Thursday, March 22, 2007

The announcement that Elizabeth Edwards must undergo treatment for bone cancer came on the anniversary of my mother's death. She also had survived her breast cancer for five years before it reappeared. That was 1974, and treatments are much more successful now, to the point that some cancers are treatable as chronic diseases.

By all evidence from this distance, Elizabeth Edwards is a courageous and quite wonderful person. She is a smart and effective advocate for the same issues that animate her husband. I wish her the best. I also believe that the decision she and John Edwards made to continue his presidential campaign is the right one. It is more than ironic to me that there are so many echoes of Watergate in the Bush administration these days. When my mother was hospitalized for the last time, Watergate was unfolding, and I remember that in her weakened and medicated state, my mother was visibly frightened by the sight of Richard Nixon on television. This is an even more crucial time in this country's history, and for the human future. John Edwards is advancing ideas and gaining a hearing for important priorities, such as health care, poverty and the Climate Crisis. He said today that when Elizabeth needs him he will be there for her. In the meantime, Elizabeth Edwards will be there for all of us.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"I promise you a day will come when our children and grandchildren will look back and ask one of two questions: Either, what in God's name were they doing? What was wrong with them?...What were they thinking? Or How did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and redeem the promise of American democracy, and do what some said was impossible, and shake things up, and tell the special interests, 'okay, we heard you, we'll take your considerations into account, but we're going to do what's right...We do not have time to play around with this."

Al Gore
March 21, 2007
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HARRY POTTER, ENVIRO WIZARD? Why not? With more than 12 million copies of the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, expected to be sold in the U.S. alone, a lot of trees could bite the dust. But its publisher, Scholastic Books, has promised to use 30% post-consumer recycled paper in each copy, and 65% of the virgin paper will come from sustainable forests as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

It's none too soon, especially since more than 90% of printed paper and writing paper still comes from virgin forests, and paper recycling in general is lagging. Worldwide deforestation is a major threat to the biosphere, in particular making the Climate Crisis worse. So good job, Harry. We need more magic like this.
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Monday, March 19, 2007

Remember When...The Invasion and Before

Nostalgia from four years ago and a little more, the runup to the war and its beginning: excerpts from my posts over at Scorched Mirth, then called American Samizat (and then American Dash when I realized I'd been spelling Samizdat wrong, and somebody else was using the title.) Today, when the war is unpopular and the media is covering the invasion anniversary with righteous indignation, it may be particularly interesting to note the media's inflammatory role in 2002 and 2003.

October 6, 2002

There is little international support, and some important international opposition to this invasion. While the Bushies are using television pretty skillfully to create the drumbeat for war (not that this is too difficult), it's hard for anyone who's paying attention to avoid realizing that nobody has made a good case for why this "regime change" must occur right this very minute. There's been no clear and present danger demonstrated, and as the stock market reflects and many forecasters agree, a war is not likely to be good for a precarious economy.

The only reason to be talking about this right now is to increase Republican chances in the congressional elections. It's all part of a coordinated strategy. Republicans throughout the country are draping their TV ads in the red, white and blue, trumpeting their patriotism and calling into question the patriotism of Democrats. It wasn't a slip or a mere sentence, when President Bush castigated Democrats in Congress for concentrating on petty special interests ( you know-- like prescription drugs, the economy), and said they weren't concerned with national security. It is a political strategy. ..

Of course, politics may not be the main reason. It may also be that the representatives of Big Oil in the White House (which includes nearly everybody of any importance) are using the political argument to advance their own interests with a takeover of Iraq and possibly other areas of the Gulf. I'm still waiting for someone to tell me why this isn't delusional. The idea that the U.S. can run the Gulf region like an oil corporation is insane. They can't even run Afghanistan.

An invasion of Iraq is at least equivalent to Vietnam in quagmire potential, but then this war isn't being led by the best and the brightest. They're looking more like the worst and the dumbest.

But it's the insanity of the situation that may offer the greatest hope, because Colin Powell, even though a Republican, does not appear to be crazy. He is going to look at what it takes in personnel and technology, in logistics and costs, to first of all successfully invade Iraq and take down Saddam. That might be relatively easy, but costly (not that we'll know the cost for years to come), or it may take a long time and be very obviously costly in every possible way. But then he's going to look at what comes next. "Regime change" sounds so simple. But the last time America with a huge coalition behind it invaded Iraq---led by Colin Powell--- the march to Baghdad was stopped short. Why? Could it be that Powell knew that the cost of regime change was beyond what the coalition would commit to doing, in resources, attention and time?

