Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Alexandria and its scholars, by contrast, never mistook the true nature of the past; they knew it to be the source of an ever-shifting present in which new readers engaged with old books which became new in the reading process. Every reader exists to ensure for a certain book a modest immortality. Reading is, in this sense, a ritual of rebirth."
Alberto Manguel
The Library At Night

Thursday, May 28, 2009

California Falling

It's finally happening, California is falling into the sea.

The lifeboats are out. Some have yachts--let's face it, some have battleships--but most are counting their provisions and figuring out how long they can survive, while checking the old rubber boat for leaks. And then there are those who don't have to check---they have nothing that will float.

It's something of a slow motion disaster, especially if you see its origin--as Paul Krugman does, as I do, and as a lot of people did at the time--in the beginning of the moronic inferno with the passage of Prop 13 more than three decades ago. The idea was that California could afford everything, like the best school system in the nation, without paying for it. That brand of magical thinking, which is just barely disguised kill-the-government social Darwinism, let the individual rich enrich themselves even more with no responsibility to the community that supports their ability to get rich, and at the expense of everyone else--has provided, among other things, the now worst school system in the country.

Now the Terminator is living up to his name. Governor S. has interpreted the rejection of phony ballot initiatives as a rejection of any new taxes--although this question was not on any of the ballots, and this is his own fantasy. So he is terminating entire health and education programs and crippling others, and so the political idiocy in Sacramento is going to be paid for by the poor, the sick and the young. And eventually--perhaps a not very distant eventually--everyone in the state, and then in the country.

These cuts will wind up costing the state money--billions of it--in costs they will cause and in lost federal support, and will have a ripple effect that could turn out to be a slow motion tsunami, although these days the slow motion part is questionable. To vary the cliche, California is gripped by the perfect storm--a collapsing economy that's draining the state of revenue, leading to cuts which will inevitably push the economy to collapse faster, as job and pay losses ripple through every sector.

In the area of education, prospective college students will lose grant and loan money while the two state university systems take yet another hit. The non-elite system, which our local Humboldt State belongs to, has forced deeper budget cuts every year, and there's only so much damage in a relatively short time that a system can take. It's not that money is necessarily being spent in the best way, but it's getting to the point that a total reorganization will be needed, and that costs even more money.

That's the other aspect of the perfect storm--local K-12 schools and local governments have all been turning themselves inside out to cut their budgets every year, and now there are these even greater cuts. Teachers in one L.A. school have gone on a hunger strike to protest. And that's likely to be just the beginning.

Huge cuts in health programs are already being forecast to eventually cost more money as well as lives, and that's on top of losing federal money, which is often many times what the state is spending. A sensible reading of the rejection of the propositions is that voters want the legislature and the governor to do their jobs and make law that addresses this crisis. But the Terminator has chosen to interpret it as yet another anti-tax crusade. So some are dubbing him Governor Hoover.

Ignoring the Real Work

Here's a story about a story that's not really news because it's what usually happens. Check your favorite news source and chances are the story this story is about doesn't appear. Then look at what does. And it becomes clearer once again why we're not making more progress. And that's the story.

The story the story is about is this: the Obama Administration announced a $4 billion commitment to upgrading and retrofitting public housing as part of the Green Jobs initiative. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced $500 million will go to train workers for these jobs, which will include installing insulation, new windows, etc. $50 million will be directed to regions hardest hit by the Great Recession. All this was authorized by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known to twitterbrains as "the stim."

This program represents a first triumph for Van Jones, the advocate for green jobs who is now a White House advisor. "This is not some abstract, theoretical thing. By the end of the year you are going to see people who have no jobs, high-energy bills and no hope get jobs and see opportunity," he said.

When state and local governments are cutting back spending and services, particularly to lower income people, this is an unusual and very welcome bit of good news. But maybe that's the problem. There's not enough conflict in it, and it's not trivial enough, and there's nothing stupid to tweet.

Oh wait, there is. In the course of making the announcement in Denver, Vice President Biden's teleprompter didn't work, and he made a joke about President Obama and his use of teleprompters. And so when this event did get into a newspaper or onto a broadcast, the Biden joke--or gaffe, or possible gaffe--became the story.

