Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

an example of tube clouds, courtesy transportcafe
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Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Series

Here's the movie/ TV series we're apparently living in: Marty McFly goes back to the future and discovers that in the early 21st century the United States is becoming a totalitarian oligarchical pseudo-theocratic no-nothing paranoid dictatorship, thanks to the accession of George W. Bush to the presidency. Let's hope he's back to the past, figuring out how to prevent it so that this time-line can end.

Those of us inside this sad story are deep into Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the series, updated with cell phones and Internet Newspeak babble. Latest evidence centers on torture and the denial of Constitutional rights, and the astounding fact that Guantanamo, the American Gulag, is still open for business, and the Bushites are still fighting to retain their anti-Constitutional powers. There's the news that the CIA destroyed tapes of a torture session, and at least some outrage about it. It's clear now that so much of the Bushites' furious activity defending torture and spying is to protect their asses against courts to come.

Speaking of which, the Supreme Court is determining at this very late date just what rights those swept up by the Bushite Shock Doctrinaires in their war of terror really should have. On anything before the Court, I've found Linda Greenhouse to be the very best guide. Surprisingly, she seems to sense that the Court is not going to rubber-stamp the Bushite retrenchment to police state barbarism, but the actual decision won't happen until summer.

Another subplot of the series is the skittering towards theocracy and further intolerance, with damage not only to Constitutional freedoms but the unfettered creativity of thought so necessary to our particular future.

The Christian Right's political and organizational disarray, and the silence coming from the White House since reelection, may have suggested this is yesterday's news--until Mitt Romney's speech this week showed just how far we've fallen in recent decades. That the speech was billed as this Mormon candidate's statement mirroring JFK's famous speech to hostile Protestant ministers about being Catholic and running for President--that in fact Romney used JFK's speech as a virtual Cliff's Notes for his--showed how far we've moved from the Constitution.

There are a couple of good articles at salon on the subject (and as they point out, Mike Huckabee is an even more direct threat), but getting to them can be pretty annoying. And there's this specific comparison, with links to others. The JFK passage that's so telling is this one:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

Granted, that the "no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote" was a bit tongue in cheek, because even then the more fundamentalist wing was willing to do so. But it wasn't the norm, and it wasn't done openly. Of course now, it's become standard, and because it's accepted, so much more dangerous. Go back another 30 years to Sinclair Lewis warning that when dictatorship comes to America, it will come under the banner of Christianity.

Romney's speech didn't come out and call for America as a Christian nation (nor is Huckabee likely to, though he comes close), but he does attempt to hijack the Founding Fathers to support his notion that we've got no America, no Constitution, without organized religion and belief in God. Which god, whose god, that's never said, but it's part of the tradition to make a few references to "our Jewish friends" and even "our Catholic friends" while meaning the Protestant God. These days it's a little different than in the Christians vs. Communists 50s--there's more common cause among the most rabidly conservative wings of Protestant, Jewish and Catholic religions, as they come more and more to represent the whole of their bloc. Conservative--meaning traditional-- beliefs are honorable. Intolerance is another matter entirely, and that's where these folks are heading. Some of them are already there, openly. The next step is the Christian police state.

Romney's announced enemy is the "religion" of "secular humanism," a patently political attempt to make common cause with this contortion of categories spawned in the Reagan era that never quite caught on except as fund-raising bait in fundie mega-churches. Maybe a little better than the War on Christmas for rallying the Christian soldiers marching not as to, but to, war. Still, the implication leads to Guantanamo for secular humanists. Far-fetched? Look around, and tell me about far-fetched.

They'll be marching to war against their fellow countrymen, who must no longer be free to muse and make the most personal and most human judgments imaginable on the basic issues of our existence. To differ is to be cast out. It's as totalitarian as you can get, and leads directly to 1984 oppression and, even more directly, to dullness and stupidity.

Too bad. Really too bad. Because if we're going to have a future, we won't get there by mindless adherence to dogma, by blindness, dull comformity and stupidity. It is in enforcing these that religion becomes--in a kind of ultimate irony--soul-destroying. And these days, future-destroying too.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

Posted by Picasaby Ananganak Pootoogoo at

The Climate Solzhenitsyn

I've been meaning to pass along part of Bruce Sterling's latest post at Viridian Design. He says that Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize shows that taking the climate crisis seriously "pretty much wins the global culture war" though there will still be those in America "who hate and fear Al and all his works on principle, and always will." But here's his main point:

The good news is there's at least one American statesman left whom the world considers of Nobel class caliber. Gore's a kind of climate Solzhenitsyn in the midst of a dark regime. People from outside the Soviet Union used to look at Nobelist Solzhenitsyn and think: "Well, we can't give up on 'em; here's this heroic guy endlessly scraping up and archiving true data about gulags and torture and prisons, even when the regime denies such things exist." In the continental superpower biz, what goes around comes around.

