Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world."

President Obama on Wednesday, announcing the immediate establishment of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and other measures.  But most of these words pertain to other aspects of the future, such as addressing the climate crisis.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Climate Notes

It's a kind of subsurface story from Lima but one that bears watching: some real discussion and support for a bold longterm goal: zero carbon pollution by the year 2050.

That the story appeared in the Washington Post begins to tell you on what level this is being considered.  How Lima turned out may not be a great indicator of the possibility, but the idea that it is practical is getting around.

The story points out that corporations want some kind of longterm goal for their planning.  Right now, absent international or national goals, they are dealing with regional, state and local regulations and models.

We'll see how far the idea gets in Paris.  In Washington, we may be in for a kind of showdown over the Keystone Pipeline early in 2015, as the GOP majority leader has announced it is first priority.  With oil prices so low, it makes less economic sense, except for the fossil fuel billionaires to whom the craven GOP officeholders are beholden.

But the goal itself could begin to transform energy, economics and global society, and give human civilization a fighting chance to survive this, while at last getting closer to living up to its promise.

Meanwhile, a scholarly survey of scholarship on climate as an important factor in history.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reality-Based? Fear-Based? You Decide

                      Doonesbury from this past Sunday.

The Torture Doctors

Apart from the nature and extent of the brutality, I didn't think there was much new to learn from the Senate torture report itself.  But it did expand on a little known aspect of it--the role of "professional" psychologists, and indeed, the organization that purportedly represents professional psychology.

Those are the allegations in this report on Slate.  It begins: Thanks to revelations in the newly released report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, it is now widely known that the CIA’s torture program was created, supervised, and implemented by two licensed clinical psychologists—James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen—who were paid millions of dollars for their efforts. Less widely known is that the Bush administration’s torture operation, at both the CIA and the Pentagon—at “black sites” and at Guantanamo—was devised and supervised largely by clinical psychologists.

The piece by Steven Reisner goes on to note that the only major professional organization in medicine not to forbid their members to engage in torture is the American Psychological Association.

This has more than symbolic significance.  These professional associations police their membership.  If members are found guilty of ethical violations, they could lose their right to practice. Yet, Reisner writes:

"Recent revelations in James Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, add an additional dimension to this story—it appears that senior staff members of the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest association of psychologists, colluded with national security psychologists from the CIA, the Pentagon, and the White House to adapt APA ethics policy to suit the needs of the psychologist-interrogators."

I've made the observation before that the psychology seems to be the only science that's actually gone backwards in the past few decades.  I based this on the lack of scientific rigor, and the rise of behavioral psychology which is deterministic and mechanistic on the most basic levels.

Implicit in this is the power to manipulate behavior, something that's largely absent from the psychology of William James or of Carl Jung, which sought to provide tools to individuals to help them guide their own behavior.

Now we see where these trends in psychology lead.  Led by craven opportunists, with apparently little or no self-knowledge.  Unless of course they knew they were evil and just didn't mind.      

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lima Call for Climate Action

The UN climate conference in Lima ended with a glass half-full, half-empty agreement.

The glass half-full was that there was an agreement at all, but especially that, as the Guardian subhead declared: Deal would for first time commit all countries – including developing nations – to cutting emissions.

The Guardian story also has the full text of the agreement, and a summary of what is in it, and what is not.

It is an agreement in principle.  As the Guardian wrote: The five-page text agreed on Sunday – now officially known as the Lima Call for Climate Action – represents the embryonic phase of the deal due to be delivered in Paris.

As sketched out in Lima, all countries, rising economies as well as rich countries would pledge action on climate change. Wealthy countries would help developing countries fight climate change, by investing in clean energy technology or offering climate aid.

Countries already threatened by climate change – such as small island states which face being swallowed up by rising seas – were promised a “loss and damage” programme of financial aid.

The all-inclusive nature of the emissions cuts constitutes a break with one of the defining principles of the last 20 years of climate talks – that wealthy countries should carry the burden of cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

The Guardian described the agreement as "embryonic."  Others derided it as weak. The Reuters story took the dim view, with its headline: Lima climate talks fall short, making 2015 breakthrough less likely.  Its story stated:Lima had a straightforward agenda: agree the scope and schedule for the Paris agreement.
But countries split on both big fundamentals and many of the details of a future agreement, and the meeting ended with a far more modest agenda than many had hoped for.

Both stories have accurate facts, and mostly state them differently, or with different emphasis.  There will be a lot of that going around.  But the fact is that nobody knows yet what will turn out to be more important: the agreement in principle, or the resistance to setting specific and tough standards.

Will reality sink in and urgency surface in Paris?  All the media's pundits and all the presidents men don't know either.    

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Nation of Witnesses

Thousands in Washington, more thousands in cities across America, marching to protest killings and coverups that have become too numerous and obvious to hide.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rain of Drought


Right here on the North Coast, the biggest storm in five years to hit California didn't amount to much.  The rain was sometimes heavy but mostly moderate to light, and actually that's good, especially as it was spread out over time. We had some temporarily flooded streets (though the photo above is from southern CA.) There was some wind but not alot and not for long.  We had two brief losses of electricity here-- the one last night seemed to go on a long time but when the lights came suddenly back on, it had only been about 20 minutes.

