Friday, February 20, 2009

Trinidad Head, CA. February 7, 2009.

One Month and Counting

It's a month today since President Obama was inaugurated. His achievements for that tiny amount of time are remarkable, and the forward momentum remains considerable.

In terms of the past, he has reversed the slide into official disgrace represented by Guantanamo and torture, and his administration is busy reversing other destructive acts and trends of the Bushite years--though it's important to note that institutionally this will all take time, especially as Bushites are still burrowed deep in the bureaucracy and the judiciary.

For the future, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act gives muscle to the pronouncements and change in tone and trajectory, with promise of more to come. As the Sierra Club's Carl Pope writes, "There's never been a month -- not at least since the heady days of the early 1970s -- when environmental policy has moved so dramatically towards a sustainable future. The challenge now is to keep up the pace."

There are big problems and big programs in the next months, but I hope that the President can soon mobilize the spirit of service that he inspired in the campaign.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yes We CANada!

A shout-out to our friends in Canada on the day President Obama came to call, on his first official state visit, to Ottawa. Click image to enlarge.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jump-Starting the Future

President Obama and Vice President Biden examine solar panels atop the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where he signed the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with the young entrepreneur whose solar business will benefit. And so will the future. See more in the post below.

Captain Science

He's been adding that little bit of emphasis everywhere he can: in the Inaugural Address, in his Lincoln's birthday speech when he mentioned Darwin's birthday, and substantively, in the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But in choosing to sign the Act at the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, President Obama made it crystal clear that he's going to be Captain Science, and President of the Future.

He was introduced by a young entrepreneur who is going to be helped by the stimulus spending in the Act, but check out his business: solar energy. Together he and the President examined some of his solar panels on the roof of the Museum.

It's clear as well in the President's words at the ceremony. After talking about investing in America's future by the Act's spending on infrastructure, education and health care, he said:

"Because we know we can't power America's future on energy that's controlled by foreign dictators, we are taking a big step down the road to energy independence, and laying the groundwork for a new, green energy economy that can create countless well-paying jobs. It's an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years, and provide tax credits and loan guarantees to companies like Namaste Solar, a company that will be expanding, instead of laying people off, as a result of the plan I am signing.

In the process, we will transform the way we use energy. Today, the electricity we use is carried along a grid of lines and wires that dates back to Thomas Edison – a grid that can't support the demands of clean energy. This means we're using 19th and 20th century technologies to battle 21st century problems like climate change and energy security. It also means that places like North Dakota can produce a lot of wind energy, but can't deliver it to communities that want it, leading to a gap between how much clean energy we are using and how much we could be using.

The investment we are making today will create a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for the broader use of alternative energy. We will build on the work that's being done in places like Boulder, Colorado – a community that is on pace to be the world's first Smart Grid city. This investment will place Smart Meters in homes to make our energy bills lower, make outages less likely, and make it easier to use clean energy. It's an investment that will save taxpayers over one billion dollars by slashing energy costs in our federal buildings by 25% and save working families hundreds of dollars a year on their energy bills by weatherizing over one million homes. And it's an investment that takes the important first step towards a nationwide transmission superhighway that will connect our cities to the windy plains of the Dakotas and the sunny deserts of the Southwest.

Even beyond energy, from the National Institutes of Health to the National Science Foundation, this recovery act represents the biggest increase in basic research funding in the long history of America's noble endeavor to better understand our world. Just as President Kennedy sparked an explosion of innovation when he set America's sights on the moon, I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs that will make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Far Out

From the Hubble telescope. I've lost the link to what it is exactly, but it's far out, right? Especially when you click photo to enlarge.

Paying Attention

It's daunting to look at the little video below--to see those changes happening so quickly and on so large a scale--and to see them in the light of the ongoing global economic crisis, which some are seeing as causing major shifts in the U.S. (as well as being potentially dangerous to the U.S.). There are even some who feel that this--especially as it may dovetail with accelerating effects from the Climate Crisis--signals the end of our civilization's forward momentum (if that's what it is), with decades of serious retrenchment to come.

