Saturday, July 19, 2008

Leading the Way

Barack Obama meets with troops in Kuwait before
going on to Afghanistan Saturday. Also today, a
German newspaper reported Iraqi Prez Maliki
backing Obama's 16 month timeframe
for U.S.
troops to withdraw from Iraq, a story mistakenly
sent to the American press by the interns currently
running the White House. British PM Gordon Brown
also reportedly backs Obama's plan. A key statement
in the Maliki report: "The Americans have found
it difficult to agree on a concrete timetable for the exit
because it seems like an admission of defeat to them.
But it isn't," Maliki told Der Spiegel...Now who was supposed
to be the foreign policy leader in this presidential race?
Monday Update: While the Bush administration issued a claim
by an Iraqi official that Maliki had been mistranslated, the New
York Times found that the translation was accurate. Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Turning

" Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans -- in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen."---Al Gore

"I've been an oil man all my life, and this is one emergency we're not going to drill our way out of."--T. Boone Pickens

Update: Al Gore made a surprise appearance Saturday
at the Netroots convention in Texas: Mr. Gore spoke for a few minutes, noting that the polar ice cap, which is about the size of the continental United States and has been there for three million years, has a 75-to-80 percent chance of completely melting in five years.Posted by Picasa

In the Wind

Gasoline prices have captured the attention of the American people, and nobody who lives in California (where we've experienced the largest fire event in state history, and it's still early in the fire season) or elsewhere in the West (persistent drought continues), the Midwest (massive flooding, storms) or the East (heat waves, tornados) can fail to be at least uneasy about what they hear global heating is doing to the planet. Even the Bush-tainted Environmental Protection Energy has just said that climate change poses substantial threats to human health in the near future.

So more people are speaking out and proposing plans that attack both problems, and more people are listening. Thursday Al Gore unveiled an ambitious plan to generate all of America's electricity with zero greenhouse gases within ten years--the length of time between JFK's goal of a man on the moon, and the realization of that goal. Senator Obama promptly endorsed Gore's proposal, and others--including well-known blogger on energy and investment banker Jerome a Paris--promptly showed how this idea can in fact be achieved. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.--my nominee for EPA or Energy secretary in the Obama administration--wrote about this last week.

Gore's proposal included new impetus for plug-in hybrids, and once again endorsed the idea of a carbon tax, which NASA climate expert Dr. James Hansen also proposed in his testimony to Congress.

Usually when gas prices go up, there is an outcry for more oil drilling in the U.S., including in offshore and wilderness areas. Sure enough, Republicans and some craven Democrats are talking that talk again--but there are signs it may not work this time. And one of the biggest indications comes from a very unlikely source.

If you didn't know who T. Boone Pickens was, if you've watched any TV recently you've seen his face by now. Pickens is a billionaire oilman and financial conniver, so ultra conservative that he bankrolled the despicable Swift Boat Veterans ads that libeled John Kerry's Vietnam War combat heroism and gave us four more disastrous years of Bush.

But now his face is on his own TV commercials, talking about the need for a new energy policy to radically cut the amount of oil America imports. But his proposal depends not on more domestic production, but on wind power for electricity (much as Gore's plan does) and natural gas for cars and other vehicles (the more controversial idea.) Pickens stands to make money on it all, which is actually a strong argument in its favor: it signals to other old capitalists that it's time to put their capital in new businesses. While Gore calls for a new Apollo program, Pickens wants private enterprise to get behind his idea, although he sees a big role for government, too: his metaphor is the federal highway program instituted by President Eisenhower in the 1950s.

His commercials have saturated TV for a few weeks now, and regardless of how good his specific proposals are, there is one moment that is as major a signal for the turning now underway towards a new renewable, sustainable clean energy future.

It's when Pickens looks into the camera and drawls, "I've been an oil man all my life, but this is one emergency we're not going to drill our way out of."

And sure enough, it is Pickens' state of Texas, American symbol of the oil economy, that made dramatic news Thursday: Texas, headquarters of America's oil industry, is about to stake a fortune on wind power.
In what experts say is the biggest investment in the clean and renewable energy in U.S. history, utility officials in the Lone Star State gave preliminary approval Thursday to a $4.9 billion plan to build new transmission lines to carry wind-generated electricity from gusty West Texas to urban areas like Dallas.

Al Gore put it this way: "Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges -- the economic, environmental and national security crises.

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.

But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we're holding the answer to all of them right in our hand."