We were prepared for "Rainageddon" especially by Lost Coast Outpost, probably our most reliable source of local news, where the rain puns ("rain of terror") were rife.  They had an ongoing watch on the rivers, but they never got close to flood level. (An aside: Lost Coast Outpost picked up the Person of the Year story below from my post on one of my other blogs.)

But Rainageddon was no misnomer elsewhere in the state.  The Bay Area and the LA area both got hammered, with copious rain and attendant mudslides, flooding, power outages, coastal collapse, cancelled flights, etc.  Also some relief from the drought, as reservoirs and rivers got replenished, and the falls at Yosemite flowed again.

The best long-term news is that the precipitation in the Sierras improved  to 147% of normal for this time of year, although the total snowpack is still only 40% of normal. Many places depend on the melt for their summer water.

But the reign of drought is not over. Though the moisture this month and this storm especially have provided some relief, it will take a very wet winter (75 additional inches of precip) and probably two to end the drought.  Or as Wired reports, about a dozen more epic storms like this one.  This report has a lot of stats and graphs about this storm's dimensions.

There were also stories the other day indicating that the California drought was not "caused" by the climate crisis.  This is a common dodge based on the lack of appreciation for the real complexities (though it's not quite as bad as laughing at the idea of global heating because it snows.)  As Dr. Jeff Masters suggests, the unprecedented heat over the past three years in California likely made the drought worse but about a third--enough to make this drought the worst in 1200 years (that research, as well as before and after photos of the Yosemite falls, are in this Weather Underground post.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Person of the Year

Time Magazine has chosen its Person of the Year for 2014: The Ebola Fighters.  One of the five covers belongs to Ella Watson-Stryker, the Doctors Without Borders worker I referred to without naming in a previous post.  She's one of our own here in Humboldt--the daughter of a long-time friend, Betsy Watson, and a person we've watched and been proud of for a long time.

According to the magazine's description, Ella didn't even want to spend the ten minutes on having her picture taken, as it was distracting her from her work.

Her mother writes that Ella is good health, and very proud of the work they and the US military did in Liberia, where Ebola has been virtually eradicated.  But after some time in Europe training other workers and some r&r over Christmas in the states, she's back in the fray in Sierra Leone, where things are dire indeed.

I didn't mention her name before because of the stigma that was ignorantly attached to these heroes.  And even now, Ella has to go out of her way in entering the US to avoid airports where she could be forced to spend her holidays in quarantine.

It's hard to have much faith in humanity after something like the wanton torture the US engaged in, as we are being reminded again.  Then there's Ella, and Doctors Without Borders.  And even Time Magazine, for doing this.  A better world is possible.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Water You Saying


Yeah, I know the torture report is hogging all the headlines.  And that it was issued, with unequivocal statements by Senator Feinstein that there was not a single instance in which these barbaric horrific acts yielded any information, and that everybody is forced to face it now--all righteous things.  But as long ago posts here and previous blogs show, it's not new.  We knew all this, if not in such horrifying detail.  And the GOPer response is also not exactly unpredictable, though Borowitz summarized it well in his satiric column claiming that Cheney called for an international ban on torture reports.

But let's talk about something else.  Like water.  It's coming down, East Coast, West Coast.  Changes in the dispersal of water from the heavens over time is likely to be a major effect of the climate crisis.  Deserts will grow, other places will persistently flood.  Food supplies, power generation, transport, health, let alone the human need for drinking water every day, all are disrupted.   It's happening now.

And here's the thing for our vaunted scientific expertise: nobody knows what water really is.  They fool you with that familiar grade school formula: H20.  Two hydrogen atoms and one atom of oxygen.  Sound simple.

But if it is so simple, and so simply described, why can't they make it in the lab?  They make all other kinds of stuff.  Some labs claim they're making organic life out of inorganic material.  But on the most useful possible bit of manufacturing, they come up empty.  They can't make water.  Except by pissing in the wind.

We don't even know where water came from.  There's new research on that--scientists say that at least half of the water on the Earth is not only older than the planet, it is older than the sun.

If not even the Earth knows how to combine two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms,  where did our water come from?  Some place older than the solar system, it seems.  A prominent theory was that comets delivered it, a very long time ago, from cosmic space.

Now there's data from the Euro Space Agency probe that landed on a comet that the water it harbors isn't the same as the water on Earth. (That's the comet up there, real photo, minus tail.)

 Apparently the comet theory has been controversial for some time.  The best story on the whole topic I read today is this one in the NY Times.  It says this kills the comet theory.  Other stories say it suggests it is wrong, but more evidence is needed.

