Friday, August 04, 2006
Could this really be the end? Could it be that the apocalypse the Right foresees is their own? Columnist E. J. Dionne thinks so. Not just of the Republican majority or Bushite rule, but of conservative dominance.
Polls keep showing that Republicans are falling behind in congressional races across the country, both individually and generically, perhaps even enough for an historic loss of seats in the House and maybe enough in the Senate to end their control of both houses.
But while not predicting any outcome in November, Dionne believes the conservative movement has effectively ended already. "I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism... reached the point of collapse."
He cites the Senate's (failed) attempt to pass a minimum wage law combined with more tax cuts for the wealthiest. It wasn't so much the opportunism, Dionne writes--it was that Republicans really wanted the minimum wage raise, traditionally opposed by conservatives, because in an election year they need it.
The episode was significant because it meant Republicans were acknowledging that they would not hold congressional power without the help of moderates. That is because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.
Yet their way of admitting this was to put on display the central goal of the currently dominant forces of politics: to give away as much as possible to the truly wealthy. You wonder what those blue-collar conservatives once known as Reagan Democrats made of this spectacle.
There's the rub. The Bushite Republicans abandoned the less than wealthy conservative voters just as they abandoned conservative fiscal restraint in running up huge deficits to benefit the rich, especially their corporate pals.
"Political movements lose power when they lose their self-confidence and sense of mission," Dionne writes. "The decline of conservatism leaves a vacuum in American politics. An unhappy electorate is waiting to see who will fill it."
It could be an historic opportunity for a vision for the future. And the way things are going, it could be the last one.
The Iraq war is becoming as long and agonizing as Vietnam--one poll says it is even more politically divisive. A Republican Senator said that the situation on the ground in Iraq is an "absolute replay" of Vietnam. A reporter who covered Vietnam sees a tragic repetition of the Vietnamization policy of the Nixon war, during which most Americans were killed and most of the destruction was done. And there are other resemblances as well.
Rather than make comparisons for you, let me simply tell a few stories about that time that seem relevant. These are recollections, with some poetic license, and like all stories, just one way of telling about it.
I obviously can't speak for everyone who was young in the Vietnam era. So when I say "we," it's shorthand for the people I knew. However, there were a lot like us. If you were draft age, and especially if you were in college, you were involved in these discussions to some degree.
continued at 60's Now
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Record-breaking high heat is expected to remain another day in the northeast and midwest, with temps above 100 in New York and Washington, along with high humidity. This extra day beyond what was initially predicted will strain power throughout the east coast. When the heat breaks, some areas will face punishing thunderstorms, which have already hit parts of New England. Meanwhile, what's likely to become the first hurricane of the season is gearing up near Puerto Rico.
So maybe these governors and mayors will get together before next summer to deal with the problem they are likely to have many more times the rest of this century. But they still have August and September of this year to get through. Just getting through Thursday is going to be major.
As for stopping future global heating, hours after the California Environmental Protection Agency announced its prediction that the state will be hotter and drier by the end of the century, in Los Angeles former President Bill Clinton said that his Clinton Foundation, previously targetting its efforts on poverty, AIDs and childhood obesity, will begin a new initiative on curbing greenhouse gases. It will begin with a partnership with the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group to develop ways to reduce heat-trapped gases in urban centers. But Clinton said it will become a larger focus of his Foundation in the future.
“It seems to me that there is now a consensus in the world that climate change is real and that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “What we need now is more information about how to do it quickly, economically, and organize the efforts to do it."
However, House Minority Whip Roy Blount also announced that if Republicans retain control of Congress next year, there will be no meaningful legislation passed to deal with the Climate Crisis.
"There's a huge disconnect between what professional scientists have studied and learned in the last 30 years, and what is out there in the popular culture," said Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at the University of California, San Diego, in an article in the Seattle Times, in which scientists skeptical of the climate crisis a decade ago are now fully convinced. (Hat tip to Steven D at Booman Tribune.) Fuel companies contribute to that gap by supporting a small cadre of global-warming skeptics, whose views are widely disseminated by like-minded think tanks and Web sites.
