky. It was the Earth. While he excitedly snapped photos in black and white, Bill Anders loaded his camera with color film, and got the shot that became historic. We know it as “Earthrise.”

According to Robert Poole’s fascinating new book, Earthrise: How We First Saw Ourselves (Yale University Press), the idea of photographing the Earth was foreign to NASA’s ethos and sense of the Apollo mission. NASA wasn’t interested in where the astronauts were coming from but in where were going: into space, to the Moon. Only the stubbornness of a few individuals, especially Apollo’s photography chief, Richard Underwood (who emerges as something of a hero in Poole’s book) led to the photos we do have.

The engineers and mission planners snubbed earth photos as “touristy snap shots,” and astronauts often didn’t see the point of them. Until they got out there. Then, as several admitted, seeing their home planet whole became the most memorable aspect of the voyage. In fact it was the Earth that made the impression from the start. “How beautiful our Earth is!” exclaimed Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.


But it was the Earthrise photo that became a spectacularly popular image—splashed across magazine pages, and posterized for posterity and dorm room walls. Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders later suggested that it caused people to “realize that we’re all jammed together on one really kind of dinky little planet, and we better treat it and ourselves better, or we’re not going to be here very long.”

[continued after photo]


Pollution visible from space, over Italy and China. NASA photos.
Forty years later, that Earth has changed. Twice as many people live on its surface. The pictures from space show more gray and brown in the white clouds—evidence of more widespread pollution. “The brilliant, clear photos were the Gemini photos of the mid-60s,” Richard Underwood observed. “The air pollution was a lot less then, and it shows.”

Some of the evidence of global heating is also obvious from space. Noting that the later and at least equally famous full-face “Blue Marble” photo taken from the Moon’s surface in December 1972 during the last Apollo mission showed the “relatively undeveloped southern hemisphere,” Poole points out that its view of the Antarctic in winter already looks different.

“Humankind now appears to be both the product and the custodian of the only island of intelligent life in the knowable universe,” Poole writes. “Whether that vision has been timely enough, and powerful enough, for homo sapiens, the most successful of all invasive species, to reverse its own devouring impact on the Earth, will probably become apparent before too long.”
The Blue Marble photo, taken in December 1972 from the surface of the Moon during the last Apollo mission. It is now the most familiar image on the planet.
Forty years later, the Apollo program (and its 11 missions, nine voyages to the Moon and six moon landings in just four years) seems like a dream. With budget cuts, management problems and controversies, unfunded missions and the planned end of the Space Shuttle, NASA faces an unpromising and uncertain future.

But even with the election of Barack Obama, a NASA supporter who recently suggested he wants to have “lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars,” there is a sense that NASA’s future is not only in exploring space, but in once again looking earthward.

In 1990, on the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, NASA announced its fifteen year program called “Mission to Planet Earth,” for earth observation satellites. That program suggests an opportunity for the future.

A
recent essay by former NASA Johnson Space Center director George Abbey and former Clinton Science Advisor Neal Lane on “How to Save the U.S. Space Program” suggested that earth observations be restated as a top priority for NASA, and that coordination with other earth sciences agencies be strengthened.

One prominent reason for this mission is the Climate Crisis—a harrowing possibility known mostly by a few scientists and science-fiction writers in 1968, but now the most dangerous example of the planet’s life being seriously altered by human activity. As the federal government gets serious about addressing it, more detailed knowledge is needed about what’s actually going on in the atmosphere and on the planet’s surface. Some of that information is best gathered from space.

It’s a mission NASA is aware of, and may now be eager to take on. After all, America’s most respected scientist on the Climate Crisis (and next to Al Gore, the number one target for climate crisis deniers) is NASA’s own James A. Hansen. His own post-election statement minces no words: “Now our planet itself is in peril. Not simply the Earth, but the fate of all its species, including humanity.”

In an Orlando Sentinel oped endorsing Barack Obama for president, former astronaut Sally Ride cited his support for expanding NASA’s research capabilities “to study things like global warming…” But even under the recalcitrant Bush administration, NASA was already engaging in this work, with an upcoming mission specifically related to the Climate Crisis. Scheduled for January launch, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will be its first spacecraft dedicated to studying the chief greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. NASA satellites have also recently measured changes in Arctic sea ice and Alaskan glaciers.
The less famous black and white Earthrise image, taken by astronaut Frank Borman, also on December 24, 1968.
Many of the Apollo astronauts returned to Earth not only with a new interest in ecology, but with a sense of urgency. Gene Cernan, the last man to stand on the Moon, felt “My destiny was to be not only an explorer, but a messenger from outer space, an apostle for the future.” Michael Collins returned determined “that I would do all I could to let people know what wonderful home we have—before it is too late.” Edgar Mitchell thought about “beneath the blue and white atmosphere was a growing chaos…that population and conscienceless technology were growing rapidly way out of control.”

While universal peace and brotherhood did not immediately ensue after Apollo, Poole believes the Earthrise photo had important impact as a symbol for a new consciousness of the home planet that has changed attitudes, however slowly and subtly. It contributed to the power of new metaphors, from Spaceship Earth to Gaia, that guide our understanding and our resolve.

“The sight of the whole Earth, small, alive, and alone, caused scientific and philosophical thought to shift away from the assumption that the Earth was a fixed environment, unalterably given to humankind,” Poole concludes, “and towards a model of the Earth as an evolving environment, conditioned by life and alterable by human activity.”

Beginning with Earthrise, these images of the Earth from space have contributed to a more widespread sense of the Earth’s fragile status as the one known live world, and as the only Earth we’ve got. They contributed to the metaphors of Spaceship Earth and Gaia that guide our understanding and our resolve. But the urgency remains, and grows.

Though the Earth Blue Marble photo became even more iconic than the Apollo 8 image, there is a particular poignancy to Earthrise, because the planet is not all there. Some of it had not “risen” yet, but visually the missing portion suggests how fragile this life-bearing vessel is. Amidst the immense emptiness between the far-flung fires of stars, it could just as easily be setting, or dissolving life by life, leaving only another gray globe in the cold and darkness.

It’s up to us. We are the future we have been waiting for.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dead World #8...



