Thursday, August 09, 2007

A tornado blows down the tree growing in Brooklyn. Yes,
New York City. Photo: New York Times.
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The Climate Crisis

Can You Hear Me Now? (A Tornado Grows in Brooklyn)

If Gaia is trying to send a message to the U.S. government about the Climate Crisis, she may finally have hit on a way to get through. Because it wasn't quite enough that scientists recently confirmed that the duration of heat waves has doubled in Europe since the 1880s. Or that the early part of 2007 was the hottest since that 1880 as well for the globe as a whole.

And in the department of what have you done to me lately, the fires in southern California weren't enough, nor in the past week the fire emergency that the governor of Montana declared, nor the West Nile virus emergency in three counties that the governor of California declared.

But now there is a major heat wave gripping the eastern U.S., and even though Congress is not in session, the record-breaking temperature of 102 degrees in Washington has attracted notice. The heat is accompanied by haze and toxic air, and has slowed down the Washington subways. As the Washington Post notes, "Because excessive heat can bend steel rails, trains were held to speeds of less than 45 mph, rather than the usual 59 mph. The trains also were operated manually rather than automatically."

And speaking of subways, what happened in New York City? Here's how an AP story began: A torrential downpour sent water surging through New York's subway system and highway tunnels and across airport runways Wednesday, leaving thousands of commuters stranded and one big question: How could 3 inches of rain bring the nation's largest mass transit system to a halt?

Good question. And I can almost hear Gaia now, looking a lot like Al Jolson just after he sang the first song ever heard in a movie: "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

But the touch of Gaia genius may well have been the tornado that accompanied this storm. Yes, a tornado. In Brooklyn. It tore up entire neighborhoods, forced some 30 people from their homes. There is no record of a tornado in Brooklyn before this one.

Like anything that happens in Washington or New York, this may have gotten some attention. At the very least, there may be fewer Climate Crisis doubters in Brooklyn.

This Is Sports

Barry Bonds, after breaking the all-time U.S. major league home run record on Tuesday in San Francisco with his 756th home run . On his next at bat, Wednesday night, he hit his 757th.
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This Is Not Sports

Steve Skvara, retired steelworker who asked the question at the Democratic candidates debate in Chicago that brought reality to the election process. See post below.
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What's Wrong With America?

The debate among Democratic candidates for President on Tuesday was especially interesting because it was held before a huge throng of union workers at an AFL-CIO convention, and they were responsible for some of the questions--including some of the best, and the one that is likely to be most remembered.

After standing patiently on his crutches waiting for the microphone, a man later identified as Steve Skavara asked this:

After thirty-four years with LTV Steel, I was forced to retire because of a disability. Two years later, LTV filed bankruptcy. I lost a third of my pension, and my family lost their healthcare. Every day of my life I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted thirty-six years of her life to my family, and I can't afford to pay for her healthcare. What's wrong with America, and what will you do to change it? (This quote and excerpts from the debate can be found at Democracy Now.)

There are a lot of answers to that question, but if these candidates don't attempt to answer it--both about health care specifically and the larger question about the country--then another answer to what's wrong with America will be, our leaders aren't good enough.

The moment was fraught with the reality of one family's life, and how it is shaped by political decisions--in this case the decisions not to do what every other advanced nation in the West does and make getting medical care a right, and not to keep corporations from their outrageous robbing of workers, by not even keeping faith with their own obligations. When he finished his question, with tremulous voice, the stadium erupted in cheers--the shared pain of the non-rich super-majority, victimized by the faceless persons called corporations and their super-rich masters.

The moment was such that reporter Jonathan Alter turned to his sons with him in the stadium and said, "This is not sports." As he explained on Countdown, he meant that while the media likes to maintain one sports analogy or another--the horserace, or the boxing match (and everybody from the big dailies to the Huffington Post online glories in the conflict drama, saying "the gloves are off" when the candidates disagree with each other)--this was a reminder that what's going on here has real world consequences, for people who live but one brief life.