The answer my friend is at last blowing in the wind. And that's a wind of change.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Get Sick and Die

Nothing exposes the ethics of greed like the
American "health care" system (as Orwell would
have called it.) The choice is to pay extortion to
insurance companies and be denied good care,
or stop paying that extortion, and be denied any
care at all. The result is high tech medicine with
medieval results. But it makes some folks rich
enough that they don't have to depend on insurance.
Posted by Picasa

Only in America: Worst Health Care in Developed World

From Reuters:

"The United States fails on most measures of health care quality, with Americans waiting longer to see doctors and more likely to die of preventable or treatable illnesses than people in other industrialized countries, a report released on Thursday said.

Americans squander money on wasteful administrative costs, illnesses caused by medical error and inefficient use of time, the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund concluded.

The United States fell from 15th to last among 19 industrialized nations on this measure from 2006 to 2008. The report estimated the U.S. health care system could save 100,000 lives if it matched Japan or France, the top performers."

What's different about American health care? It's controlled by insurance companies for their profit and everybody else's suffering.

On top of that, the money taken in by insurance companies just to administer their increasingly punitive and criminal system is the highest in the industrial world, double Japan's and six times that of the most efficient country, Finland.

The rate of infant mortality in the U.S. is more than double Sweden's, and three times that of Japan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Birth of the Bomb

The first atomic bomb was exploded on this date, July 16, in 1945.

In the first photo, the bomb in its tower.

In the second, witnesses examine the remains of the tower after the blast. They include scientists who built it, like Robert Oppenheimer (in the incongruous white hat) and General Leslie Groves, military commander of the project, who would make a career out of lying about the power and radiation effects of atomic explosions.
Photos from Wired magazine.Posted by Picasa

Two Quotes From the First Atomic Explosion

"If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."

From the Bhagavad Gita, as quoted by Robert Oppenheimer, the "father" of the Bomb.

"Now we are all sons-of-bitches."

Dr. Kenneth Bainbridge, site director of the first explosion.

Both quoted in today's article in Wired.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama and the World

Barack Obama added to his specific strategies
outlined yesterday on Iraq with a vision for
a foreign policy future linked to a stronger America at
home. Two of his five priorities are reducing and
eliminating nuclear weapons, and confronting the
Climate Crisis and energy security. Soon he'll be
traveling to Europe and elsewhere, demonstrating
what a presidency will look like that engages with
other nations, and what it will be like to again live
in an America respected and befriended in the world.
More on the speech in the post below. Posted by Picasa

Barack on Iraq, Climate Crisis and America in the World

From Barack Obama's speech today, and his sweeping vision of America in the world (text; video)

What We Could Have Done in the past 7 years, instead of invading Iraq:

"We could have deployed the full force of American power to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all of the terrorists responsible for 9/11, while supporting real security in Afghanistan.

We could have secured loose nuclear materials around the world, and updated a 20th century non-proliferation framework to meet the challenges of the 21st.

We could have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in alternative sources of energy to grow our economy, save our planet, and end the tyranny of oil.

We could have strengthened old alliances, formed new partnerships, and renewed international institutions to advance peace and prosperity.

We could have called on a new generation to step into the strong currents of history, and to serve their country as troops and teachers, Peace Corps volunteers and police officers.

We could have secured our homeland—investing in sophisticated new protection for our ports, our trains and our power plants. We could have rebuilt our roads and bridges, laid down new rail and broadband and electricity systems, and made college affordable for every American to strengthen our ability to compete.

We could have done that. Instead, we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. "

What We Should Do: the five foreign policy priorities of the Obama presidency:

"I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

On nuclear weapons:

"Beyond taking these immediate, urgent steps, it’s time to send a clear message: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons. As long as nuclear weapons exist, we must retain a strong deterrent. But instead of threatening to kick them out of the G-8, we need to work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert; to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of our nuclear weapons and material; to seek a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons; and to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global. By keeping our commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we’ll be in a better position to press nations like North Korea and Iran to keep theirs. In particular, it will give us more credibility and leverage in dealing with Iran."

(In this regard, see Obama's latest 30 second campaign ad.)

On energy security:

This immediate danger is eclipsed only by the long-term threat from climate change, which will lead to devastating weather patterns, terrible storms, drought, and famine. That means people competing for food and water in the next fifty years in the very places that have known horrific violence in the last fifty: Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Most disastrously, that could mean destructive storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline.