The huge, storm-wracked planet Saturn, made of rock, ice and gases is fascinating for its rings, visible from Earth and photographed here by the Cassini space probe. Their variety is suggested by the Cassini photo color-coded for different temperatures. Saturn itself is lifeless, and speculation centers on one of its moons as possibly harboring microbial life--but so far it's just a theory. There's long been speculation about life on other moons of these distant planets, but so far the presence of life has been confirmed on only one celestial body in the solar system--and its photo is below.

...And At Last A Live One



I saved Saturn for last because it was when space probes reached its vicinity--starting with Voyager 1--that they at last found a live world, when they turned a camera back towards Terra: the Earth. It's that distant dot in the first photo, blown up in the inset upper left. The second photo is from Voyager, and the third is color enhanced. What Carl Sagan called this "pale blue dot" is where all known life in the solar system resides. All known life in the galaxy. In the universe, though we admittedly don't know much about that.
Here's more of what Carl Sagan wrote about these photos: "Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark...This distant image of our tiny world...underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've got."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dead Worlds 5, 6 and 7



Two huge and remote planets, Uranus and Neptune, plus one even more remote world recently downgraded from planetary status, Pluto. Not a lot is known about any of them or their respective moons, but we're pretty sure of one thing: they sustain no life and never did. We reserve Saturn for tomorrow, for a special reason.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Solstice


The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year, marking the beginning of winter. One of the ancient traditions responding to this long cold night is a fire using the oak Yule log. Ancient and indigenous cultures also celebrate the day as the beginning of the earth's rebirth, for the days now begin to get longer. I attended a Native American ceremony once in which it was explained as the earth's period of pregnancy. Many of the ancient rituals of this day became part of Christmas and other winter holiday celebrations.

Dead World #4


Two (color enhanced) views of Jupiter--the top one an infrared from earth-based telescope, the second from a space probe. Huge, dynamic, alien: there is much we don't yet understand about this massive planet, its atmospheric storms and surface features, but life is undetected and unlikely. Its moon Europa is a better candidate, but only theoretically. Although the planet has been observed from earth for centuries, and several space probes have photographed it since 1979, better knowledge requires future missions. Click photos to enlarge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

To Invest in Things Unseen

In his Saturday YouTube (above)/radio address, PE Barack Obama talked about the role of science and named important members of his science team. (Full transcript here.)

He praised "leaders who not only invested in our scientists but respected the integrity of the scientific process. Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources – it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient – especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us."

Obama announced energy and climate physicist John Holdren as his White House Science advisor, and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both are climate experts. Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research." (NYT)

Obama concluded:

"I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity."

Dead World #3


Mars. This year, planetary probes suggest that water was probably present, and some scientists believe that outcroppings like those in the bottom photo hide glaciers of frozen water just beneath the surface near the poles--perhaps a lot of water. This makes life on Mars more of a possibility, at least in its past. Right now, all indications are that it is another dead world.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dead World #2


The hot and forbidding planet Venus, with a dense atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide, currently increasing in Earth's atmosphere, in an image from a NOAA satellite.

The Green Team

PE Barack Obama winds up a final week of Cabinet and White House appointments on Friday with picks that further demonstrate his commitment to address the Climate Crisis and create a green energy economy.

He will announce his Secretary of Labor today as California Rep. Hilda Solis, who in addition to winning strong labor support, is a green energy advocate who wrote a measure that authorized $125 million for work force training programs in areas such as energy efficiency retrofitting and "green building" construction." That precisely an item that Obama has said will be part of his economic stimulus/rescue package.

Obama is expected to also make two science appointments--Harvard physicist John Holdren as science advisor and Oregon State marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) are well-known advocates for strong action on the Climate Crisis. The Washington Post calls their appointment "the strongest signal yet that he will reverse Bush administration policies on energy and global warming."

The Green Team now includes Energy Secretary Steven Chu (another strong advocate for Climate Crisis action), Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson (another strong advocate for a green energy economy as well), White House advisor Carol Browner (former EPA Sec. and close to Al Gore), and EPA appointee Lisa Jackson, as well as two appointees with particular expertise on water issues--sure to be important as the Climate Crisis advances: Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar and Nancy Sutley, new head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Even Budget Director Peter Orszag has strong interest in the Climate Crisis. VPE Joe Biden and his office will be vital contributors to the Green Deal, and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton is on the same page as Obama on both the green energy economy and the Climate Crisis.

Though they are all committed to action on the Climate Crisis and in creating the Green Deal, the Green Team is a healthy mix: scientists with strong views, seasoned administrators and elected officials with a record of bridging differences and getting things done. Also a gender and ethnic diversity that is especially important because everyone needs to feel included in the Green Deal, and feel the urgency of the Climate Crisis. For too long, the environmental movement has been mostly white and upper middle class. We're all in this together.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dead World #1


A flyby image (colored later) and a surface detail of the planet Mercury, taken by the space probe Messenger in January of this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Guess Which Boomers Weren't Watching

Captain Strong of the United Worlds Space Patrol explaining policy to Mercurian Commander: "There is no such thing as a preventive war--attacking another country because that country might attack first. Differences between peoples are settled by negotiation, and in peace."
--"Tom Corbett, Space Cadet," broadcast on CBS in October 1950.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Climate of Crisis

Depending on who and what you read, the just-concluded climate summit in Poland was either successful (a unified Europe backing both strong economic stimulus and strong Climate Crisis goals) or not so much ("The conference enabled us to make real progress on every topic," or "There has been disappointingly little progress...")

A little progress (an "interim climate pact" that postpones tough negotiations) might be enough for now, but it won't be once the Obama administration takes office. Science writer Seth Borenstein sets the table: "When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, global warming was a slow-moving environmental problem that was easy to ignore. Now it is a ticking time bomb that President-elect Barack Obama can't avoid.

Since Clinton's inauguration, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas. The 10 hottest years on record have occurred since Clinton's second inauguration. Global warming is accelerating. Time is close to running out, and Obama knows it."

(This is only emphasized by a new report in which scientists say they now have unambiguous evidence that the warming in the Arctic is accelerating.)

Obama not only says he knows it, but his appointments show it. There are some controversies concerning the records and backgrounds of his "Green Team" picks announced this week (Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu as Sec. of Energy, Lisa Jackson at EPA, Carol Browner as White House coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head White House Council on Environmental Quality), but one thing they have in common stands out: they are all passionate about addressing the Climate Crisis.