As for the debate itself, it was notable also an opportunity to see candidates try to appeal to the people there even more than the TV audience. Not too many people watch these debates, but the unions are important in Democratic politics and the AFL-CIO endorsement is worth a lot ( though none of them in the end got it, at least not yet.) Hillary had possibly the best (and perhaps most calculated line) when she told them that she'd been fighting the right wing for a long time and if they want a proven leader "I'm your girl." She also had the worst line, destined to haunt her, when she suggested that candidates should not say everything that they think. This will easily be twisted into having her say that candidates should not say what they really think.

Other impressions are just that, from those that agree with the babbleheads (that John Edwards may have lost his best chance to be a serious contender by not performing well--and being outperformed by Dennis Kucinich) and those that are perhaps more my own (I can't stand Hillary's hit man Wolfson, who Chris Matthews brought on in the so-called analysis afterwards, actually a pointless exercise of candidates' surrogates debating.)

The truth is that nothing means very much in terms of winners and losers until the first ballots are cast in Iowa (or wherever the first caucus or primary turns out being), and then they mean just about everything. Only Obama and Hillary can afford to lose even one of the early contests, but Obama must win several. If he does--if he starts with the first win and rolls on for awhile--then the big gap in the current national polls won't mean much. Probably unfortunately for the process, it looks like people will be so anxious, and so sick of this already long campaign, that the fate of the world may hinge on what happens in a few days or a couple of weeks with a relatively small number of votes. In this regard, it's worse than sports, where championships are decided in a more orderly way, with a series of playoffs and/or a series of final games. If only we would take elections as seriously.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Arcata sunset
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The Daily Babble

A Modest Proposal

I propose a one year moratorium on politicians and TV babbleheads beginning sentences with, "Look..." It's ubiquitous and more than annoying. As an obvious claim to expertise, or more specifically the truth of the matter, it is as offensive as it is vain. LOOK--I'm cutting through the clutter of everyone else's bullshit, and giving you the true view of what's really going on, what really happened and what's really going to happen.

Humans use hearing to monitor the environment and warn of potential threats, but if you sense a threat and you need to know where it is exactly and how fast it is coming at you, you look. That gets our attention. But as a rhetorical device, "Look--" has been ruined by overuse. Now it just signals membership in a pack of chattering primates, swinging through the trees of Washington, DC, with the ability to board airplanes and look into cameras to chatter elsewhere. Look--they often talk nonsense and tell lies, which you can verify for yourself if you just listen.

On something that really matters, Constitutional lawyer and respected blogger Glenn Greenwald encapsulates what the new wireless wiretapping law really means: it enables the Bushites to legally “listen to our conversations, read our e-mails, with no connection to terrorism, with no proof that anyone has ever done anything wrong.”

The Think Progress blog has also provided summaries and links to editorials denouncing this law in major newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and LA Times.

60's Now

Peter, Paul and Mary at Wolf Trap. A Daily Kos diary commenting on discovering that
"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and the emotions it evoked in the "Vietnam people"
of the 60s are relevant to Iraqnam today is excerpted with comments on the draft at my blog, 60's Now.
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Monday, August 06, 2007

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(Yet Another) Day of Shame

The craven Congress helped the Bushites push America one large step closer to totalitarian dictatorship and the destruction of the U.S. Constitution yesterday. The New York Times says it simply:

"President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States. They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens.

“This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, who has studied the new legislation."

It's hard to say which is worse: the provisions of the law, or the way it was enacted. The provisions make none other than Alberto Gonzales, rather than even the previous (and already repugnant) "secret court" of at least bona fide judges, the final arbiter of what is and isn't legal and Constitutional about the wireless wiretaps. It may immunize those responsible for these outrages against the Constitution from prosecution later. The way it was enacted was at the last minute before Congress left for recess, with extreme pressure and fear-mongering rhetoric from the Bushites.

The hardest to swallow is that it could not have happened without a sizable number of Democrats in the Senate and the House capitulating. Apparently told there was a terrorist attack on America planned this summer, they would be responsible if it happened. And once again they chose the politics of fear over the Constitution they are sworn to defend.