On the other hand, if the tipping point has already been passed, or if we're saved from the suspense of whether the Climate Crisis unheeded will end civilization by the apocolypticians currently working on starting World War III to end civilization shortly after the November elections, the Alliance to Rescue Civilization is ready to break ground--with the particpation of the prime ministers of all five Scandinavian nations--on a "doomsday vault" to stockpile seeds. They also advocate (according to the NY Times) a backup for humanity by way of a station on the Moon replete with DNA samples of all life on Earth, as well as a compendium of all human knowledge — the ultimate detached garage for a race of packrats. It would be run by people who, through fertility treatments and frozen human eggs and sperm...
It's a sign of the time that this group is not composed of koolaid drinkers waiting for magic aliens but a couple of scientists not previously known to be mad, and other reputable folks with high powered credentials. This actually is a fairly common science fiction idea, because it is a pretty reasonable alternative to dying out entirely when doomsday is not such a weird idea anymore.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Next year in San Francisco Bay an experiment will take place on a technology to harness ocean tides for energy. Neal Pierce writes about it:
A gigantic energy-collection device vaguely reminiscent of a Ferris wheel, with a number of fins (or "wings") to capture the power of the rapidly passing tides, will be lowered from a barge anchored in the narrows. Using maglev technology, it will produce electrical energy that can be transmitted to shore by cable.
If the San Francisco experiment works, the way could be opened to vast "farms" of underwater energy generators, operating below the ocean surface off Florida's Atlantic Coast and along such shorelines as New England and the Pacific Northwest. A major early target could be in the Gulf Stream as it flows between Florida and Bermuda, where the 6.1-mile-per-hour current is 23,000 times the magnitude of the river flow at Niagara Falls.
Though a maverick project, this isn't your average group of graduate students financed by a messianic billionaire. These are serious people:
Enter the 20-year-old Climate Institute, an early truth-teller on the perils of global warming. Several of its leaders — Dan Power, President John Topping, environmentalist and businessman William Nitze, and former steel company executive Joe Cannon — decided the institute's powerful research and advocacy weren't enough, that there was no substitute for real-world, economically feasible alternatives to fossilfuels. And that ocean tidal power, the hydraulic energy in the globe's waters, constituted a massive untapped potential.
So in 2005, they formed the for-profit Oceana Energy to do the hard work — gathering new scientific data, pushing the engineering, recruiting capital and enlisting allies — to harvest the freely flowing hydraulic energy in the globe's waters.
Though the theoretical potential for wave energy is vast, no one yet knows what this technology will yield. But as Pierce points out, with the U.S. planning to build enough new coal firing power plants to add another 10% to greenhouse gases, the stakes are enormous. It's likely that the answers to getting greenhouse gases under control will be a mix of technologies and practices. Some are known, some are unknown or untested. This is very clean energy waiting to be tapped. It's worth taking very seriously as part of the mix that may yet mean a future worth living in.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
This is what Newt Gingrich said the Republicans should start talking about in order to win the November elections. They're supposed to say that the war on terror is really World War III.
It seems that the Republicans in the White House are determined to have a very obvious World War III in progress by November. The U.S. has done nothing effective to stop the carnage in Lebanon. Despite knowing that only a diplomatic solution will make Israel safe, the Israelis are widening their war.
Now the most important Shia cleric in Iraq is warning of grave consequences for the U.S. if
it continues to support this violence. Iraq's Prime Minister has already voiced opposition to Israel's warmaking. Although Lebanon has largely knocked Iraq off the radar screen, the violence there is getting worse, if that's even possible. More Americans are being killed, with no end in sight.
If the U.S. didn't already have the image of trying to wipe out Muslims in the Middle East, it does now. But is this failure to stop Israel a sign of White House weakness, or policy?
Some believe this is U.S. strategy for making war on Syria. Some believe it is U.S. stragegy for making nuclear war on Iran, which has just refused to stop its nuclear power activities.