To get the story of the green jobs program in America required going to a British newspaper, the Guardian, although the environmental site WorldChanging made it a prominent link. That tells the story right there, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Only Hope

Literally every day now, new evidence and testimony arrives to warn of the accumulating perils of the Climate Crisis. To avert the worst of these effects, there are two necessary efforts: reducing severely the amount of greenhouse gas pollution lofting into the atmosphere, and increasing the proportion of clean energy generation. These are interelated not just environmentally and in terms of energy production, but economically.

Carbon reduction and clean energy are the best hopes for the future of human civilization going forward from this point in its development, and life on the planet as we know it. Now it looks as if it is also the best hope in the present for the world economy.

Paul Krugman notes this, as he suggests the world has at least temporarily averted economic catastrophe. But since this is a global Great Recession affecting most national and regional economies within the deeply interrelated global economy, there is no way for an ultimate recovery through national advantages. As Krugman says, we can't all export our way to prosperity, for we know of no other planet to trade with. The only answer is massive new economic activity, spurred by new technological developments. And the only viable candidate is clean energy technology.

But incentive to develop clean energy economies depends on a new economic playing field that no longer provides advantage to the temporarily and artificially cheaper dirty energy. That means carbon caps. The Reuters report on Krugman's comments continues:

Global recovery could come about through more investment by major corporations, the emergence of a major technological innovation to match the IT revolution of the 1990s or government moves on climate change. "Legislation that will establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases' emissions is moving forward," he said, referring to the U.S. Congress.

"When the Europeans probably follow suit, and the Japanese, and negotiations begin with developing countries to work them into the system, that will provide enormous incentive for businesses to start investing and prepare for the new regime on emissions... But that's a hope, that's not a certainty."

The potential payoff is tremendous. A world business summit organized to examine cap and trade plans worldwide estimates that the U.S. alone would gain 2 million jobs generating a quarter of its electric power from renewables.

Global business leaders, political and environmental leaders in various nations including the U.S., are all arguing about the hows of carbon caps, and the how much by when. But at least the direction of hope is becoming clearer, and there is a sense of urgency. As environmental officials from 15 nations including the U.S. and China meet to discuss all this in Paris, there is one agreement so far:

"No one contests the urgency of the problem," French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said. "No one contests the probably irreversible character of the problem."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"You're not a bad person. You're a good person who bad things have happened to. Besides, the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters--we've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." --Sirius Black to Harry Potter, movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Skills of Peace Today

Peace does not happen by magic. It is not the mere absense of war. This world is never without conflict. Waging peace requires at least as many skills as waging war does.

The kind of organization, dedication to service and discipline developed over too many centuries to wage war could in some ways be applied to waging peace. Some of those functions are in fact falling to the armed forces--the "peace-keeping" and humanitarian and "nation-building" missions.

When such missions became most prominent in Bosnia, military leaders looked around and noticed that they had no training for them, and nowhere to get that training. Presumably this has changed, because in his commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy, President Obama said this:

"Marines, we need you to defeat the insurgent and the extremist. But we also need you to work with the tribal sheik and local leaders from Anbar to Kandahar who want to build a better future for their people.

Naval aviators and flight officers, we need you to dominate the airspace in times of conflict, but also to deliver food and medicine in times of humanitarian crisis. And surface warfare officers and submariners, we need you to project American power across the vast oceans, but also to protect American principles and values when you pull into that foreign port, because for so many people around the world, you are the face of America."

This only hints at the new roles that, sometimes by default, the U.S. military must undertake, and let's hope their training is adapting to those roles.

Someday the essence of military organization and the best ideals--of service, self-sacrifice, discipline, applying skills and attention to the greater good--may well result in an "army" that fights the effects of the Climate Crisis, feeds the hungry, brings medicine to the afflicted, helps to resolve conflicts and build community. This army--or indeed the existing military-- will need to learn from those who are right now working on perfecting and teaching the skills of peace--from large-scale peacekeeping and diplomatic efforts, to interpersonal conflict management, to the skills of individual inner peace that make all the rest easier and more fulfilling.

Remembering those who sacrificed their lives in war should not be only the occasion for picnics and TV war movie marathons. It is another moment to focus on the skills of peace, and their study, and the hope to study war no more.