Another promising sign: though powerful industries will oppose real Climate Crisis and green energy action (even as they advertise to the contrary), there is increasing support in the business sector for strong actions. This is going to be important in getting universal health care, and it will likely be important here. One prominent recent example, according to the Wall Street Journal last month: "More than 130 leading investors, representing assets worth $6.4 trillion, today warned world leaders that any global agreement on climate change must be strong and binding to guarantee necessary financing for global emissions reduction and adaptation efforts, and that the financial crisis should not delay efforts to address rising global temperatures. "

Among other measures, the group is looking for binding global target for reducing greenhouse gases, real participation by developing countries, clear measures to reduce deforestation, and a commitment to prepare for dealing with Climate Crisis effects (the "fix it" or "consequences" part of the crisis, in the Captain's nomenclature.)

The Climate Crisis will be addressed directly, but probably in the first instance through the economic stimulus/recovery packages. When real money and attention starts to flow into energy conservation and particularly into new green energy, some old and inaccurate thinking is going to be corrected. That's a future topic, so watch this space.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Long Term Virtues


"The smoke from the Saar Valley may pollute half a dozen other countries, depending on the direction of the wind. We all know that, but it must be seen to make an indelible impression, to produce an emotional impact that makes one argue for long-term virtues at the expense of short-term gains...Anyone who has viewed our planet from afar can only cry out in pain at the knowledge that the pristine blue and whiteness that he can still close his eyes and see is an illusion masking an ever more senseless ugliness below." [NASA photo.]
--Astronaut Michael Collins

The Oncoming Storm

We face an oncoming storm of economic and other troubles, deep and wide as the world, which will only become more obvious when the glitter of the holidays fades.

But there is another storm building, also big, and it will begin coming on fast in the new year. Its name is Barack Obama.

The new administration is taking shape, impressive and muscular. The proposals are being created, and they are big, including a major economic rescue package that may top a trillion dollars.

Already Obama is working behind the scenes, on the auto company rescue for instance. "Mr. Obama has been pulling on the levers of power far more than any president-elect in memory, using his new stature to influence events in Congress and the real White House of President Bush..." says the New York Times. This analysis of his emerging executive style says he sets broad goals and delegates to others on details but knows those details as well as anyone, and "Mr. Obama has shown no hesitance in stepping into disputes between the more experienced Democrats who run the House and Senate to forge the united front he will need in coming years to pass his ambitious agenda. "

Obama and his staff are also gathering the forces behind his election, with community organizing and setting up Change.gov. His Saturday radio /YouTube addresses signal how he will redefine communications from the White House, speaking "of the people, to the people," says a Washington Post article.

In this nervous period of waiting--hoping that the Bushite administration and the Hooverites in Congress don't screw things up any more in the few days before the holidays and the new Congress--the American people are unwavering in their hopes and support. Not even a nasty Illinois statehouse scandal has dented Obama's sky-high approval rating--much higher than any recent incoming president.

That's because America needs this incoming President to be an oncoming storm, big and bold enough to face down disaster. Of course we'll need patience and compassion and sacrifice before long. But we can look forward to a forceful beginning. It's looking good.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sure, I Remember

I spoke to one of my sisters back in western PA last week, and she said it was snowing. She asked me if I remember snow. Barely. A storm is coming in tonight here but we get rain and maybe sleet, and on rare occasions, a thirty second snowstorm. Nothing like the above, which I well remember. This photo is by Pittsburgh Post Gazette photographer Bill Wade, and it was taken some years ago fairly close to where my other sister lives. And to where we all grew up. Nothing like the silence in the newly fallen snow. (Before the back tires start screaming all over town.)

Hooverville, D.C.

If you thought yesterday's post was a little over the top, you should read this memo--or "action alert"--circulated to congressional Republicans on Wednesday, confirming that the reason Senate Republicans opposed the funds to prevent a cascade of catastrophe to the U.S. economy, was union-busting, plain and simple.

The motivation in the memo is pure partisan politics. That doesn't mean there isn't more to it as well. For example, 18 Republicans voted against the $14 billion for two automakers, with all kinds of oversight and strings attached, who also voted FOR the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street financial institutions, with no real oversight or strings attached.

And now we learn that the Federal Reserve is refusing to tell the media, even under the Freedom of Information Act, which institutions they gave some TWO TRILLION DOLLARS to.

Interesting that Republicans and Herbert Hoover were linked twice on Friday. A bit weird that it was by a Republican Senator and the current VP, Dick Cheney.

Bush avoided a market meltdown Friday by announcing that the executive branch will find a way to rescue GM and Chrysler, although no plan has yet been announced. GM announced "temporary" plant closings and layoffs. The media finally woke up to the danger all this represents, at least to some extent.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will We Remember December 11?

Just a few days after the governor of Illinois was arrested for, among other things, intending to sell a U.S. Senate seat, we have seen something even worse: Senate Republicans were willing to put millions of Americans out of work and destroy the economic future of their country because they hate the union movement.

That's the long and the short of it. Because of the intransigence of these few men, the bridge loan to two of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers that was negotiated by Democrats and the Republican administration, and which the House of Representatives passed, failed to gain the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to proceed on Thursday night, ending this session of Congress. Even though the United Autoworkers union partially capitulated to their extortionate demands.

So if you're reading this Friday morning and wondering why the stock market is falling off a cliff, now you know. About the only thing left to rescue the market and the economy is Secretary of Treasury Paulsen using some of the $350 billion bailout money already voted--with no such objection by Republicans, because the money has been going to big banks and financial institutions, where executives rake in tens of millions in bonuses. There is one report that this is being considered. It had better happen quickly on Friday.

The most active Republican Senators in opposition are from states that host foreign carmakers, with weak or nonexistent unions. Their statements indicating that General Motors and perhaps Chrysler should go into bankruptcy are sheer hypocrisy, as well as delusional. There is no possible chapter 11 for General Motors, financial analysts say, because no bank has the funds to protect them. And when GM goes, so go the others, and so goes the nation. Bankruptcy means liquidation, with devastating consequences, not only to this already devastated economy, but to the future possibilities of recovery.