So the prevailing theory now is that water arrived here via asteroids.  The Times story concludes:

In October, in another Science paper, researchers found that meteorites that originated from the large asteroid Vesta, which is believed to have formed inside of the snow line, also possess Earthlike deuterium levels. These scientists believe that ice-rich asteroids from outside the snow line were pushed inward and were among the pieces that combined to form Vesta and Earth hundreds of millions of years before the late heavy bombardment.  In other words, Earth may have been wet from almost the beginning.

So by this description the Earth was originally a large snowball in space. (Asteroids are getting other kinds of attention, too, including the likelihood that one may come this way.)  But the asteroid belt is between Mars and Jupiter, within the solar system.  So that still doesn't explain where the water came from originally.  Or how it came to be.  Or what it is.

Storm Day

It's raining.  We're into a storm that's reputedly to be the strongest in five years, and will last into Friday.  High winds inevitably lead to power outages here, so I'm taking this opportunity now.  That photo is supposedly what the winds look like.  So Van Gogh was a meteorologist?  If this storm really has as much moisture in it as predicted, it's going to help the snow pack in the Sierras a whole lot.  Flooding of course is a worry almost everywhere, including here.  There are also hints that this is going to be a wet winter up here, to remind us of what normal was.  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tech Deception, Digital Slavery

In a New York Times oped, George Mason University economics professor, Tyler Cowen claims that the answer to income inequality in America might well be more and better computer technology.

Applying technology in smarter ways could bring down the costs of education and medical care. "We can easily imagine medical diagnosis by online artificial intelligence, greater use of online competitive procurement for health care services, more transparency in pricing and thus more competition, and much cheaper online education for many students, to cite just a few possibilities. In such a world, many wage gains would come from new and cheaper services, rather than from being able to cut a better deal with the boss at work."

Income gains, he suggests, are limited now by lack of computer skills. "Not everyone can work fruitfully with computers now. There is a generation gap when it comes to manipulating electronic devices, and many relevant tasks require knowledge of programming or, more ambitiously, the entrepreneurial skill of creating a start-up. That, in a nutshell, is how our dynamic sector has concentrated its gains among a relatively small number of employees, thus leading to more income inequality."

But simpler "human-computer interfaces" such as computers that respond to spoken commands will open up new job opportunities, such as supervising smart robots on the factory floor.  Income inequality could also lessen as emerging nations like China and India begin to innovate products that are now expensive and make them cheaper.

Cowen's argument in general is that income inequality is not structural, as Thomas Piketty famously wrote, but a product of an application lag in technology and the ability of many people to use this technology.  His conclusion: "growing inequality is highly contingent on particular technologies and the global conditions of the moment. Movements toward greater inequality often set countervailing forces in motion, even if those forces take a long time to come to fruition. From this perspective, rather than seeking to beat down capital, our attention should be directed to leaving open the future possibilities for innovation, change and dynamism. Even if income inequality continues to increase in the short run, as I believe is likely, there exists a plausible and more distant future in which we are mostly much better off and more equal. The history of technology suggests that new opportunities for better living and higher wages are being created, just not as quickly as we might like."

This analysis, hardly reassuring to begin with, and clotted with all its meaningless buzzwords, is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin, as should be obvious to anyone who lives in the actual world rather than the economics world.  But for a cogent blast of cold water, there's Jacob Silverman in The Baffler which exposes the actual dark side of the computerization of everyday life, including the rise of digital slavery.

I don't mean digital addiction, I mean working for nothing, or next to nothing, which Silverman describes in detail.  We know about the digital sweatshops but most of those are abroad.  He writes about digital slavery in America:

"Increasing numbers of people receive their instructions from, and report back to, software and smartphones. Whether operating a bin selector in an Amazon warehouse or freelancing from a coffee shop, many Americans work long days without having contact with other human beings—neither coworkers nor supervisors. (There are no subordinates for this class of workers.) Everything they do is tracked, because efficiency is the sine qua non. Some of them work for online labor markets like Elance, oDesk, and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which offer micro-jobs that can be done remotely, with little to no training. They complete surveys, tag photos, and transcribe interviews, for pay of a few dollars per hour or at a piecework rate of little more than a few cents per task...These labor markets depend on a kind of internalized offshoring."

Contrary to Cowen, computer literacy isn't confined to well-paid professionals.  It is the structure of the market, as well as the devious propaganda of the tech giants, that enslaves people and keeps their incomes down.  And it's all done automatically, without apparent human intervention, as so much in the world as wired now is:

"The software facilitating this transaction acts as the ultimate mediator; the employee and the employer never have to deal with one another directly. Payment can be unreliable and is wholly contingent on the employer accepting the laborer’s product. If the former doesn’t like what he receives, he can simply reject it and not pay the worker for his time. Contract employees have no chance, in this setup, to appeal or to revise their work."

According to Silverman, this is the real meaning of "crowdsourcing." Moreover, it is building into the market an increase in income disparity, by paying a lot of people a little, and forcing them to compete with each other, forever:

Companies begin to think in terms of short-term spending rather than long-term investment, as borrowing and hiring both atrophy. More and more of us are forced to be contingent laborers, freelancers, crowdsourced volunteers, or “permalancers” always on the lookout for more opportunities, always advertising ourselves through social media and public networks, knowing—with a sense of generalized suspicion—that our public utterances on social media may influence our future job prospects. Risk assessment algorithms may already be parsing our social media profiles, pooling information to be used in a future background check."