I'd like to engage in some brisk triumphalism here... yeah, like I won the goddamn prize by sending a lot of emails... but I prefer to take a lead from Al's own sobering response. Al's not making any big deal of this. I suspect that's because Al has sincerely and actually come to realize, on some bone-deep, post-cynical, wolves-at-the-door level, that there really is a global climate crisis. That's not a vehicle for generating Al Gore worship. It's an emergency. A deep, terrible, lasting emergency whose permanent scars for society all lie ahead of us.

Sterling has moved to Torino, Italy--a place I've wanted to visit for awhile, although I was more interested in the cafes and the chocolate, while Sterling is rhapsodic about what the city is doing to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. He's exhilarated about being there--the city of the future for real! It may not be universally transferable, especially to less cosmopolitan places like this one, but it sounds great. As long as they keep the cafes and the chocolate.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


It's about a month until the Iowa caucus and this fateful election really begins. Here's my prediction for the Iowa result:

1. John Edwards
2. Barack Obama
3. Hillary Clinton

1. Mitt Romney
2. Huckabee
3. John McCain

The most daring prediction there is McCain coming in as high as third. If he does come in third, he could win New Hampshire. Among the Dems, even with a second place showing, Iowa might help Obama the most for New Hampshire. Of course a lot can happen in a month. But the sense of inevitability for Hillary and Rudy has gone, at least for the moment. Then again, this could be a very weird year, when what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire doesn't matter as much as it did in 2004.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Dreaming Up Daily Image

noctilucent clouds in Arctic regions are a new kind
of clouds that may be related to global heating.
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Climate Crisis: The Democratic Plan

Update: On the Rec List at European Tribune and Docudharma.

In a previous post, I analyzed the emerging Republican plan for the Climate Crisis. Basically it is to mix denial with assertions of doing something, in order to essentially do nothing (or not enough) to stop greenhouse gas pollution, while waiting to use the opportunity of a climate-related disaster in the U.S. to shift attention to their version of crisis management, which is disaster capitalism.

The Democrats are much different, yet there are also two sets of problems I foresee for them--one of which has pretty much the same result as the Republican plan, and the other involves a lack of preparation for near-term crisis, and how the Republicans are likely to try to take advantage of that.

Crucial to this analysis is my insistence that the Climate Crisis has two very different parts: the threat of truly catastrophic changes in the future if we don't stop greenhouse pollution now (the "Stop It" component) and the need to address serious problems and disasters that are going to happen in the relatively near future because of climate change--problems it is too late to stop (the "Fix It" component.)

"Stop It" Requires Focus and Strength

On the need to address the Climate Crisis, on its predominant importance, and on the need to reduce greenhouse gases, the major Democrats--the congressional leadership and especially the presidential candidates--are all saying the right things. They clearly recognize the needs in the Stop It arena. The question here is: will they follow through with action that is sufficiently strong?

This question is dramatized by the UN climate crisis conference in Bali that began Monday. A quote from an AP story on its beginning hour: "The eyes of the world are upon you. There is a huge responsibility for Bali to deliver," said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the conference. "The world now expects a quantum leap forward."

The question is: do the Democrats have the will and the ability to lead that quantum leap? Several of the candidates have fairly bold proposals, though not as extensive or creative as those proposed by Al Gore in his congressional testimony last March--and this was before the latest scientific information and observations that generally show things are getting worse faster than previously believed. Endorsing this complete list would be a better start.

For the task ahead is monumental. We need to essentially end greenhouse gas pollution by mid century, and we've heard political leaders around the world state this--yet despite those words, emissions of the two most important greenhouse gases hit an all time high in 2006.

In the U. S. an obvious requirement would seem to be the election of a Democrat as President, and a Congress with a working Democratic majority. But that alone is unlikely to be enough. The nation must be focused on this effort--and related energy, economic, health and environmental matters--so to make that possible, it seems necessary that these candidates make the Climate Crisis a priority issue in their campaigns.