This time is different. It's worse. There isn't even a coalition. Last time in the Gulf the American military did most of the warfare, and the coalition mostly paid for it. Guess who pays for the whole thing this time? Odd how the tax cuts for the wealthy will be kicking in right about then.

It's possible Powell would publicly support an invasion he privately opposes, just . But can he then turn his back on the chaos that would ensue in the region, or the fate of the occupying force over time, when the slow accumulation of death is no longer fodder for the 24/7 media frenzy of the month? ... America suffered a great trauma last September 11. Only a sober assessment of both threats and actions to neutralize the threats will make anyone safer from terrorism. The most terrifying aspect of the current leadership is its appearance of being both cynically manipulative and seriously out of control.

But just because this invasion is crazy in so many ways doesn't mean it won't happen. World War I was insane, and lots of people at the time knew it. This is how some wars start. So I expect that Colin Powell is going to be at the center of one of the more fateful backstage dramas of the next few months in Washington, DC.

January 3, 2003

Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc', and let slip the dogs of war.

Julius Caesar III, 1 - William Shakespeare

In yet another example of accidental intelligence, the Bushies managed to make the war they haven't launched yet into boring old news. The American attention span having already been exhausted by the heavy fever in the fall, it's as if it all happened already and we're on to the next thing. But it hasn't happened; this is the last lull before what could be the perfect storm. And it's coming.

Come the Ides of March, the dogs of war will be frothing at the mouth all over the Gulf region and the Middle East, and who knows where else. There are too many weapons, too much anger and ambition, and warfare feeds on itself, the frenzy trumps judgment and overrides other considerations. When the biggest bully on the planet is talking the talk and bombing the bombs, everybody gets permission to cry havoc---which in Shakespeare's time meant to fight until you've destroyed everyone and everything. There will be valiant headlines, and there will be excitedly portentous news voices and endless speedfreak telexpert chatter, and once it's over, if it ever is, we'll find out what really happened in a few months or a decade or pretty much never.

At first we'll get the pretty stuff---the war is hell if hell is a good slasher movie stuff---but some collateral damage will seep in... We're already hearing the fears of veterans of the first Bushie Gulf War that this time, like that time, all the nice smart bombs acting just like video games on TV will distract from the massive equipment failures and shoddiness, like gas masks that don't work, that harmed the unknown soldiers of that desert storm. ..

Soldiers have been killed, maimed and sickened in all modern wars because of shoddiness by suppliers and by the screwups of the military machine, the ambitions of politicians and generals and other careerists. Maybe you won't read that in the latest gauzy nostalgia about the Greatest Generation, but look at some closer to contemporary and closer to the ground accounts of World War II and it's there in abundance. Soldiers come home cynical not only because of all the carnage they've witnessed. ..

This war is particularly inflammatory because the bar has been set so low on why it's going to be fought. The official reasons, that is. Now anybody who thinks somebody else is evil, or is afraid somebody else will get bigger and better weapons, or is preparing weapons that might someday threaten them, even if they are preparing them with such intense secrecy that foreigners trained to detect them can't find much of a trace so far, well--that's good enough to start a war that will costs millions of dollars and many lives, though a lot of those will belong to people who won't be counted in death any better than they counted in life.

But of course everybody in the world knows the real reason, and so twenty-first century enlightened America endorses one of the chief motives for war of the 10 thousand years of so-called civilization: greed. Great to see we've come so far.

Once it gets going, war is a disease epidemic. People who think of themselves as normal do incredibly awful things for what seems like rational reasons. They put themselves, or are put into situations where they will kill anyone and destroy anything that seems to threaten their lives or the lives of their buddies, and pretty soon anything that threatens their military careers or their honorable discharge. Meanwhile, people who find themselves surrounded by war will fight back, and some will attack anybody they have a grudge against-or have had a grudge against in the last five thousand years---regardless. Permission has been granted by the dogs of war, and the international arms industry---including the good old USA's---have supplied them with the teeth and the jaws and the claws. Why is it that every generation has to learn all this for themselves?