A lot of this, Silverman writes, is being sold to people as a libertarian ideal, when it is pretty much the opposite: "Workers, in turn, have more mobility and a semblance of greater control over their working lives. But is any of it worth it when we can’t afford health insurance or don’t know how much the next gig might pay, or when it might come? When an app’s terms of service agreement is the closest thing we have to an employment contract? When work orders come through a smartphone and we know that if we don’t respond immediately, we might not get such an opportunity again? When we can’t even talk to another human being about the task at hand and we must work nonstop just to make minimum wage?"

So far in history, capitalism has been unable to survive without slavery somewhere.  With the slaves of the South and elsewhere, slave labor in South American mines, industrial wage slavery, outsourced and piecework slavery in the digital age. Update: Slavery exists in prison labor; the state of California has officially argued it needs prisoners for their slave labor. That's a problem capitalism doesn't even recognize, so of course it has no solution.

Meanwhile, it consumes the planet like the mindless mechanism it is, when people with minds refuse to see the problem.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Can't Breathe

I can only take note of the ongoing actions in cities across America protesting the police killings of young unarmed black males.  I did see that the protests in Pittsburgh shut down part of the Parkway, something that to my knowledge has not happened since the 1960s.

Protests have included members of the St. Louis Rams football team making the "hands up" gesture, referring to the killing in Ferguson, Mo., and now NBA player Derrick Rose, wearing a t-shirt with the symbolic last words of a black man who died after a police officer had him in a choke hold in New York.

While these incidents were in the courts and in the news, a 12 year old black male was shot and killed by a police officer who described him as 20 years old, and an unarmed 33 year old black father in Phoenix was shot and killed by a white police officer while bringing food to his two daughters.  Remind you of anyone?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Lima Update

Silence in the media--what else is new?  Here's an NPR report on the terms of discussion at the climate talks in Peru.  Kyoto only applied to developed nations, but this time there's movement in expanding to all countries.  The big fund to aid developing countries in confronting the climate crisis is an incentive (and a huge business opportunity for clean energy.)

But most nations haven't met Kyoto voluntary goals, but by setting their own goals publicly, there is at least accountability.  The story asks, what happens if even the self-set, voluntary goals don't add up to enough to stop runaway climate catastrophe?  That may be what confronts the treaty-making meetings next year, for which Lima is a crucial preliminary.

Meanwhile, the world is on track for its hottest year in recorded history in 2014, and Antarctic ice is melting faster than ever, and California's drought is the worst in 1200 years.  

So here's a pretty elementary shot at understanding the psychology of climate crisis denial.  How is it that the so-called science of psychology seems to have actually gone backward in the past 75 years?

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Climate in Peru

Climate talks begin in Peru Monday, and some diplomats are expressing optimism, according to the Guardian:

UN climate negotiations opening in Lima on Monday have the best chance in a generation of striking a deal on global warming, diplomats say.

After a 20-year standoff, diplomats and longtime observers of the talks say there is rising optimism that negotiators will be able to secure a deal that will commit all countries to take action against climate change.

The two weeks of talks in Peru are intended to deliver a draft text to be adopted in Paris next year that will commit countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without compromising the economic development of poor countries.

Diplomats and observers of the UN climate negotiations said recent actions by the US and China had injected much-needed momentum.

I have never felt as optimistic as I have now,” said Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, which are sinking as sea levels rise in the Pacific. “There is an upbeat feeling on the part of everyone that first of all there is an opportunity here and that secondly, we cannot miss it.”

The New York Times also spots the optimism and emphasizes the stakes:

After more than two decades of trying but failing to forge a global pact to halt climate change, United Nations negotiators gathering in South America this week are expressing a new optimism that they may finally achieve the elusive deal.

Even with a deal to stop the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists warn, the world will become increasingly unpleasant. Without a deal, they say, the world could eventually become uninhabitable for humans."

"Unpleasant" is an uneasy euphemism for what may already be on the way.  Besides the long term goal of saving planetary life as we know it,  an agreement on attacking the causes of global heating has another crucial purpose: it makes it more possible to openly acknowledge and deal with these effects that have already begun, and which will increase from now on.

Michale Oppenheimer, a Princeton professor geosciences and international affairs is quoted in the Times piece setting forth what is now the generally accepted future.

“What’s already baked in are substantial changes to ecosystems, large-scale transformations,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. He cited losses of coral reef systems and ice sheets, and lowering crop yields.

Still, absent a deal, “Things could get a lot worse,” Mr. Oppenheimer added. Beyond the 3.6 degree threshold, he said, the aggregate cost “to the global economy — rich countries as well as poor countries — rises rapidly.”