America needs industrial capacity and skilled industrial workers. America needs unions, especially now, when the few rich have a dangerously high percentage of total wealth, and the working middle class has so little that millions are struggling to survive, even when they have jobs.

But these irresponsible, callous and stupid men are willing to turn a Great Recession into a Great Depression, just in time for Christmas. If allowed to stop this rescue, they will have done more damage to this country than terrorists could even dream of. And December 11, 2008 will be a day that lives in infamy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Moon Over Mount Olympus


Now we've got one--an excellent photo from this year's conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, taken earlier this month by Vangelis Tsintsifas on Mount Olympus in Greece. By now, the Moon is moving towards full (on Friday) and because it's particular close this month, it is particularly big and bright. We had a clear night here Tuesday night and the Moon was gorgeous. Check it out.

It's Always the Top Story

It was supposed to be the Obama story of the day, but something else came up. PE Obama and VPE Joe Biden met with Al Gore, before Gore travels to the climate talks in Poland, and before Obama announces his Cabinet appointments to Energy and Environmental Protection.

In the brief press meet afterwards, Obama reinterated his support for making the Climate Crisis an urgent priority. “"All three of us are in agreement that the time for delay is over, the time for denial is over. We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way,” Mr. Obama said. “That is what I intend my administration to do.”

But nobody paid much attention to this, because something else came up. And something else always does. That's a major problem for confronting this crisis with the breadth and depth and intensity it requires. Speaking of Mr. Obama, pre-eminent U.S. Climate Crisis scientist (and second only to Gore as the chief target of the Climate Crisis deniers) James Hansen wrote recently, "The challenge he faces is unprecedented. I refer not to the inherited economic morass, as threatening as it is. The human toll due to past failures and excesses may prove to be great, yet economic recessions, even depressions, come and go. Now our planet itself is in peril. Not simply the Earth, but the fate of all its species, including humanity. The situation calls not for hand-wringing, but rather informed action."

That puts it in perspective, but it is this perspective that is most difficult to attain and hold. It's too big, too outside everyday life, everyday issues, and the kinds of things we're used to chattering with our media enablers. So there's always something else.

Perhaps the good news is that there are other reasons for doing many of the things we need to do to address the Climate Crisis--reasons and actions perhaps easier to grasp and build support for. Like building a green economy, including fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, a more efficient and greener electrical grid. Or smaller scale changes that add up--weatherizing, redesigning, replacing wasteful technologies. All of these are already proposed are parts of the Obama economic recovery.

Al Gore endorsed this approach in an oped last month: "Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis. "

These efforts will change more than the economy. They may begin the kind of changes we need to make to respond to what's here as well as what's coming. Our communities as well as our nation will change. That's inevitable. But now we have a chance to change constructively instead of reacting with fear.

Part of the economic change we need--addressing the needs of the poor and middle class as well as the desires of the rich--must also be part of how we address the Climate Crisis and related environmental issues.

One of those calling for change on this basis is Oakland, CA activist and lawyer Van Jones. I've been meaning to blog on this interview in Sentient Times since it came out in August, but...there was always something else. In this interview--worth reading in its entirety--Jones identifies the social and racial aspect of the problem, as what he calls "eco-apartheid":

“Eco-apartheid” is a situation in which you have ecological haves and have-nots. In other words, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you visit Marin County, you’ll find hybrid vehicles, solar panels, organic food, organic everything. If you then get in your car and drive twenty minutes, you’ll be in west Oakland, where people are literally choking on the fumes of the last century’s pollution-based technologies. That’s eco-apartheid, and it’s morally wrong, because we should deliver clean jobs and health benefits not just to the wealthy, but also to the people who need them most. Eco-apartheid doesn’t work on a practical level either, because you can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart."

Other activists--particularly Native American activists, pointing to the preponderance of toxic waste dumps and other dangerous sites on tribal lands--have long raised the issues of environmental justice. But Jones is adding a very practical addenda, another spin to Obama's contention that we need a society where the wealth is more evenly distributed: without that, we won't get to a greener country, or to adequately addressing the Climate Crisis:

"For the sustainable economy to be successful, it has to be a full-participation economy. Right now it is a niche economy, a lifestyle economy... It is easy for the eco-elites in Massachusetts or northern California to wrap themselves in the trappings of sustainability and think that the problem has been solved, but the people who clean their houses are going back to neighborhoods that may be fifty years in the past in terms of their ecological sustainability. As we move toward a sustainable economy, if we do not take care to minimize the pain and maximize the gain for the poor, they will join forces with the polluters to derail the green revolution..."

All this is only part of what needs to be done. Bill McKibben outlines some other general areas, such as some kind of carbon tax, and American support--American leadership-- for international Climate Crisis measures. (McKibben argues elsewhere that the solution Tom Friedman suggests in his latest best seller won't work--that America leads by the example of its own green economy which other nations will emulate-- because there just isn't time for it to work. Everybody has to get at this now or it will be too late.)

We can make progress addressing the Climate Crisis incrementally by a kind of "plus" philosophy: i.e. the green economy is good for the economy, for the middle class, for energy independence, plus it helps save the planet. Or as Obama said Tuesday: “We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, to re-power America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we are saving the planet.”

We can make progress saving the planet by doing something else. But we're also going to have to take actions because they address the Climate Crisis that confronts the world, and that inevitably means taking actions with the world.

All of us will be forced to confront Climate Crisis realities sooner or later. And when that time comes, we will be talking about nothing else. Way before then we'd best understand that local CC problems have global causes. The planet: it's always the top story.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two Faces of the Economy


While Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain demanded a $10 million bonus--count'em, John, that's ten big ones--for doing his bit in the financial meltdown which his company survived with federal bailout millions, these Chicago workers are living in their abandoned factory to get the money they're owed, amounting to a crucial few thousands. See post below. Thain photo from Business Week; workers from NY Times.

Class Warfare

"It's class warfare!" Such has been the right wing/Wall St. Republican chant, the battle cry which in the 08 campaign became the bleat. Sheer cynicism for the party of projection, as they waged pitiless class warfare against the poor and the middle class since the 1980s.

Now Barack Obama has won the argument: that historically, everyone does better when everyone does better--the rich prosper in a more sustainable fashion when the middle class is big and strong. But Obama isn't President yet, and class warfare is flaring.

