Friday, October 20, 2006

Seattle's Science Fiction Musem, designed by Frank Gehry. BK photo. Posted by Picasa
Another Harvest of Shame

For those few--probably among the 16% of Americans polled who approve of this Republican Congress--who believed or wanted to believe that the Bush administration sought extraordinary and ultimately unConstitutional legal powers to deal with some extraordinary future threat of terrorist attack, Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post reports today:" Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba."

The Military Commissions Act takes away basic rights of the accused for anyone the feds call an enemy combatant. This Post story is a good one to reference because it goes on to discuss the legal challenges pending and the principles involved, including the often-mentioned but rarely defined doctrine of habeus corpus:

Habeas corpus, a Latin term meaning "you have the body," is one of the oldest principles of English and American law. It requires the government to show a legal basis for holding a prisoner. A series of unresolved federal court cases brought against the administration over the last several years by lawyers representing the detainees had left the question in limbo.

Denying this right is even worse than "guilty until proven innocent," because it doesn't require a trial, a hearing, a show of cause, not even a kangaroo court, for people to be imprisoned more or less indefinitely, as many in Guantanamo have been. But the overall principle is the same: it makes every last one of us subject to being locked up and considered guilty, without the basic rights to enable us to prove innocence, including the right to a speedy and fair trial.

As Keith Olbermann pointed out in his impassioned attack on this Act, there is no procedure in it for anyone who is accused of being an enemy combatant or even a non-citizen eligible to be so classified, to prove these accusations false.

The Act also formalizes torture and attempts to immunize torturers from being subject to the Geneva conventions. So in addition to being held indefinitely with no need for evidence, and subject to tribunals without meaningful legal rights, we can all be legally tortured at the whim of our captors.

The U.S. Supreme Court is just about the only hope of overturning this outrage in the near term. But a Democratic Congress can make an issue of it, and should prevent any further outrages of this kind. These and a yet to be outraged citizenry are the only protections we have against this extremist dereliction of America's most cherished and most proud principles. But it's now inevitably that there will be more victims of this shameful episode.
Getting Back to the Future

Earlier this month, Jerome a Paris, one of the most respected voices in the progressive blogosphere on both sides of the Atlantic (he's the impressario of the European Tribune), wrote about the need for Democrats to talk about the Climate Crisis and energy issues in the current congressional campaign.

But the political conventional wisdom is that Democrats should ride their most popular issues into office, and then work on the Climate Crisis when they get there. Of course, that's never really worked. Al Gore didn't make it the centerpiece of either of his presidential campaigns in 1988 or 2000, because it wasn't supposed to be smart politically, and he lost anyway. And not having said a lot about it as a vice-presidential candidate in 1992 when he did win, it was not central to the Clinton presidency either.

Jerome and others make the point that only by making it an issue in a compaign will the American people be ready for action, and only a politician who has been elected largely on this issue will accrue the political power to make the massive changes and commitments necessary to really do something about it.

So it's really interesting what the acknowledged leader of the Democratic Party, who isn't himself running for anything, has said about this subject--President Clinton himself.

In his masterful speech the other day at the opening of The Center for American Progress-sponsored conference on The Common Good at Georgetown University, President Bill Clinton talked about the problems of growing economic inequality in America, the problems of outsourcing, the massive national debt to countries like China and even Mexico, and solutions to these and other problems. He mentioned the Climate Crisis, which is one of the target areas of the Clinton Global Initiative. In the question and answer period afterwards he said that even though he believed his policies aided the booming economy of the 90s, when the federal government erased its debt and created a budget surplus, and economic inequality declined, he noted that the engine of the private economy was the maturing of information technologies and their spread throughout the society and the world.

He said our economy needs a new source of good jobs and innovation. And he said what astonishingly few politicians are really talking about:

"So government policies can reduce inequality, but we also need new jobs that pay well. And the lay down, obvious, sitting here, slapping-us-in-the-face answer is to make a commitment to a clean, independent energy future. It will create millions of jobs, and many of them are not exportable."