People can extrapolate from the changes they see to what could come in the far future, but increasing attention is inevitably going to be focused on dealing with the effects as they happen.  So it is important to deal with the causes now, for a couple of reasons.

First, because there is not yet an overwhelming clamor to deal with effects that could drown out any attempt to attack causes.  Second, because opponents of attacking causes (fueled by reactionary titans of the fossil fuel industries) cannot acknowledge effects if they deny the phenomenon of global heating caused by greenhouse gases emissions.   An international treaty is a broad acknowledgement of the climate crisis.  It could at least gradually sap the power of deniers, and especially the attention they are afforded by a somewhat captive media.

Effects are already on the agenda in Lima. Peru  is already experiencing effects of their diminishing glaciers, vital to fresh water supplies.

 A Reuters story focuses on these issues, which go by the name of adaptation. "From the Andes to the jungles, communities are doing what they can, but their efforts will never be enough without ambitious global action to tackle climate change,” said Milo Stanojevich, CARE International's Peru director.  He advocates help for poorer countries to deal with effects as part of the international agreement.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hey Cuz, I Mean Mr. President

Thanks to stumbling on my parents' names in a genealogy online, I discovered for the first time that I've acquired new relatives.

An email exchange to the person who posted it confirms that the daughter of one of my first cousins married into this family.  But in first trying to figure out why my parents were part of this family tree, I followed one of the branches to find some familiar names: George Bush, George W. Bush.  Yeah, those Bushes.




So I am distantly related to the Bushes, which means I am even more distantly related to the Clintons and the Obamas, because they are all related.



So, however distantly, I am related to the last four Presidents of the United States, and maybe the next one.






And not one of them invited me to Thanksgiving dinner.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Week in Not Bad News

From the New York Times

"For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas."

A different perspective to the 2014 elections by a Republican whose analysis is that because the wrong GOPers won, the Democrats are in a position to dominate beginning in 2016:

In a careful analysis, Ladd builds a case: The Midterms of 2014 demonstrate the continuation of a 20 year old trend. Republicans are disappearing from the competitive landscape at the national level where the population is the largest utilizing a declining electoral base of waging, white, and rural voters. As a result no GOP candidate on the horizon has a chance at the White House in 2016 and the chance of holding the Senate beyond 2016 is vanishingly small.

 And on ballot questions, the results were more sweeping than I knew:

Every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, including every minimum wage increase, even in the red states. AND every personhood amendment failed.

His conclusion:

“It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation. Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Jodi Ernst are not that force. ‘Winning’ this election did not help that force emerge.”

This is the Daily Kos diary that summarizes it, with a link to the original article in the Houston Chronicle and a followup.

And shhhh, don't tell anybody but the House of Crazy Reps admitted in its own report that everything GOPers have been screaming about Benghazi!  Benghazi! was utter fantasy.  The Associated Press:

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

So how did Faux News react to its hysteria being trashed by facts?  By telling a completely different story.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Larger Reality



Ursula LeGuin made two different but related points, both vital, in accepting an award.

The first has to do with the literary legitimacy of science fiction and fantasy writers, and the importance of future visions to the future itself:

"And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

The second point is the restraint on the freedom to write and on true authorship that's been growing a long while and has now reached nearly impossible proportions, not because of some fascist or even national security state, but because of the takeover by the institutionalized greed of capitalism:

"Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."

This is almost her complete speech--it's under six minutes in the video above, and the complete transcript is here.

We Were Strangers Once, Too



It didn't take long for Republican noisemakers to pummel the media with their hypocritical cant and carping, so here is a rare opportunity to hear what President Obama actually said in his 15 minute talk to the American people Thursday on immigration.

He spelled out actions he'd taken to strengthen the southern borders and results that should cheer GOPers if they could accept the facts, and he talked about the efforts to pass immigration reform that have been stymied by Republican leadership in the House.  Like Ronald Reagan and lots of Presidents before him, he outlined a few steps he could take under well-established presidential authority.

But why bother?  That's when this talk rises above policy to get at the American soul, and the soul of our President.  So don't let your ears glaze over before you get there.

"Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too.  My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal..."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What We Can't See Does Hurt Us


We  can't see CO2 or what it's doing to the thin layer of atmosphere that enables life as we know it on Earth.  But a NASA satellite has been looking back at the planet to study what its instruments can see.  Video with narration (and music) from NASA that shows the flow of carbon dioxide and other gases over the planet in a year.  National Geographic supplies some further explanation.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mega$+MegaFear=GOP 2014

Another Monday, another Doonesbury instant classic from yesterday's papers, and here on the Internet.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Taking It To the World

The Maldive islands off India as seen from space. They are among the world's most endangered from climate crisis sea level rise.
Update early Sunday: Reuters reports that the G20 summit voted in favor of addressing the climate crisis, as President Obama advocated. 

 Reuters: "The United States and other nations overrode host Australia's attempts to keep climate change off the formal agenda. Australia is one of the world's biggest carbon emitters per capita. The final communique called for strong and effective action to address climate change with the aim of adopting a protocol, with legal force, at a U.N. climate conference in Paris in 2015."

