Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Tragedy Still Alive

A family in Dallas contemplates the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on its 45th anniversary, November 22. It looks like none of them had yet been born.

Getting Started Now

President-Elect Obama announces a two year plan to create 2.5 million new jobs. "These aren’t just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis; these are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long...It is time to act. As the next President of the United States, I will." Full text of this short message at American Dash.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Buddha's For You

This Buddhist temple in Thailand is built, inside and out, entirely of recycled beer bottles.

As General Motors Goes...

By Wednesday's end, Congress looked poised not to act on any measures to secure the nation's failing big car companies, which sent Wall Street plunging downward again.

Meanwhile Paul Krugman and others warned that the failure of one of these companies--General Motors seems the most vulnerable--could lead to a cascading catastrophe: and as General Motors goes, so goes the nation.

There are competing plans for quickly dispersing some $25 billion, but the Bush administration won't act on its own, and Congress apparently won't either. Some argue for letting these companies go bankrupt, or for a bankruptcy plan tailored to these companies so they can reorganize with the least pain all around. Others (like Barney Frank) argue that everything bankruptcy permits can be done without it--while the downside of bankruptcy is penalizing workers and stalling out car sales even further.

Once again, the warnings are very dire--especially that GM could fail and the cascade could begin before Obama and the new Congress take office, so that he may inherit not a bad recession but an onrushing Depression.

There's a certain apocalypse fatigue involved, as well as a suspicion of the boy who cried wolf. However, as a book about how the American steel industry collapsed noted in its title, in that old story, the wolf finally came.

But if crossing the point of no return on a major longterm blow to the American economy and America's place in the world doesn't focus enough minds in Washington, maybe this will:

China would maybe like to buy an American car company or two. Like General Motors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Climate Crisis President: "Delay is No Longer An Option"

Okay, it's another video of Barack Obama at a desk with that same brown background, but this one is VERY IMPORTANT. In three minutes he has changed U.S. policy on the Climate Crisis in the strongest possible way.

The Earth-Saving Story You Probably Missed

It's not an earth-shattering story, with or without the Daily Show animation. Instead it may be an earth-saving story. It was Tuesday's most important story, and just about everybody missed it.

The Global Climate Summit of five U.S. governors convened in California, and got an immediate surprise: a taped video statement by the President-Elect. The San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: In his first speech on global warming since winning the election, President-elect Barack Obama promised Tuesday to set stringent limits on greenhouse gases, saying the need is too urgent for delay.

Many observers had expected Obama to avoid tackling such a complex, contentious issue early in his administration. But in videotaped comments to the Governors' Global Climate Summit in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, he called for immediate action.

"Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all," Obama said. "Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high, the consequences too serious." He repeated his campaign promise to create a system that limits carbon dioxide emissions and forces companies to pay for the right to emit the gas. Using the money collected from that system, Obama plans to invest $15 billion each year in alternative energy. That investment - in solar, wind and nuclear power, as well as advanced coal technology - will create jobs at a time of economic turmoil, he said.

"It will ... help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating 5 million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," Obama said.

Many people listening to Obama's speech Tuesday had waited years to hear it."

There was yet another indication Tuesday that the Obama administration is going to take the Climate Crisis seriously and urgently: it was reported that Obama will appoint Peter Orszag as his Budget Director. Orszag, currently the budget director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, will be a crucial voice in setting budget priorities. But he is not just a numbers man. He has expertise on several crucial issues, including health care and the Climate Crisis.

Orszag lectured recently on climate change at Wellesley College. (His slides are posted on his blog--did he borrow any from Al?) For those who predict--or worry--that faced with looming deficits, Obama won't invest aggressively in addressing the Climate Crisis and starting work on a Green Deal economy, here are Orszag's words from this lecture: "Reducing the risks associated with climate change requires trading off up-front costs in exchange for long-term benefits." The lecture goes on to suggest ideas for reducing short-term costs, without sacrificing long-term benefits. But stating the principle first is very important.

Avatar, Baby

I don't usually do "weird news" here, but I clipped this story a few weeks ago and it still says something about the strange new world we're entering, as cyberspace meets real space, and both are real life.

A 43-year old woman in Japan, a piano teacher, was a devoted player in an interactive game called "Maple Story," with its virtual world, where she had met and married a 33 year old man, an office worker in another Japanese city. That is, her avatar married his avatar within that virtual world. As part of their online marriage, they exchanged log-in information.