What's the justice of the current fighting? Israel obviously has the right to defend itself, but its methods of doing so are questionable to say the least. As for the Us v. Them crap, let's be honest at least: we see Iran trying to develop nuclear weapons and supplying missiles to Hizbollah. The Muslim world, and increasingly the Arab world, see the U.S. bristling with nuclear weapons which it is considering using against Iran, and supplying missiles and weapons technology to Israel. Parading your hypocrisy before the world is not likely to earn respect.
What is the effect of the current fighting? Nothing good, and if the Bushites really want it, World War III is indeed within their grasp. But I wouldn't count on it winning them votes in November.
Should I feel guilty? I feel grateful. While most of the nation, and even friends who live a few miles away, are suffering through a very hot summer, the weather in Arcata has been magnificent. We've had sunshine and cool air.
But the summer hasn't been without loss of prominent members of the North Coast community. Both were unexpected.
Continued at This North Coast Place.
UPDATE: CA's heatwave moves east--above 100F temps expected from St. Louis to NYC.
In the U.S., we've got local government action--at one point in "An Inconvenient Truth" the screen is filled with the names of cities pledged to attack the Climate Crisis. We have states and combinations of states, led by governors, working together on regional responses to CC issues.
In the world, we've got national responses and international agreements. Of course they don't include the U.S. federal government, currently so phobic and fearful and hostile on the subject that it actually erased the words, "to understand and protect our home planet" from NASA's mission statement.
Instead we've got a compact between a nation, the UK and...a state. The state of California is as large as some countries, and has a larger economy than many. But this is a government-to-government agreement that makes a certain other government irrelevant.
Here's part of the statement issued by the Prime Minister of the UK and the governator of California:
The mission statement of the collaboration states that Britain and California will "commit to urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote low carbon technologies"."
California and the United Kingdom recognise the linkages between climate change, energy security, human health and robust economic growth," it adds.
"Working together, California and the UK commit to build upon current efforts, share experiences, find new solutions and work to educate the public on the need for aggressive action to address climate change and promote energy diversity."
The UK entered into agreements designed to curb greenhouse gases, promote green technologies--and separately, to encourage stem cell research. There was also a series of meetings with 25 U.S. corporation CEOs on the Climate Crisis.
These agreements by themselves may not do much, but then again so much of this is about synergy and building towards a critical mass of effort and attention. And whatever combination of governments, citizens, businesses, scientists and communicators is willing to commit to the fight, is welcome news at this point.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Update: a commentary based on this post is on the recommended list at Booman Tribune.
The AP likes to keep it factual and punchy, if not short and sweet. And here's what they say about the weather, for tomorrow, next month, and the rest of your life:
For the next week, much of the nation should expect more "extreme heat," the National Weather Service predicts.
_In the month of August, most of the United States will see "above normal temperatures," forecasters say.
_For the long-term future, the world will see more and worse killer heat waves because of global warming, scientists say.
After that, you might be inclined to look for stories about Scarlett Johansson, or American Idol (although given the above news, I can't believe people find much comfort in the statistic the Idolateers are fond of spreading around, that more people voted for the current Idol winner than ever voted for a President of the U.S.) But some of the details might answer your questions:
No, they aren't blaming this particular heat wave on global warming, at least not exactly. Heat waves and global warming "are very strongly" connected, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis branch chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The immediate cause of the California heat wave — and other heat waves — is day-to-day weather, he said.
But what they can say is that global warming contributes to every heat wave, including this one, by changing general characteristics. For example, what global warming has done is make the nights warmer in general and the days drier, which help turn merely uncomfortably hot days into killer heat waves, Trenberth said.
And this is turning out to be a major lesson in what we need to do to cope with the Climate Crisis, because: recent studies in the past five years show that climate change is at its most dangerous during extreme events, such as high temperatures, droughts and flooding, he said. "These (heat) events always occur. What global warming does is push it up another notch," Trenberth said.
Which brings us to the longer term forecasts.