He offered examples--and what he would do politically:

" I was in Denmark a couple of weeks ago. In the last few years their economy has increased by 50 percent. Their energy use during the same time frame increased by zero – nothing. They invested in conservation. They kept jobs. Their unemployment rate is about what ours is, but their wages are rising and inequality is going down because of a combination of new jobs and government policy.

Same thing happened in the U.K., the economy most like ours of all the European economies. They’ve had rising wages and declining inequality because they’re going to beat their Kyoto targets by 50 percent and they created all these new jobs in doing that. So whether its biofuels, conservation, wind, solar – you name it – we are making a big, big mistake not getting after this big time, not only because of climate change and national security implications, but because that’s where the jobs were. If I were here like I was 15 years ago as a candidate I would say to the American people, 'If you want to do this in a big way, vote for me; if you don’t, find somebody else because this is all I’m going to work on till I get it figured out.' Because this is just a huge opportunity."

Of course, with the Republicans handing the Democrats their best issues, particularly with the Mark Foley mess and all it represents, and all it says about Republican corruption and incompetence in Iraq, elsewhere abroad and at home--and with approval of the Rebpublican Congress in one poll down to 16%-- Democratic candidates would be foolish not to ride the tide.

But win, lose or draw, this must be the last election in which dealing with all aspects of the Climate Crisis isn't central to a political campaign.

We can't wait for the media to set that agenda. Though there have been a larger number of documentaries and major magazine stories in the past year, there is not that reality of daily coverage. It's always been a curious irony that the issue with the most importance in terms of the fate of human civilization and the planet as we know it is hardly ever talked about, either politicially or as the source of news stories.

But more importantly, we require leadership to create and set the agenda. It's a complex set of huge problems, and addressing the crisis will transform the economic and political landscape, just as ignoring it eventually will. The difference is that addressing it can transform us for the better.

So we're electing Democrats to stop the madness, to staunch the bleeding, to reverse this tragic, self-destructive course. But we did that in 1992, and it took 8 years, and then this nation allowed it to fall apart again. I don't think we're going to get more than one more chance.

This time it won't be enough to stop the madness. We will have to start the future. Right now the task is to elect Democrats to take Congress. And if they do, the next task will be to insist that they place this issue at the top of the agenda. Give them a few months to raise the minimum wage and stop the bleeding in Iraq, and reclaim our Constitutional rights. But then it's election reform, universal health care, and the Climate Crisis and the clean energy future.

I want to see Congress move on this. And in the 2008 campaign I want to hear a candidate say, if you want to do this in a big way, then vote for me. If you don't, then vote for somebody else because this is what I'm going to work on until we're doing it.

Daily Babble

Captain Future's largely unawaited account of the 40th Anniversary Star Trek Celebration at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle is now ready to dance its way into your heart at Soul of Star Trek.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

publicity still from the 1950s film of "The Time Machine." Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

It's a Wells World After All?

Dr. Oliver Curry, described as an evolutionary biologist at the London School of Economics, is making some headlines with his predictions of the shape of humans to come. Although some of his extrapolations are being questioned, and despite at least one TV station (in Salt Lake City, interestingly) that headlined, "Human Sex Organs Will Get Bigger," Curry's contention that's capturing attention is the future split of humanity into two separate species, one derived from the Haves, and the other the Have Nots.

This of course was the premise of what for all intents and purposes was the first modern science fiction novel, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, still among the best known s/f stories (and one of the most assigned novels of any kind in American schools.) Wells extrapolated from the extreme differences of the new industrial working class and the upper reaches of the leisure class in London in the late 19th century, to posit a far future of lanquid Eloi, the beautiful people out of Aubrey Beardsley illustrations who live blissed out on the surface, while the ugly hulking Morlocks toil in underground mines and factories.

Wells was writing a cautionary tale about social conditions, justice and awareness, as well as a illustrations of the brutality of evolution, and how the common view of it as inevitable progress was not implicit in the Darwinian matrix. He also showed that by dividing, the human race destroyed itself. The Eloi were literally the Molocks' lunch meat. Wells, like his mentor Thomas H. Huxley, believed that humanity had to take its own evoluton into its own hands, through consciousness and action.