It's important to say however who "they" were. Those who voted for this law did not include any of the Democratic candidates for President now in Congress. "They" did not include Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Before the vote, I wrote to Speaker Pelosi with one question: "if you don't stand up for the Constitution, who will?" In her public remarks, she stated her concern that the Constitution was being violated, and she immediately issued a letter calling for the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees to draft new legislation for consideration immediately after the recess. “Many provisions of this legislation are unacceptable, and although the bill has a six month sunset clause, I do not believe the American people will want to wait that long before corrective action is taken,” she wrote.

Rep. Jerold Nadler had this to say during the debate:

"I do not believe we will soon be able to undo this damage. Rights given away are not easily regained. This bill is not needed to protect America from terrorists. The only purpose of this bill is to protect this administration from its own political problems and cynicism, and its own illegal actions it has taken outside the law without any authorization."

Yet Congress caved to a President so mistrusted by the people that it's doubtful he could get elected to the school board in Florida or even Texas. And Congress endorsed these powers less than a week after the FBI used a "classified search warrant" to break into the offices of a former Justice Department lawyer suspected of leaking information exposing this very warrantless wiretap program. The Secret Police are already at the door, and Congress legitimizes them.

It is (yet another) day of shame, and another step towards our 9/11 Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

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On the night that Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's record with his 755th home run, I was at a ballpark watching a baseball game. Not the big league park in San Diego where Bonds hit his historic homer, but at my home park in Arcata, watching the Humboldt Crabs play the Solano Mudcats in a twi-night doubleheader.

The Crabs and the teams they play are mostly college players, and some of them do end up in the Bigs. It was a great night at the ballpark. The first game was played in daylight, a bit of sunshine, a big of evening high fog. It was Hawaiian night, so plastic leis were given out at the gate, and some fans showed up in Hawaiian shirts. There were about 800 fans all told, which filled the bleachers, including the new ones along right field, the first time any have been added for the outfield. Lots of families, lots of kids. There was a brass band, playing all the old favorites--breaking into "Wild Thing" after a wild pitch, the drummer doing the sound of a ball hitting off a car parked outside when a foul ball leapt the fence, and it gets you every time.

The second game was after dark, with the green field and the infield dirt, the players in motion, all etched in a way that's unique to a baseball game under the lights. Most of the young children were gone, replaced by teenagers parading back and forth. There was a constant line for hamburgers made on the spot, and at the concession stand a teenage boy asked me politely if he could step in front of me to return some money he believed had been given to him by mistake, but the concessionaire assured him that it was the correct change. I had a hot dog and some nauchos, probably for the first time since the last time I came here for a game, which was alas several years ago. This was the last night game of the season for the Crabs, and as such clearly a community event. What impressed me was not only that the complete range of community people were there--every age, color, gender and gender preference, and young and old with various disabilities--but that there was tolerance and appreciation for eccentricities and wit.

As for the games, they were more competitive than the final scores indicate (the Crabs won both by a healthy margin, as they usually did this year) and the level of play was pretty good, with some excellent baseball moments--a couple of home runs (one for each team), timely hitting, exciting pitching, stellar fielding plays, including a catch with the center fielder's back against the fence in the dead center most distant point in the park, 368 ft. if memory serves. And this was wooden bats baseball.

I had a good time, and so I didn't especially envy the fans in San Diego. I've seen Barry Bonds hit homers, and I recall seeing Hank Aaron on TV when he broke Babe Ruth's total home run record. These days it's less the steroid allegations than all the money involved that puts me off--Roger Clemens is being paid just about a million dollars a game this season--and it's only going to get worse. The resulting hype is smothering.

I honor Bonds' achievement (ESPN had a great feature recounting the more than 400 pitchers who served up his home run pitches, including 6 brothers) and I'm impressed by the feats of today's players. But these days I'm happy in a ballpark that seats 800, watching line drives from right behind home plate, or watching the pitches while standing almost as close, listening to the play-by-play over a nearby speaker. There's a lot of baseball at a Crabs game--great catches, collisions, great strategy, strategy that backfires, close plays, bad calls, arguments, little guys hitting a ton, big guys bunting, a right fielder who nails a runner at third, a catcher who can't catch anybody stealing (9 Crabs mercilessly stole on him), etc. And the National Anthem sung with everybody silent and motionless, and half the park at a time being led by the band in singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game.