It's gone underground with Bush's burrowing of ideologues in the federal government, and in his last pathetic power grab, his imposing of anti-union bias and other aggressions against workers in the Big Three bridge loans, perhaps including his own appointment of a "car czar" to micro-manage federal involvement regardless of what the Obama administration wants to do.

But it's way out in the open in two news stories. On the one hand, there's Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain, who didn't let his company's failure softened by federal bailout millions stop him from asking for a $10 million bonus for himself. When the request became public, the firm's compensation committee reportedly denied it.

On the other hand there's the Chicago employees of Republic Windows and Doors whose money was stolen by their company when it suddenly closed the factory. They are union employees, and they refused to be dissed. They occupied the factory, and spread the word. These things don't always attract attention, but this one did:

Chicago workers in the third day of a sit-in on the floor of their former workplace peered through the windows of a door Sunday, amazed by a mix of supporters, politicians and journalists who packed a foyer outside.

"We never expected this," said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. "We expected to go to jail."

The 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off nationwide as the economy continues to sour. They occupied the plant of their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, after the company abruptly fired them last week. "

Chicago has rallied to their side--and this time they've got an additional warrior. When asked about it at a press conference Sunday, PE Barack Obama said : “The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned... I think they’re absolutely right, and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

Union, company and bank officials met Monday and will meet again Tuesday to resolve the Chicago situation. But it needs more than a symbolic victory. Class warfare against the working class and the middle class must end.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Going Forward Together

On December 7, 1941, elements of the Japanese military attacked U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. declared war the next day, effectively entering World War II around the world. One internal consequence was the imprisonment of some Japanese American families in internment camps.

Sixty-seven years later, today, December 7, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama will appoint U.S. General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki is Japanese American. He is the first Obama appointee of cabinet rank to be of Asian descent. Both he and the President-elect who appointed him were born in Hawaii.

He will be responsible for U.S. military veterans. His numerous charges with the most pressing problems are veterans of Iraq. Shinseki is best known as the General who told Rumsfeld and other Bushites that they would need far more troops for a far longer time than they had planned to take and hold Iraq. For that he was fired.

And among his charges are a very small number of veterans of World War II.

Is this a great country or what? The land of reconciliation, as well as irony. And of looking forward.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Economic Recovery, Part One

In his Saturday radio/YouTube address, PE Barack Obama outlined the economic recovery program he will propose: "We won’t do it the old Washington way. We won’t just throw money at the problem. We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve – by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world."

"First, we will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient. Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world... That won’t just save you, the American taxpayer, billions of dollars each year. It will put people back to work."

"Second, we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money."

"Third, my economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen...As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway... because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world."

"...we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.

"These are a few parts of the economic recovery plan that I will be rolling out in the coming weeks. When Congress reconvenes in January, I look forward to working with them to pass a plan immediately. We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least two and a half million jobs so that the nearly two million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future. And that’s exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States."

Full transcript here.

Barack the World

"I will not exaggerate the importance of a single personality, but Obama has become a global symbol like none I can recall in my lifetime... Were his administration to demonstrate in its day-to-day conduct a genuine understanding of other countries' perspectives and an empathy for the aspirations of people around the world, it could change America's reputation in lasting ways.
This is a rare moment in history. A more responsive America, better attuned to the rest of the world, could help create a new set of ideas and institutions—an architecture of peace for the 21st century that would bring stability, prosperity and dignity to the lives of billions of people. Ten years from now, the world will have moved on; the rising powers will have become unwilling to accept an agenda conceived in Washington or London or Brussels. But at this time and for this man, there is a unique opportunity to use American power to reshape the world. This is his moment. He should seize it."

The Great Recession: Two Quotes

"The 533,000 jobs lost last month, the worst job loss in 34 years, is more than a dramatic reflection of the growing economic crisis we face. Each of those lost jobs represents a personal crisis for a family somewhere in America... There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But now is the time to respond with urgent resolve to put people back to work and get our economy moving again.

At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come."

--PE Barack Obama

"Policy makers must recognize this deterioration and craft their responses accordingly. Our job market is now shedding jobs at a truly alarming rate, a rate measurably worse than past recessions. We face an emergency that certainly equals those in the financial markets in recent months. The American workforce is too big to fail."

--Jared Bernstein, economic advisor to VPE Joe Biden.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


The conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon was visible here now and again, in and out of clouds. I tried a photo at dusk but the moon was a blur. I haven't seen any really good photos on the web yet either, but there's this one from a similar conjunction in 2005.

The Change Starts Here

So where's the change? That's the prattle, some sincere no doubt, some the usual self-serving, time-filling contrived drama the media feels it needs. PE Obama is appointing all these folks who've been around for awhile, doing stuff in the area of what they've been appointed to do. Where's the change in that?

Okay, so this is not a problem for most people who like to see clearly qualified people appointed to important jobs. CNN's poll shows 75% of the public approves of PE Obama's cabinet and other appointments. They're so thrilled with the appointment of Hillary that her approval rating is the highest it's been in ten years.

But for those who are worried, there are a lot of signs and signals about the change to come (beginning when they all take office, which is not until late next month.) The change doesn't have to look big right now to eventually be big.

For instance, in her brief remarks at the announcement of her appointment as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton mentioned several important issues and said: “America cannot solve these crises without the world and the world cannot solve them without America."

After eight years of Bushite unilateralism, of the refusal of the U.S. to take part in global negotiations and treaties on such essential issues as the Climate Crisis and nuclear proliferation, Hillary's statement is positively revolutionary.

She went on to spell out a little of what it means: “By electing Obama our next president, the American people have demanded not just a new direction at home, but a new effort to renew America’s standing in the world as a force for positive change.”

That's change we can believe in, change we need...and change we voted for.

While Robert Gates was a Bush appointee at Defense, he's an advocate for closing Guantanamo, and said he will carry out Obama's intention to end the Iraq war and bring the troops home.

Then there's Susan Rice, appointed as the US Ambassador to the UN (which Obama restored to full Cabinet department rank) who is an advocate for strong responses to genocide, particularly now in Darfur. Darfur has a powerful advocate! Change I can believe in, believe me!

Several articles about the entire national security team make the point that it represents a big change from primary reliance on military force and, to put it more bluntly, bullying, to more balance with diplomacy and aid, so-called "soft power." In the best of these I've seen, Marc Ambinder calls it "smart power."