"The most difficult discussion was on climate change," an EU official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "This was really trench warfare, this was really step by step by step. In the end we have references to most of the things we wanted."

Saturday:
Following up the US agreement with China on reducing global heating emissions, President Obama challenged the G20 meetings in Australia to make an international climate agreement next year.  And he backed it up with a new contribution to a UN fund that helps poorer nations confront the climate crisis.

The Guardian story begins: Barack Obama has stared down both Republican hostility at home and the reluctance of his Australian G20 hosts to insist that the world can clinch a new climate change deal next year.

The story quotes his speech in Australia, referring to the pledges that China has made in the new agreement: “So them setting up a target sends a powerful message to the world that all countries, whether you are a developed country, a developing country or somewhere in between, you’ve got to be able to overcome old divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year.  And if China and the US can agree on this then the world can agree on this, we can get this done and it is necessary for us to get it done.”

The LA Times reports that President Obama is pledging a US contribution of $3 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund, which funnels funds from the world's largest economies and biggest greenhouse gases polluters to nations most endangered by the climate crisis.

The story notes that "The fund is essential to getting developing nations to sign on to a climate pact international negotiators will present in Paris in December 2015."  Though other countries have pledged, US pledge is the largest to date.

The story quotes “A $3-billion U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund would be an important show of American leadership to help the most vulnerable people in the world protect themselves from dangerous climate impacts and to ensure a coordinated global response to climate change,” said Heather Coleman, climate program manager for Oxfam America, who noted that the pledge is similar to American commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Obama Traded To Canada

The Republican majority in Congress has wasted no time, not even waiting to be officially sworn in.  GOP congressional leaders have announced that they've made a deal with the country's chief trading partner, Canada.  They've traded President Barack Obama.

"It was their idea," Senate Majority Leader Ted "Tailgunner" Cruz claimed, pointing to a letter to the editor published in a Canadian newspaper.

"Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections," wrote Richard Brunt of Victoria, British Columbia. "Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money."

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally — in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden. So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason."

"All that leftist socialist Kenyan uppity Nazi stuff was pretty disgusting," Cruz claimed.  "But he had one good idea that he ended his letter with."

Brunt's final sentence was this: "When you are done with Obama, could you send him our way?"

Cruz could hardly control himself when he saw that, he intimated loudly.  So he got his GOP colleagues together, they contacted Canadians they knew (mostly in the oil industry) and quickly made a deal.

In a post-midnight session they traded President Obama for Doug Ford, Jr. who they described as Canada's Prime Minister, and a bagman to be named later.

Douglas Ford is a Toronto city councillor, the brother of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and part owner of Deco Labels and Tags. He was recently defeated in his electoral bid to become mayor of Toronto.

When a US reporter informed the GOP officials that Ford is not the Prime Minister of Canada,  GOP senator-elect Joni Ernst of Iowa said, "That's your opinion."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Step Towards Saving the World


The New York Times:

"China and the United States made common cause on Wednesday against the threat of climate change, staking out an ambitious joint plan to curb carbon emissions as a way to spur nations around the world to make their own cuts in greenhouse gases.

The landmark agreement, jointly announced here by President Obama and President Xi Jinping, includes new targets for carbon emissions reductions by the United States and a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing by 2030.

Administration officials said the agreement, which was worked out quietly between the United States and China over nine months and included a letter from Mr. Obama to Mr. Xi proposing a joint approach, could galvanize efforts to negotiate a new global climate agreement by 2015."

"It was the signature achievement of an unexpectedly productive two days of meetings between the leaders
," the Times story continues. "A climate deal between China and the United States, the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, is viewed as essential to concluding a new global accord."

"Unexpectedly productive" is an understatement.  The conventional wisdom has been that the US and China were global antagonists with few common goals.  Now apparently they have one--the biggest one, the one that counts more for the future than any other.

The Times story is long and informative, and worth the hit it might make on your month's free views.  The Guardian continually updates their story, and it includes supportive words from Secretary of State John Kerry, and Al Gore--but also promises of Republican congressional opposition. "Our economy can’t take the president’s ideological war on coal," said Mitch McConnell, bowing down to his fossil fuel overlords and their millions in dark campaign money.

The Guardian also quotes President Obama from his statement in China: "He said the US emissions reductions goal was “ambitious but achievable” and would double the pace at which it is reducing carbon emissions." The new US goal is reducing emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025, compared to 2025 levels.  Greenpeace calls this a floor, not a ceiling for reductions.  

The Guardian continues: Obama added: “This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”

He added that they hoped “to encourage all major economies to be ambitious and all developed and developing countries to work across divides” so that an agreement could be reached at the climate change talks in Paris in December next year."

According to the New York Daily News: "China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China’s total energy production by 2030."

The News also reports that the final agreement was produced during a recent trip to China by Obama adviser on climate John Podesta.