...the computer models show that soon, we'll get many more — and hotter — heat waves that will leave the old Dust Bowl records of the 1930s in the dust, said Ken Kunkel, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Illinois State Water Survey.
This is why we have to get beyond Climate Crisis denial and get to work on both aspects of it. First, fix it: when you know what's likely to happen, you can get prepared for it (even if it doesn't happen, wouldn't that be better that getting caught unprepared?) Scientists are telling us to prepare for worse and more frequent heat waves. We need to use what we're learning in this one and what we've learned in the past to prepare for the next ones, and to fix whatever can be fixed--in public health, in energy distribution,etc--that looks like a problem.
For example, many if not most of the 150+ people who've died due to this month's heat wave were elderly, living alone. The Mayor of Fresno said the realization of this has turned his entire city "into one big Neighborhood Watch." So fixes don't have to be high tech or expensive or even all that complicated. Though some of them are going to be, like dealing with flooding problems in places like Bombay with the more frequent and much more intense rainstorms that overwhelm the infrastructure.
While we get serious and fix it, we simultaneously need to do what we need to do to stop it--to stop even worse heating, even worse heat waves, droughts, storms, and finally a runaway shift in the earth's climate that could make the planet unrecognizeable. Is it too late? We're going to try to fix it anyway, so why not try to get ahead of it and do it right? As for stopping it, if it isn't too late it soon will be, so if we are going to have any chance, we'd better get on it.
Besides, what are you going to tell your grandchildren--we thought we couldn't stop it, so we didn't even try?
UPDATE: A different AP story adds this: More than 60 percent of the United States now has abnormally dry or drought conditions, stretching from Georgia to Arizona and across the north through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Update: a "diary" based on this post is featured for "diary rescue" at Daily Kos.
Are we moving towards utopia, or oblivion? What does the national mood ring say? It may tell us a lot about how we approach particular issues, where our energy and attention goes.
Via T. Goddard's Political Wire, there's this:
Washington Wire highlights evidence of a growing long-term deep funk among Americans in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll: "Among the six-in-10 Americans who say country is 'on the wrong track,' most see 'long-term decline.' More than two-thirds of those over 50 aren’t confident life will improve for 'our children’s generation'; 62% of those under 35 agree. Americans are especially gloomy about the environment, health care, public morals and housing costs; nearly eight in 10 expect college to become less affordable. By 47%-24%, Americans fear the quality of jobs in the U.S. will get worse."
It could be influenced by conspicuous warfare, and by the general aging of the population. Or it could be simple observation of the growing divide between superrich and everyone else, and all that means to most people, as the Bush administration has made clear which side its on.
The Democrats last week came forward with their six issues for 06 under the banner of A New Direction for America, or something equally forgettable. While the issues are worthy, the whole thing seems to lack imagination and certainly daring. But that's explicable from the first of the six items: national security.
The Democrats are in a defensive posture, still worried they lost in 04 because Bush convinced the country he could keep them safer, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. And every time the Democrats get out of the administration line on war issues, some Republican is warning that they're throwing the election away, if not being flat out unpatriotic.
Security is of course a primary function of the federal government. But stopping there freezes us into a defensive and inherently risk averse posture. Unfortunately, people see what's going on: things are falling apart. We don't need terrorists from elsewhere to destroy what Americans have had, we're letting it happen slowly but surely.
My instincts about the next election are contrary to the posture and direction the Dems are officially taking. I see a lot of "re" words working, like renewal and responsibility. But most of all I see the need for a vision of the future that offers some hope, some real direction--not an empty slogan. America, the world, is ready (or soon will be) to move away from oblivion, but the only way to do that is to move towards utopia. Utopia doesn't mean a perfect society, but it does mean a better one--one that is more attuned to current and future needs, and making use of new knowledge and approach.
It's a risk. But the right mix of reassurance and vision for the future could be the inspiration we need. In any case, we need a vision, and the leadership to get us started on that road to the future. The choice is utopia or oblivion. At least for the past half century, it always has been.