Smart! Pretty big change there!

Eric Holder, appointed Attorney-General, made a point of talking about restoring Constitutional guarantees and traditional American positions (read: no torture.) More change!

Wednesday, Bill Richardson was named Commerce Secretary, and he talked about how "you open markets and minds with partnerships, innovation and hard work." For those who worry he got short-changed, his vision of the job includes international commerce, and he's on board on the overarching issues of addressing the Climate Crisis and creating the Green Deal economy: he mentioned "innovation" and technology several times, as well as clean energy jobs and--here's a word of change: "manufacturing."

You might say that some of this "change" is changing back, and that's true--but it's no less needed, and it's unfortunately no less change. But it's all change for the future. Manufacturing yes, but as Obama makes clear vis a vis the auto industry, manfacturing new kinds of stuff in new ways--the sustainable, clean energy economy of the future. Infrastructure yes, but not just roads and bridges--weatherizing homes, rebuilding the electrical grid, expanding broadband.

Finally, as Obama himself said, the big change is him. He's already showing that he's bringing intelligence to the presidency that's a huge change. So far nothing has knocked him off stride. The terrorist attack in India? Obama has been saying that a key to problems in that whole part of the world is solving the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. And that turns out to be implicated in that attack.

Joint Chiefs, governors, Republicans-- they're all impressed with what he says, but also with how he listens.

He's already said how important addressing the Climate Crisis will be, that Guantanamo must be closed, the troops brought home from Iraq, etc. He's told the governors that he's going to help the states deal with their crises, with money for infrastructure, but also for the Green Deal. He's indicated that he wants universal health care as part of the economic recovery and rebuilding.

And the American people are behind him. There's another change. He's saying he will do what he always said he would do. Because it's change he believes in.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tonight's the Night


A conjunction of Venus and Jupiter near the crescent moon (like this one, photographed in 1998) happens tonight in the southwestern sky. Details on this free sky show are here and here.

The Unhealthy Care System

Monday all eyes will be on foreign affairs, as President-Elect Barack Obama introduces members of his National Security team, including several Cabinet secretaries. The New York Times quotes a foreign policy advisor suggesting that Obama will be seeking "a rebalancing" of how the U.S. conducts itself in the world, emphasizing a sustainable policy that returns diplomacy and material assistance to the mix, as well as military power.

But an article in the Washington Post on Sunday about a primary domestic issue shouldn't escape significant notice. It's about the U.S. health care system, and it begins: "Talk to the chief executives of America's preeminent health-care institutions, and you might be surprised by what you hear: When it comes to medical care, the United States isn't getting its money's worth. Not even close."

"Our health-care system is fraught with waste," says Gary Kaplan, chairman of Seattle's cutting-edge Virginia Mason Medical Center. As much as half of the $2.3 trillion spent today does nothing to improve health, he says.

The article goes on to assert: "Yet among physicians, insurers, academics and corporate executives from across the ideological spectrum, there is remarkably broad consensus on what ought to be done."

Those familiar with the issue, especially if they have been listening to what Barack Obama said during the campaign, probably won't be surprised by the prescription for efficiency, preventive care, an emphasis on primary care, etc. But it is significant that (1) health care officials are saying it themselves, and (2) these quotes are appearing in Washington's establishment newspaper.

Health care is very likely to be an important component in the Obama proposals to change the economy. This is only a preview. But a very good indication that something might really get done this time. Because it is change we need.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving 2008





The incoming First Family helps distribute food in Chicago, and visit with schoolchildren. Here are excerpts of a NY Daily News article about it, provided--along with these photos--by Al Rodgers (check out the rest of them): Clearly, those lining up for food hadn't been told they had an importangt guest helping out. this day. Many of them lit up; some shrieked with delight and hugged one or more of the Obamas. One elderly woman bowed; all seemed very appreciative. One and all were greeted with handshakes, hugs, and hearty "Happy Thanksgivings."
The daughters behaved like troopers for a half hour or so before the cold caught up with them, and they retired for a few minutes to warm up.
One sixty-something neighborhood resident named Daryel Namdan was asked how it felt to have Obama there. "It makes me feel very special," he said, before choking up.
Father Matt Eyerman of Saint Columbanus said the church feeds 450 to 500 every week. They start lining up at 5 a.m. to make sure they get a ticket to assure them food.

An Obama aide said the family has been to this particular food bank before and has pitched in here or elsewhere at least two other years.

Gratitude 2008

Last Thanksgiving, my post began by citing a recent poll that said "Americans enter the holiday season in a dark mood, with economic worries, security fears and a lack of confidence in government fueling growing pessimism."

When viewing the economy, the mood this year must be even darker. I sense real fear for what may happen in the upcoming shopping season and immediately afterwards-- fearing especially that this year will take the irony out of the name "Black Friday," given in recent years to the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the main shopping season of the year.

But forboding is not necessarily pessimism, and one of the major things Americans can be grateful for is our new President. Barack Obama won the presidency with a larger popular vote margin--now over 9 million votes--than any non-incumbent candidate ever. This is going to be a difficult year but we are going to be building a new future, and that's reason for optimism. Because we already have hope.

So it seems especially appropriate to also repeat more from last year's post-- some quotations from an article by Joanna Macy, called "Gratitude," originally published in the Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun:

"We have received an inestimable gift. To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe--to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it--it is a wonder beyond words. It is an extraordinary privilege to be accorded a human life, with self-reflexive consciousness that brings awareness of our own actions and the ability to make choices. It lets us choose to take part in the healing of our world."

"Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Yet we so easily take this gift for granted. That is why so many spiritual traditions begin with thanksgiving, to remind us that for all our woes and worries, our existence itself is an unearned benefaction, which we could never of ourselves create.

"That our world is in crisis--to the point where survival of conscious life on Earth is in question---in no way diminishes the value of this gift; on the contrary. To us is granted the privilege of being on hand: to take part, if we choose, in the Great Turning to a just and sustainable society. We can let life work through us, enlisting all our strength, wisdom and courage, so that life itself can continue."

"The great open secret of gratitude is that it is not dependent on external circumstance. It's like a setting or a channel that we can switch to at any moment, no matter what's going on around us. It helps us connect to our basic right to be here, like the breath does. It's a stance of the soul...."