Then one day the teacher logged on to find that he had divorced her. "Without a word of warning," she said. "That made me so angry." Angry enough for her to use his ID and password to get access to his avatar-- and to destroy it. In revenge for the virtual divorce, she committed virtual murder.

Enter the police. The real world police. They arrested her, and transported her 620 miles to another city, where the office worker lived and where, in their terms, the crime was committed. She was jailed, on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.

The office worker victim had apparently also been upset to find his avatar dead, and called the police.

The AP story I saw (in a real newspaper, so I have no online link) said she hadn't actually been charged yet, but the penalty for a conviction was up to five years in prison. Her real self, in a real prison, for five real years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Willingness to Try Things

Someday I'll learn digital video editing but the best I can do is post this chunk of President-Elect Obama's interview on 60 Minutes that includes several sections I found especially important. It picks up as he finishes talking about the financial crisis, then about executive orders, Iraq, Osama bin Laden, and then with a mention of a book on FDR, into the heart of his approach to what he's going to do, especially on the economy. He believes the American people want him to act, with "a willingness to try things," and the test isn't where ideas come from, or who proposed them or what ideology supports them, but whether they work.

It reminds me of something Will Rogers said as FDR was being inaugurated: "If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, 'Well, we at least got a fire started somehow.'" Things aren't anywhere near as bad as they were in 1932, but Obama understands that he was elected to do something--and precisely what he does matters less than the scale of it. He promised change. That's what he was elected to bring.

Hope, Fear and 60 Minutes

It seems that millions of Americans are awaiting Barack Obama's presidency with great anticipation. His 60 Minutes interview had a big audience--bigger than that program has had before in this century. He continues to get high approval ratings, and more than three-quarters of those surveyed by CNN are confident he will make the right choices for his Cabinet. The interest in his Inauguration is high, with upwards of a million people expected in Washington to witness it in some fashion. Update: DC officials said Tuesday they expect up to four million people for the Inauguration.

But in all this hope there is also fear, and some of it is ugly, and may be dangerous. Hundreds of incidents, most of them racial, have been recorded by police and other agencies across the country, including cross-burnings, vandalism and children chanting assassination.

This reactionary wave may be temporary. But even if these post-election reactions settle down, for other reasons we're in for a bumpy ride, for some months at least. The full impact of the economic crisis hasn't hit most people and most places yet. Many businesses will try to hang on through the holiday shopping season but with retail continuing to slide, by January there are apt to be more corporate bankruptcies and business failures, with more lost jobs. There's going to be a lot more anxiety and fear.

The best antidote is what we saw on 60 Minutes: a new President who speaks clearly, persuasively, and from the heart. Who is ready to act, and to keep trying things until something works. The more Barack Obama is seen and heard, the more confidence Americans will have. And the ignorant and misguided will either realize their fears are groundless, or they will simply find no support. While we must be vigilant to the real possibility of ugliness and even violence, we can't let it rule us.

In the coming weeks we will see a new administration unfold, and we will be called to participate in the great work ahead. We will all have our disappointments and disagreements. But Obama made it clear on 60 Minutes that he intends to do what he's promised in the campaign. What's been interesting to me is how consistent he's been in what he's said. We just hear and absorb more of it each time.

After 60 Minutes on Sunday, Margaret suggested that my grandmother would have approved of what we saw. It was an interesting remark, partly because Margaret never met my grandmother, who emigrated from Italy as a young wife and mother in the 1920s. But I had told Margaret that 60 Minutes was one of the few TV shows she always watched (along with Lawrence Welk and Family Feud)--only my grandmother called it "the clock."

But I think Margaret is right. The interplay between Barack and Michelle, and between Barack and the interviewer (Steve Croft), as well as what he had to say and how he said it, would probably have impressed her. She was wary of black people, but a nice suit and good manners went a long with her. I'm sure she looked for honesty in a candidate, and she was predisposed to Democrats. (Of course, that he left the campaign to visit his ailing grandmother would have won her vote and her heart right there.) But what usually sold her was intelligence. I can hear what she would say about Obama: "He's smart."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Hopeful Than Ever

President-elect Barack Obama in a YouTube version of the Democratic party weekly radio address, of about 3 minutes. He calls for Congress to immediately pass unemployment benefits extension, and again promises, "If Congress does not pass an immediate plan that gives the economy the boost it needs, I will make it my first order of business as President." He says that the change we need will require sacrifice and a renewed sense of service and community. "I am more hopeful than ever...We rise or fall as one nation, one people..."