Like Wells, Curry sees the rich becoming more beautiful--tall, slim, healthy and attractive. The poor would devolve into stooping hairy stupid brutes. Curry also posits the combination of today's racial characteristics into a single coffee-colored human. That's not much of a stretch--as Richard Rodriguez and others have pointed out, America is already becoming brown demographically, and physically we're seeing the next generation in Tiger Woods. But his rich and beautiful, poor and ugly division is not so certain. As in Wells time, a major problem for the poor is health care and nutrition. The super-rich have access to the best and the latest, including cosmetic enhancements that may in the future become genetic enhancements.

But that's no guarantee. In this world as in this country, there are few rich and many who are not. An entire subspecies descended from the extremely wealthy is doubtful. If the division is between the pretty well off and the very poor, then the beautiful/ugly distinction becomes less sure. I think of those heartrending pictures from the Sudan and the Congo, of people starving, being forced from their homes, being slaughtered--and they are among the most physically beautiful people on earth, especially in their poor but elegant clothing of many beautiful colors and patterns. Contrast them to the Americans who seemed to have doubled in size in recent decades, dumb with fast food and dulled by endless TV commercials. I don't see many Eloi candidates. Morlocks with credit cards maybe.

The growing financial divide between rich and poor, and between rich and poor nations, is leading us to not two species but one very weak one, ripe for the evolutionary picking, if the climate crisis doesn't get us first. Wells is still relevant in this regard. Fortunately, there are countercurrents in our culture and on our planet. Wells is relevant in those patterns as well. He saw the need for human unity, for a united world, for universal human rights and social justice, and more economic equality. Though he shared some of the prejudices of his age, these principles are still good blueprints. But for the moment, it is the ascendant empathy of the human heart that is our greatest hope, for a future of a maturing and ascendant humanity.

Monday, October 16, 2006

October apples. BK photo. Depending on your browser and
perhaps the current mean temperature on the Martian surface,
you may have to click on the photo to see the whole thing.
I have no idea why. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Irrational Exuberance?

The two big Important to the Beltway newspapers Sunday printed cautionary tales in the face of the landslide of poll numbers favoring Democrats in the elections three weeks away. The Washington Post says the White House isn't all that worried--they believe they'll lose some seats in the House but will retain the majority status, and see losing the Senate as "nearly inconceivable."

Of course those are the folks who claim Iraq is going well, but could they know something? The New York Times sums it up in the headline to their story: The Democrats have the intensity, but the Republicans have their machine. They know who their voters are and how to get them to the polls. They retain their technological advantage in that, and they have their true believers among the religious right, who may find the Foley affair distasteful, but would no more vote Democrat than for Satan, which to them amounts to the same thing.

Amidst the general exuberance in the progressive blogosphere, the namesake of the Dems biggest blog, kos, has been notably cautious in his assessments. He points out the difficulties in close Senate races, the general tightening that occurs in the final weeks, and the pots of money the Republicans can spend.

Of course it's impossible to know until election day. The Times emphasizes the intensity of Democratic voters, but I saw that intensity in 2004 and it wasn't enough (at least to overcome the voter suppressions and possible vote tampering the Republicans got away with.) But the political blogs are better organized and have a longer reach this year, and they are really concentrating on nuts and bolts--raising money and getting volunteers.

The Democrats used to be better at getting out the vote, back when the unions were a bigger force, but the combination of technological sophistication and the emergence of the religious right gave Republicans the advantage. But such advantages seldom last for long. Learning from opponents' successes is endemic, and this year the blogs may be providing the on the ground volunteers to offset what is likely to be a reduced presence and enthusiasm from the religious right.

Then there's what happens in the Real World in the next few weeks. What's interesting is that nobody knows how various possible events--invasion of Iran, terrorist attack, natural disaster (like the Hawaii earthquake), fall of the Iraq government--will actually play politically. It's possible that events that make people fearful which in the past would have driven them back to the incumbent Republicans again, will have the opposite effect this time. The depth and extent of disillusion over Iraq and general White House and Republican Congress incompetence may make the difference.

But kos' final words are the watchwords: So no slacking. No premature celebrating. No heightened expectations. There's a reason I'm pessimistic about our chances this year. It's because no has voted yet and nothing in this biz is ever guaranteed.