"There are hard things to face in our world today, if we want to be of use. Gratitude, when it is real, offers no blinders. On the contrary, in the face of devastation and tragedy, it can ground us, especially when we're scared. It can hold us steady for the work to be done."

Happy Thanksgiving, America. (And, a little late, to Canada, too.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Tragedy Still Alive


A family in Dallas contemplates the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on its 45th anniversary, November 22. It looks like none of them had yet been born.

Getting Started Now

President-Elect Obama announces a two year plan to create 2.5 million new jobs. "These aren’t just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis; these are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long...It is time to act. As the next President of the United States, I will." Full text of this short message at American Dash.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Buddha's For You



This Buddhist temple in Thailand is built, inside and out, entirely of recycled beer bottles.

As General Motors Goes...

By Wednesday's end, Congress looked poised not to act on any measures to secure the nation's failing big car companies, which sent Wall Street plunging downward again.

Meanwhile Paul Krugman and others warned that the failure of one of these companies--General Motors seems the most vulnerable--could lead to a cascading catastrophe: and as General Motors goes, so goes the nation.

There are competing plans for quickly dispersing some $25 billion, but the Bush administration won't act on its own, and Congress apparently won't either. Some argue for letting these companies go bankrupt, or for a bankruptcy plan tailored to these companies so they can reorganize with the least pain all around. Others (like Barney Frank) argue that everything bankruptcy permits can be done without it--while the downside of bankruptcy is penalizing workers and stalling out car sales even further.

Once again, the warnings are very dire--especially that GM could fail and the cascade could begin before Obama and the new Congress take office, so that he may inherit not a bad recession but an onrushing Depression.

There's a certain apocalypse fatigue involved, as well as a suspicion of the boy who cried wolf. However, as a book about how the American steel industry collapsed noted in its title, in that old story, the wolf finally came.

But if crossing the point of no return on a major longterm blow to the American economy and America's place in the world doesn't focus enough minds in Washington, maybe this will:

China would maybe like to buy an American car company or two. Like General Motors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Climate Crisis President: "Delay is No Longer An Option"

Okay, it's another video of Barack Obama at a desk with that same brown background, but this one is VERY IMPORTANT. In three minutes he has changed U.S. policy on the Climate Crisis in the strongest possible way.

The Earth-Saving Story You Probably Missed

It's not an earth-shattering story, with or without the Daily Show animation. Instead it may be an earth-saving story. It was Tuesday's most important story, and just about everybody missed it.

The Global Climate Summit of five U.S. governors convened in California, and got an immediate surprise: a taped video statement by the President-Elect. The San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: In his first speech on global warming since winning the election, President-elect Barack Obama promised Tuesday to set stringent limits on greenhouse gases, saying the need is too urgent for delay.

Many observers had expected Obama to avoid tackling such a complex, contentious issue early in his administration. But in videotaped comments to the Governors' Global Climate Summit in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, he called for immediate action.

"Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all," Obama said. "Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high, the consequences too serious." He repeated his campaign promise to create a system that limits carbon dioxide emissions and forces companies to pay for the right to emit the gas. Using the money collected from that system, Obama plans to invest $15 billion each year in alternative energy. That investment - in solar, wind and nuclear power, as well as advanced coal technology - will create jobs at a time of economic turmoil, he said.

"It will ... help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating 5 million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," Obama said.

Many people listening to Obama's speech Tuesday had waited years to hear it."

There was yet another indication Tuesday that the Obama administration is going to take the Climate Crisis seriously and urgently: it was reported that Obama will appoint Peter Orszag as his Budget Director. Orszag, currently the budget director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, will be a crucial voice in setting budget priorities. But he is not just a numbers man. He has expertise on several crucial issues, including health care and the Climate Crisis.

Orszag lectured recently on climate change at Wellesley College. (His slides are posted on his blog--did he borrow any from Al?) For those who predict--or worry--that faced with looming deficits, Obama won't invest aggressively in addressing the Climate Crisis and starting work on a Green Deal economy, here are Orszag's words from this lecture: "Reducing the risks associated with climate change requires trading off up-front costs in exchange for long-term benefits." The lecture goes on to suggest ideas for reducing short-term costs, without sacrificing long-term benefits. But stating the principle first is very important.

Avatar, Baby

I don't usually do "weird news" here, but I clipped this story a few weeks ago and it still says something about the strange new world we're entering, as cyberspace meets real space, and both are real life.

A 43-year old woman in Japan, a piano teacher, was a devoted player in an interactive game called "Maple Story," with its virtual world, where she had met and married a 33 year old man, an office worker in another Japanese city. That is, her avatar married his avatar within that virtual world. As part of their online marriage, they exchanged log-in information.

Then one day the teacher logged on to find that he had divorced her. "Without a word of warning," she said. "That made me so angry." Angry enough for her to use his ID and password to get access to his avatar-- and to destroy it. In revenge for the virtual divorce, she committed virtual murder.

Enter the police. The real world police. They arrested her, and transported her 620 miles to another city, where the office worker lived and where, in their terms, the crime was committed. She was jailed, on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.

The office worker victim had apparently also been upset to find his avatar dead, and called the police.

The AP story I saw (in a real newspaper, so I have no online link) said she hadn't actually been charged yet, but the penalty for a conviction was up to five years in prison. Her real self, in a real prison, for five real years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Willingness to Try Things

Someday I'll learn digital video editing but the best I can do is post this chunk of President-Elect Obama's interview on 60 Minutes that includes several sections I found especially important. It picks up as he finishes talking about the financial crisis, then about executive orders, Iraq, Osama bin Laden, and then with a mention of a book on FDR, into the heart of his approach to what he's going to do, especially on the economy. He believes the American people want him to act, with "a willingness to try things," and the test isn't where ideas come from, or who proposed them or what ideology supports them, but whether they work.

It reminds me of something Will Rogers said as FDR was being inaugurated: "If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, 'Well, we at least got a fire started somehow.'" Things aren't anywhere near as bad as they were in 1932, but Obama understands that he was elected to do something--and precisely what he does matters less than the scale of it. He promised change. That's what he was elected to bring.