Some things on the Homefront are apt to be predictable---the increase in latitude for government intrusions and the increase in intolerance for dissent, the viciousness with which dissenters are attacked and peace advocates are insulted for being wusses or (worse) liberal-humanists---but other aspects could be different. Modern industrialized war used to stimulate the domestic economy, but it's not clear that will happen this time, even if the fighting spreads and is prolonged. Postmodern war might have the same effect as other prosperous postmodern economic engines: it might make an obscene amount of money for very few, and subtract from most everybody else... But in terms of people's lives, the local economies and the economy in general, the effects will be 100% bad.

February 8, 2003

Remember when...? Watching the purple city through infrared night cameras, as the scuds fell, the scud-busters rose and supposedly destroyed them? (It turns out they didn't but it was a good show anyway.) And the interview in a bunker in Israel or somewhere, when word comes that a scud attack is imminent, and both female interviewer and male interviewee don gas masks, and when nothing much happens and there's only dead air, they continue the interview without taking off the masks? And sound just as cheesy as before, except slightly muffled? Yeah, well you can bet they remember every thrilling moment at CNN. It was the height of their glory, when Sadamm and George Bush the First both watched them to see what the hell was going on. So did everybody else. The Gulf War made CNN into the global news network.

So it's little wonder that the prospect of Gulf War II has them salivating. CNN has fallen on hard times...

What could be better? Only one answer: a war. Boom, boom, cry, cry, hooray hooray. So big surprise that CNN has been camped on an aircraft carrier for the last three months, panting for a war it can cover with minicams: the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, now the Gulf War II logo and the flag is still there!... And even less of a surprise that CNN (along with NBC and Fox) refused to run anti-war ads---slickly made, with celebs and legitimate product spokespersons like major clergy, and with cash in hand to pay the same price for the time as Budwiser or the Republican National Committee would. CNN made up a policy on the spot: "we do not accept international advocacy ads on regions in conflict." Region? Conflict? Either that leaves out exactly no region I know of (not even northwest Antarctica) or CNN is breaking the story---It's war! It's war! CNN is going to war! Oh the nostalgia, oh the ambition, to recapture lost glory and save the collapsing Time-Warner-AOL empire! Yes, it's the empire strikes back, in more ways than one! Tune in, America, it's all war, all the time! Peace is way too boring, not even our perky anchors can distract you from the foaming at the mouth over at Fox. And the beauty of it is, CNN has more footage of Gulf War I than anybody else. Show it again, Sam! Who'll know the difference! Un-mothball the Scud Stud! Bring back the good old days!

Thursday, March 20, 2003.

The circus has started, the media whipped war fever is underway. It’s almost inescapable—wafting through the drug store, the frenzied voice of radio DJs hyping the prospect of bombing which will be described the moment it happens so don’t touch that dial, the flow of idiocy on TV that pops up when the VCR is not yet on to play something sensible (Aaron Brown of CNN describing in detail the meaning of an Oval Office photograph as if he were describing a Polaroid of the Last Supper, only to be contradicted by his White House correspondent who says it was taken at an entirely different time with a completely other purpose, and then goes on to describe “riveting details” of the bombing’s beginning, how Our Lord Bush sayeth unto them the historic eloquent holy words, “Let’s go.” Jeez, whatever happened to Let’s roll? So 2001!

and another post from October 2002

So far no one is saying it out loud, in the newspapers I read or the TV I've seen. But I imagine it's on the minds of many people, especially Americans, in this suspended moment before the war promoted by the President of the United States takes center stage: namely, we didn't really elect this guy...

Though no one now is connecting those dots, I'm sure future historians (if any) will do so in a matter of a few paragraphs. The first paragraph on George W. Bush will refer to his dubious claim to the presidency---that it came down to how to count or not count votes in a single state, where as result of error and designed suppression of votes, he carried the state and hence the election by a handful of actual votes---but only as validated by a split Supreme Court decision, defying both logic and law. The second paragraph of this history will note that the G.W. Bush administration was dominated by the political cronies of the president's father, who spent their time out of government using their contacts to enrich themselves and large corporations, and blatantly represented those same interests when in government.