So far that hasn't happened, though it is much more of an issue this time than in 2004 or 2000, both with the candidates and the public. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told the Washington Post: "It's a huge issue. I've been stunned by this," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who found in a May poll that energy independence and global warming were cited as America's most important domestic challenge by 29 percent of respondents, second only to health care. "I think this is a top-tier voting issue that has crossover appeal," Greenberg said.

But it can't be a stealth issue, important to the public but not discussed as a major issue in public. That's where the problem is. The predispositions of the TV networks and other sponsors of the debate have made discussing the issue almost impossible. There is rarely even a related question. Planting a question in a campaign event audience on the climate crisis is the least of the sins of Hillary Clinton's staff--it may well have been a public service. When a debate was devoted to the topic in Los Angeles, only three of the candidates even showed up: Hillary, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Although I can't find any reference to it online at the moment, I read that there will be another such debate in New Hampshire--where it is a major campaign issue--involving candidates from both parties, with the Republican team captained by Ahnold, and the Democrats by Al Gore.

Years ago Bill McKibben used a phrase I still think is essential--he said that there had to be "emotional consensus" to effectively address the Climate Crisis. That's an emotional consensus in the American citizenry large enough to form a wave that sweeps change ahead of it. The next President will have to be the FDR of Climate Change, only this President won't have the stark reality of the Depression or World War II in front of the public every day--there will be signs and manifestations, but most of it will be in the future--including nearly everything that ending greenhouse gases pollution can accomplish.

If candidates are elected because of their commitment to stop greenhouse pollution, then there is a chance for change. But it will also require courage and concentration to actually do what is necessary. It will mean resisting politics as usual, and the usual compromises over substance. There will come a time, quite soon, when no respectable politician in either or any party will deny the reality of the Climate Crisis, any more than now deny that smoking causes cancer. But will legislation and presidential initiatives be strong enough? That's going to be the question.

Reading the writing on the wall, businesses--especially in the energy sector--are already advocating that the Climate Crisis be addressed, and they want to be players in devising how. Some of them may only want to make sure these efforts are sustainable. But some of them are probably angling to make these efforts as weak as possible.

We've already seen stronger legislation in Congress dropped by its sponsors in favor of weaker bills that can get more support, especially from Republicans. But this time the price of too little, too late may be the end of civilization, the end of life as we know it on the planet, or simply unstoppable centuries of suffering.

"Fix It": Anticipate or Lose

As hard as the conceptual leap will be to act now to create results in the far future, there's an equal or even greater conceptual challenge. Disasters and longer lasting catastrophes are going to happen, and sooner or later they will be understood as manifestations of the Climate Crisis. They're happening now, though either not in the large population areas of the U.S., or they are "natural" phenomena (droughts, heatwaves, storms) people have seen in the past, unrelated to global heating. But that connection will be made, perhaps in a big way, fairly soon. And in our either/or culture (particularly political culture), we may find it too difficult, too complicated, too "nuanced" to see the need to Fix the problems in the present and near future, while still Stopping the more catastrophic effects in the far future.

I believe some Republicans are ready to jump on such disasters as a way of owning the issue, and of deflecting change from efforts to end greenhouse pollution towards efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate crisis effects as they happen in the present or very near future. Conversely, I don't see evidence that Democrats are thinking about these problems, or talking about them. And if they aren't ready to respond when something happens, they may be leaving themselves open to devastating political attack.

Republicans--and even some Democrats--may well take advantage of anxiety and even panic by saying we can't afford to worry about the far future--we need to use all our resources to save ourselves in the present, and if we need to burn fossil fuels at a high rate to do it, we must.

Democrats must be ready for this argument. They must be ready to assert responsibility for the present and the future, at the same time. They must be ready to address disasters and crises, not with the "disaster capitalism" and fearmongering for political advantage that the Bushites used in response to 9-11, with the bogus war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, all to profit their corporate cronies. Or how they responded to Katrina, by using the disaster to rid the Gulf of the poor and people of color, while enriching corporate cronies.

Many of us realize the immense difference in response to 9-11 and Katrina that America would have seen if the Supreme Court had not appointed G.W. Bush, and Al Gore had become President in 2000. Democrats must articulate for the nation at large just what those different kinds of responses would be, and will be. Democrats must take this issue away from Republicans--a pre-emptive strike, if you like.

Democrats must make it clear that with the leadership of government, the cooperation and help of progressive business and unions, and the compassion and commitment of citizens, together we can address both parts of the Climate Crisis simultaneously: we can Fix what needs to be fixed for ourselves and the peoples of the world already in trouble, while we Stop greenhouse gases pollution from destroying the future.