Hope, Fear and 60 Minutes

It seems that millions of Americans are awaiting Barack Obama's presidency with great anticipation. His 60 Minutes interview had a big audience--bigger than that program has had before in this century. He continues to get high approval ratings, and more than three-quarters of those surveyed by CNN are confident he will make the right choices for his Cabinet. The interest in his Inauguration is high, with upwards of a million people expected in Washington to witness it in some fashion. Update: DC officials said Tuesday they expect up to four million people for the Inauguration.

But in all this hope there is also fear, and some of it is ugly, and may be dangerous. Hundreds of incidents, most of them racial, have been recorded by police and other agencies across the country, including cross-burnings, vandalism and children chanting assassination.

This reactionary wave may be temporary. But even if these post-election reactions settle down, for other reasons we're in for a bumpy ride, for some months at least. The full impact of the economic crisis hasn't hit most people and most places yet. Many businesses will try to hang on through the holiday shopping season but with retail continuing to slide, by January there are apt to be more corporate bankruptcies and business failures, with more lost jobs. There's going to be a lot more anxiety and fear.

The best antidote is what we saw on 60 Minutes: a new President who speaks clearly, persuasively, and from the heart. Who is ready to act, and to keep trying things until something works. The more Barack Obama is seen and heard, the more confidence Americans will have. And the ignorant and misguided will either realize their fears are groundless, or they will simply find no support. While we must be vigilant to the real possibility of ugliness and even violence, we can't let it rule us.

In the coming weeks we will see a new administration unfold, and we will be called to participate in the great work ahead. We will all have our disappointments and disagreements. But Obama made it clear on 60 Minutes that he intends to do what he's promised in the campaign. What's been interesting to me is how consistent he's been in what he's said. We just hear and absorb more of it each time.

After 60 Minutes on Sunday, Margaret suggested that my grandmother would have approved of what we saw. It was an interesting remark, partly because Margaret never met my grandmother, who emigrated from Italy as a young wife and mother in the 1920s. But I had told Margaret that 60 Minutes was one of the few TV shows she always watched (along with Lawrence Welk and Family Feud)--only my grandmother called it "the clock."

But I think Margaret is right. The interplay between Barack and Michelle, and between Barack and the interviewer (Steve Croft), as well as what he had to say and how he said it, would probably have impressed her. She was wary of black people, but a nice suit and good manners went a long with her. I'm sure she looked for honesty in a candidate, and she was predisposed to Democrats. (Of course, that he left the campaign to visit his ailing grandmother would have won her vote and her heart right there.) But what usually sold her was intelligence. I can hear what she would say about Obama: "He's smart."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Hopeful Than Ever


President-elect Barack Obama in a YouTube version of the Democratic party weekly radio address, of about 3 minutes. He calls for Congress to immediately pass unemployment benefits extension, and again promises, "If Congress does not pass an immediate plan that gives the economy the boost it needs, I will make it my first order of business as President." He says that the change we need will require sacrifice and a renewed sense of service and community. "I am more hopeful than ever...We rise or fall as one nation, one people..."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Father of His Country





I've mentioned before the fascination children seem to have with Obama, and I've posted campaign photos of him with children before. But now that he's President-elect, he has become even more of a father figure, to even more children. It's a role that suits him. In the first photo he's with his two daughters and (I assume) their friends, and we've seen many pictures recently in which he is holding on to his Chicago life as a father. The other photos are from the campaign--apart from the baby-kissing tradition, there is a visible affection. Anyway, I thought I'd post these before I archive my campaign photos.

Getting Stuff Done

The transition to an Obama administration is well underway. Despite the rumors, the trial balloons and the media misapprehensions, some elements are coming clear.

The transition and the Obama administration are serious about ethics. In his press briefing Tuesday, transition chief John Podesta announced the new ethics policy, "which he called the most comprehensive and restrictive ever. Registered lobbyists can only serve if they deregister and can't serve on policy teams that relate to the subjects on which they lobbied. And transition staffers can't lobby for a year after they leave the transition service. Noting that some lobbyists have objected to this - a lot of expertise might be lost and a lot of good people might be bypassed, he said, simply, "So be it."

Podesta also said that "the American people will see a transition of government that is efficient, that is organized, that is bipartisan and more open and transparent than others before."

Although no decisions on what Bush executive orders will be reversed, Podesta confirmed that Obama is reviewing them all, in order to decide which ones he will reverse. But he is on record concerning at least one: "The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.

The transition itself seems designed to make decisions on appointments with thoroughness and deliberation--so we may not hear of any Cabinet appointments until after Thanksgiving, for example--but careful groundwork is being formed to get this officials up and running once their appointments are made, by expediting confirmations and bureaucratic necessities.

But what will they be transitioning to? Obama has been clear on the need to "get stuff done" immediately, and in certain instances, to get it done--or at least started--even before he takes office. He is urging Congress to consider an economic stimulus package in its upcoming "lame duck" session. He is advocating for government rescue of the U.S. automakers, although not without conditions: Mr. Obama has signaled to the automakers and the unions that his support for short-term aid now, and long-term assistance once he takes office, is contingent on their willingness to agree to transform their industry to make cleaner, more energy-efficient vehicles.

Since the election, everyone has an opinion on what Obama should and must do. He has been counselled by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman to think and act big and bold, and by a Washington Post analyst to settle for a modest agenda.

The word coming from those involved in the transition strongly suggests that Obama is thinking big--and fast: Obama plans to challenge Congress to begin work on all four of his top four priorities — the economy, energy, health care and education, billing them all as “reforms” that will help struggling middle-class families.

Team Obama is also creating the structure to make good on his promise of greater opportunities for wider participation. Building on the campaign's Internet efforts, to communicate with millions, directly via the web. This huge army of supporters can counter the influence of paid lobbyists by themselves communicating directly with members of Congress to push the Obama agenda.

But such communication is two-way, and even though the Washington Post article about it considers this a "downside," it is clear from Obama's past statements that he welcomes the exchange of information and opinions, and especially the informed involvement of Americans in their government. These plans look towards fostering the community-building and the sense of "we" mentioned in a comment by cousin Lemuel.

In the midst of a growing global economic crisis, it is important (as Obama says) for the U.S. government to start taking action immediately. But he's also made it clear, directly in his first press conference, that if they don't act before he is inaugurated, he intends to start getting stuff done on January 20.