These meetings, characterized as a breakthrough in US-China relations, also resulted in a a technology agreement favorable to US businesses.  The San Francisco Chronicle estimates that this deal could add a trillion dollars a year to the "global trade in information technology."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Corruption By Any Other Name

If you missed this in the Sunday paper...here it is.  Read it and laugh/weep.
It's Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau for Nov. 9, 2014. I saw it online here.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Cold Comfort in Nightmare Nation

High in the Department of Cold Comfort is Gary Younge's analysis in the Guardian that it really wasn't a wave election for the GOPers, the Dems didn't lose as badly as it seems, etc.

Or that (according to New York Magazine) liberal candidates lost while liberal policies won.  Or that a numbers analysis shows that GOPers did not disturb the Obama base very much.

Or that  "Denton, Texas became the first city in Texas to ban fracking with a locally led ballot initiative. Two counties in California did the same. Richmond, California defied massive spending from Chevron to elect a Mayor ready to take on Big Oil in their backyard," according to 350.org.

That's about all the analysis I'm going to read, frankly.  Yes, the demographic and historical deck was stacked against the Democrats.  Yes, the billionaires bought themselves a Congress and more states, bought themselves noise and turmoil to upset the confrontation with the climate crisis, as well as other matters.

Did it make any difference in the end that Democrats were timid, running on tested single issues and running away from their President?  Maybe not, but it's going to matter now.  Does anybody know what Democrats stand for?  I guess we'll find out.  But I am sure that today would feel better if Dems had gone down fighting FDR style, i.e. "I welcome their hate."

Maybe the numbers will show that President Obama pulling back from action on immigration didn't hurt Dems in the end, but I suspect it's going to hurt from now on.  Timid Democrats kept Obama quiet, which didn't work out too well.  He and we missed the chance to define what matters and what's really happening, with the ultra-rich fossil fuel magnates, the Koch Brothers and their ilk, buying turmoil and killing the future.  It doesn't look like that electoral chance is coming again soon, not with the likely candidates for 2016.

The best news was that "President Obama did not appear chastened" by the outcome. 2015 is going to be a very important year for the future, it's going to be a lot more difficult now, but it will be all but lost if President Obama loses courage and leadership.

So we woke up to a nightmare country, with Tailgunner Ted as Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.  It turns out that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy was actually a vampire, and he's got a promotion.

But at least this guy









beat this guy

to become governor of Pennsylvania.  Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart


From 2001, this has to be one of the last Bee Gees performances of this song. Great picture and sound--you almost have to see this to get how unique they were.

Hold Your Nose and Vote

It's not much of a slogan.  But it's about how I feel this year: Hold Your Nose and Vote.

Monitoring headlines over the past couple of days, it's clear that the media has decided that the Republicans have won the election that--not to put too fine a point on it--isn't over until tonight.  The NY Times and Washington Post seem sure that even the White House has decided the election is lost.

An amount of money has been spent that likely will never be totally known, but is certainly well beyond obscene.  Unsurprisingly it's estimated that the Republicans have won the contest to spill the most billions in "dark money," courtesy of our Supreme Republican Court.  But then if money is speech, how can I be talking?

My email inbox has been stuffed every single day with pleas to donate $3, $5, $200 from every Democrat with a name, plus some that look made up.  I used to get a thrill when I saw President Obama's name as the sender, but this time around I just got embarrassed, and felt really tawdry sending him to junk mail.  The mailers sent in his name did him no favors--there wasn't even the pretense of a presidential message, just check boxes for cash.

Today I got around to sorting through the piles of campaign mail on behalf of candidates and propositions.  None of it made me feel good about anything.

  Nationally, the Democrats seem to have too many mediocre candidates.  But their Republican opponents are far, far worse.  If Iowa actually elects Joni Ernst to the US Senate (and media has decided it already has), the state and the US Capitol both deserve to fall into the sea.  And I'm well aware of Iowa's location when I say that.

Find me a candidate, incidentally, who even noticed the epic UN climate report on Sunday.  It didn't even last as a news story until Monday.  But then it's only about the fate of the planet, the future of the human race and how the lives of everybody on Earth who expects to live more than another twenty years is going to change significantly... but of course that can't be important in an election.

Conventional wisdom is that Republicans succeeded in making these elections about President Obama (even though they dropped their plan to sue him, and stopped insisting they would repeal Obamacare), and because the world not being perfect enough is his fault, they will win.  A few writers were a bit more cautious, noting for example the radio ads Obama made for black radio stations that could affect turnout and therefore outcomes in some highly contested states.  But basically, this is part of the post-election narrative that--like it does just about everything--the media has delivered in advance.

Conventional wisdom is that the Senate is lost to Dems, and except for the dramatic and inflated headlines that the media will joyfully hype, that it doesn't make much difference anyway.  Jonathan Chait's argument is probably the most sophisticated, and maybe the most reasonable.  After noting that "the Republicans in the House are, by and large, barking mad" and oppose everything, including the concept of governing, and without the House, nothing gets passed, therefore the Senate is superfluous. "If the House could make a deal with Obama, the Senate would sign on to the deal if it were controlled by Republicans or if it were controlled by Democrats. Gridlock will continue through the next Congress regardless of the Senate race."