It will note that the Bush administration was floundering until terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Then Bush made an off-the-cuff remark while standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center and saw immediately the makings of a political identity in the cheers of rescue workers that obviously surprised him. He could be the symbol of fighting back, even though he wasn't going to be doing any of the fighting, just as he could cry "Let's roll!" into Iraq, and then go take a nap. He could parlay that figurehead/talking head leadership into time-tested political manipulation based on patriotism and the fear of seeming not patriotic. The third paragraph, I imagine, will be about the invasion of Iraq, and its tragic consequences.

This history will perhaps note the puzzling lack of emotion and debate opposing this war until it was too late to stop it. It will note however that most of what then happened was foreseen at least in outline (columnists like Molly Ivins, Robert Scheer, and locally in San Francisco, Jon Carroll and Rob Morse, have been remarkably clear.) These historians will fill in the details of the ensuing chaos and violent death in the Gulf region and the Middle East, the chaos and strife spreading to various political and economic alliances. This history will note the damage to the world economy, weakening it at a time when it needed to be strong to cope with the changes slowly but surely taking hold as consequences of the climate crisis. It will note the costs on life in the United States of more economic hardship and a greater siege mentality against real and imagined threats-with one of the real threats being an increasingly intrusive, powerful and arrogant police state government.

We owe all of this partly to the blindness of Americans who fell for the simplistic idea that it did not matter if Bush or Gore won the 2000 election. That Bush and Gore are part of the same corrupt political system is true, and has consequences. But that doesn't deny their differences, and one or the other was going to be president. We reap the whirlwind of this failure to understand the differences between these two men, and the people they bring into power.

Millions of Americans voted on small differences. If you can believe the media conventional wisdom, many voted for Bush because he seemed like a nice guy, not as stiff as Gore. This extraordinarily stupid test for presidential fitness was granted legitimacy by media's failure to even question it-but then how could many TV "news" personalities challenge the wisdom of judging on nice guy appearances when they owe their jobs to the same standards.

The Bush presidency is leading America and the world to a disastrous twenty-first century in three interlocking ways: internationally, by arrogance and war; domestically, by bankrupting the federal government on tax breaks for the wealthy; and globally, by ignoring global heating and other environmental threats. The agenda behind all of this is pretty clear: favor entrenched corporate interests, keep the oppressed people of the world in control through force, and keep the American people scared: scared for their safety and their country, so they will support Bush and the Republican establishment from now until doomsday, and scared for their own livelihoods so they won't rock the boat, so they will keep fighting each other for crumbs, with their nose to the grindstone and nothing in their heads but dreams of sudden wealth and celebrity.

We can see the consequences of those apparently small differences between Bush and Gore and between these two parties pretty clearly now. Though most Democrats are too scared of appearing unpatriotic to do more than stutter, at least Al Gore has spoken forthrightly about the folly and arrogance of the Bush administration's march towards war, and its foreign policy pretensions that would make the Roman Empire jealous, especially as it was falling. We can hear echoes of Gore's campaign call to fight for middle class Americans who are being lacerated now, and who will have their futures mortgaged by Bush war and tax policies...

Other differences may seem smaller, but loom as large. Clearly, Gore would talk differently on global heating and other environmental matters, though even if he had become president, environmentalists would have had to keep the pressure on to get real change. But at least they wouldn't have to spend such an immense amount and proportion of energy and resources to even get the climate crisis on the table...

So we would not be seeing the folly now being perpetrated in Washington of replacing scientists with political and corporate hacks at EPA and on the federal scientific advisory boards to the CDC, the FDA and other agencies charged with health and safety. It's a virtual certainty that at some point people will get sick and die because of these decisions.

With the challenges inevitably ahead-the health impact of global heating alone is going to be monstrous---this small act may turn out to be among the most consequential, just as important as that handful of votes in Florida...

The premise that humanity and perhaps all life on earth is in real peril in this century is also a kind of starting point for discussions among respectable scientists and knowledgeable observers. A feature of collapse in its early stages, and perhaps even when it is well underway, is likely to be that not many people notice. They continue to judge problems in the same narrow frameworks; they fail to "connect the dots" in today's favorite cliché. There was an article in The New Yorker a few years back that caught my eye, called "The Tipping Point." ...The tipping point of the twenty-first century may very well turn out to be the moment American forces invade Iraq....