This is not just an economic issue or an environmental concern – this is a national security crisis. For the sake of our security – and for every American family that is paying the price at the pump – we must end this dependence on foreign oil. And as President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Small steps and political gimmickry just won’t do. I’ll invest $150 billion over the next ten years to put America on the path to true energy security. This fund will fast track investments in a new green energy business sector that will end our addiction to oil and create up to 5 million jobs over the next two decades, and help secure the future of our country and our planet.

We’ll invest in research and development of every form of alternative energy – solar, wind, and biofuels, as well as technologies that can make coal clean and nuclear power safe. And from the moment I take office, I will let it be known that the United States of America is ready to lead again.

Never again will we sit on the sidelines, or stand in the way of global action to tackle this global challenge. I will reach out to the leaders of the biggest carbon emitting nations and ask them to join a new Global Energy Forum that will lay the foundation for the next generation of climate protocols. We will also build an alliance of oil-importing nations and work together to reduce our demand, and to break the grip of OPEC on the global economy. We’ll set a goal of an 80% reduction in global emissions by 2050. And as we develop new forms of clean energy here at home, we will share our technology and our innovations with all the nations of the world. That is the tradition of American leadership on behalf of the global good. And that will be my fifth goal – rebuilding our alliances to meet the common challenges of the 21st century. "

Monday, July 14, 2008

Profile in Courage

Last week, Senator Ted Kennedy made a dramatic
appearance in the U.S. Senate, his first since beginning
cancer treatments. He was there to cast the deciding
vote on a bill to prevent Medicare cuts in fees to doctors,
which would have thrown the system into chaos. It was
the first victory on health care in a long time, an encouraging
sign for universal health care next year, and Kennedy's presence--
and his longtime advocacy on this issue--changed some Republican
votes. Of course, Senator Obama voted with Kennedy. The only
Senator not present to vote that day: John McCain.Posted by Picasa

Barack on Iraq

The news from Iraq last week was not encouraging to the McCain plan for endless war there: at least 3 officials of the Iraqi government, on three separate occasions, expressed their desire that the U.S. withdraw its occupying forces, and set up a timetable to do so. Further, the Iraqi government forced the Bushites to back off their demands for an agreement that would allow permanent U.S. occupied bases, as well as provide enormous oil concessions.

Today Barack Obama used those events to reiterate his own plan for Iraq which was so bizarrely distorted in a media frenzy replicating a false McCain campaign charge. Obama notes:

"The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep. Unlike Senator John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president. I believed it was a grave mistake to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban by invading a country that posed no imminent threat and had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have died and we have spent nearly $1 trillion. Our military is overstretched. Nearly every threat we face — from Afghanistan to Al Qaeda to Iran — has grown."

Obama reinterates his positions on an immediate policy of withdrawal : " As I’ve said many times, we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months...In carrying out this strategy, we would inevitably need to make tactical adjustments. As I have often said, I would consult with commanders on the ground and the Iraqi government to ensure that our troops were redeployed safely, and our interests protected."

Obama concludes: "In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender. It’s not going to work this time. It’s time to end this war."

Obama will soon go to Iraq on a fact-finding mission with a Democratic and a Republican Senator, both veterans. There is right now a fascinating report from Iraq at the New York Review of Books by Michael Massing, who describes being embedded recently, the observations of troops there, and an overall context. His basic conclusion is not very far from Obama's: in certain ways, the situation has improved--but it hasn't made any real difference for the U.S. He quotes a military intelligence officer: "If we weren't here, there are a lot of people who'd be dead the next day. But we're spinning our wheels. Al-Qaeda is defeated, but now we face Iraq's internal problems. They have to be handled politically and socially... we're ultimately occupiers. And I don't think you can democratize a country by being occupiers. Though we've made a lot of progress, the core issues remain. And if we can't find a political solution to them, we'll never get out of here."

While many in the military held similar views, Massing found that the truly clueless were the Bushite diplomats isolated in the Green Zone. He had lunch with one such official: "How often, I wondered, did he get out of the Green Zone to meet with Baghdad residents whose supply of electricity is down to two hours a day, or visit the pharmacies where basic medications like Tylenol are unavailable, or see the wretched tents and shacks where many of the two-million-plus internally displaced Iraqis have been forced to live?"

The article is rich in detail, but I also found one somewhat stunning item in the final footnote, an indication of where McCain's we'll be there for a hundred years idea came from. It came from Bush.

Massing quotes an interview NBC reporter Richard Engel did with Bush, in which Bush told him the war in Iraq "is going to take forty years."

So that's the choice? Not only four more years with McBush--but forty more years in Iraq?