Of course, legislation isn't all that's at issue--there are judicial and executive appointments, treaty ratification etc. Plus the joy of seeing McConnell's face more often.  But basically Chiat is among those who are essentially saying this election means nothing.

My prime political consultant Andy Borowitz agrees that nothing will change, although he sees the impact a little differently, in his story headlined Midterms Prediction: Billionaires to Retain Control of Government.

And yet, on Tuesday afternoon I'll walk a quarter mile or so to my polling place (which is itself pretty dull--nowhere near as interesting as any of my Pennsylvania polling places, with their kibitzing pols and bake sales) and I will (figuratively) hold my nose and (actually) vote.

I will vote.  Why?  Because I'm a damn citizen that's why.


Sunday, November 02, 2014

It Starts: The Fossil Fuels Endgame

From the Guardian:

Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published.

The stark report states that climate change has already increased the risk of severe heatwaves and other extreme weather and warns of worse to come, including food shortages and violent conflicts. But it also found that ways to avoid dangerous global warming are both available and affordable.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in the message,” said the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, attending what he described as the “historic” report launch. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” He said that quick, decisive action would build a better and sustainable future, while inaction would be costly.

Ban added a message to investors, such as pension fund managers: “Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.”

The report, released in Copenhagen on Sunday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the work of thousands of scientists and was agreed after negotiations by the world’s governments. It is the first IPCC report since 2007 to bring together all aspects of tackling climate change and for the first time states: that it is economically affordable; that carbon emissions will ultimately have to fall to zero; and that global poverty can only be reduced by halting global warming. The report also makes clear that carbon emissions, mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, are currently rising to record levels, not falling."

The BBC hones in on the specifics that also led what US media reports there were:

The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050.

If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. The UN said inaction would cost "much more" than taking the necessary action."

Anything new here?  Mostly that the UN Panel is officially saying these things, in a reported vetted by governments--the process that typically waters down the final reports.  And by providing numbers in terms of years, it goes a long way in setting the agenda for the next and absolutely crucial international meetings next year.

It emphasizes what Bill McKibben wrote in another of his thoughtful reviews of the recent literature on the subject in the New York Review of Books this summer:

"We may be entering the high-stakes endgame on climate change. The pieces—technological and perhaps political—are finally in place for rapid, powerful action to shift us off of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the players may well decide instead to simply move pawns back and forth for another couple of decades, which would be fatal. Even more unfortunately, the natural world is daily making it more clear that the clock ticks down faster than we feared. The whole game is very nearly in check."

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Ebola Wars

The war of fear and fact continues in the US.  Fear is apparently winning on the streets.  The New York Times reports that health care workers who simply work for the same institutions that are treating Ebola patients are being stigmatized, in Atlanta, Omaha, Dallas--and New York City.

There hundreds of health care workers at Bellvue are being materially stigmatized, including nurses losing their second jobs, one lost a teaching position and one nurse's child has been thrown out of daycare--all for simply working at the same hospital where an Ebola patient is treated.

It doesn't help that early symptoms of Ebola are reportedly similar to the flu that is in fact the epidemic that is spreading in America, as it often does at this time of year.  Here in far northern California, people reporting those symptoms are being told to get a flu shot.

One major victory over fear: a Maine judge rejected the governor's request for a court order to force Kaci Hickox, the Doctors Without Borders nurse and epidemologist, to continue her house arrest, otherwise known as quarantine.  He did so in no uncertain terms, basing his decision on science.

But no one is taking Ebola lightly in all of this.  Hickox is monitored daily for symptoms, such as fever.  Ebola victims are only contagious when they show symptoms, and only through direct contact with bodily fluids.

The irrational fear, fed for political gain and money by politicians and media, is only obscuring the real dangers of Ebola, which are considerable.  Stupid efforts need to be stopped, and more smart efforts begun and maintained.  Not nearly enough is known about the disease or how to stop it spreading and mutating in the parts of the world with poor medical care where it thrives.  If it is not controlled there it could become a much larger and more potent threat in the rest of the world.

Two recent articles in the New Yorker summarize the problems and the state of medical knowledge.   The real Ebola Wars are being fought in laboratories and on the front lines in Africa, with contributions from what is being learned in treating the few patients in US hospitals.

 The heroes of this war, who are putting themselves in harms way to save people and to accumulate knowledge that can save many more, are precisely these medical workers who are being stigmatized, and injured financially, socially and psychologically.  It's time to grow up.  And to revolt against the politicians and media institutions feeding this self-destructive hysteria.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Congratulations San Francisco Giants!

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who won the seventh game of the World Series behind five innings of scoreless relief by--who else?--Madison Bumgarner to become the 2014 World Champions.  Tonight the city of San Francisco began celebrating, with the big parade likely later in the week--on Halloween.  It's the Giants third championship in five seasons.  More photos and links at American Dash.  (These photos from San Francisco Chronicle.)