I don't know what to make of this, especially since I pretty much got out of the parade as the digital age (computers, Internet, blogs) became the network age (Iphones, MySpace), and I'm up here in an isolation zone on the North Coast. But I do know a few things about the future, and I do have some specific worries.

One of those worries is that things are moving too fast and are getting too big for our ability to respond thoughtfully as a polity and a global society. Think of all the changes that got us into this economic mess, and they were mostly the result of decisions by a relatively few people in a few isolated networks, with no rules applied for the larger good, and no sense of responsibility to the larger society. The more we're learning about it, the more it seems it was built on networked delusions and individual's lies.

We're also seeing that even with this lightning-fast passage of the recovery package, we're seriously hampered by fossilized thinking and stubborn and selfish political and economic interests. This is even clearer in California, where the state is seriously imperiled by delusional but stubborn politicans whose power is multiplied because of the complexity and interconnections of things. Even people who think destroying government is the solution may contribute to redressing balances, but things are happening too fast on too big a scale for that now. We may not be able to afford those people holding power, just as we really can't afford Climate Crisis Deniers with influence, yet there goes George Will, repeating falsehoods that have been proven false over and over again. There really isn't a solution, except for the media and the public to wise up faster, so it's a worry.

As for the ship of state, we're finding that it takes awhile to turn it around. Meanwhile, things are changing fast, and big.

The other worry is related. Things are happening faster and bigger, and the network age is selecting for massive social contact, with the danger of intense groupthink and conformity, as well as much less stepping back and evaluating what's going on. My specific worry is too much dependence and not enough redundancy. We're unbelievably dependent on cell phones and microwave technology, on satellites and the Internet. Those are all vulnerable systems, and nobody seems to be thinking about that.

People--as well as entire economies--are becoming dependent on new technologies much faster than ever before. For some, there are no replacements or redundancies if something goes wrong. For others, the new technologies are destroying the old much faster than ever before. Sometimes that's got aesthetic consequences mostly--like imperfect digital photography destroying film, a better quality medium for still photography. But the consequences could be greater and worse--look at all the people who don't have a landline phone, or who are ready to give up the infrastructure of newspapers etc. for the still pretty hinky Internet.

The economy and other changes are also likely to demonstrate vulnerabilities we aren't ready for. Some folks online are positively gloating that newspapers and magazines are endangered. But it has to be something like 80 or 90% of the news and political information on the Internet that originates from newspapers and magazines. The Internet just isn't paying very many people to gather and report news, or to do much else. That isn't a system that's ready to replace newspapers. It couldn't even replace television news, which is really frightening.

If this meltdown gets bad enough, everything we depend on is endangered--everything from Google searches and Wikipedia to fresh fruit and fish in the grocery. In some ways, we are more protected that folks in the 1930s, but in other ways we're probably even more vulnerable, because we're so dependent on stuff from a distance.

That said, there's also strength in size and speed, so there's a decent chance we'll get out of this if we don't lose our heads, and don't withdraw too much from participating in the economy, especially the local one. But the dependence and lack of redundancy bothers me, especially because I don't see anyone else worrying about it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Changing Times

A five minute perspective that's just a little mind-blowing...

What's Next?

The news has President Obama today looking at how to deal with the auto industry, with the recovery act signing Tuesday, and Wednesday the next announcements on the financial system. But Ron Brownstein recorded what the President said just in answer to a question on Air Force One about his priorities for the rest of the year. His answer is forthright, with sensible support for why these priorities need to be first. I've added my emphases:

THE PRESIDENT: My priorities for the rest of the year. Number one is to get the right structure for the successor to TARP; spending the $300-some billion that has already been authorised as wisely as possible, and injecting transparency and trust into the financial system.

Having a housing program that provides relief to people who are at risk of losing their homes. Financial regulations that ensure that the crisis doesn't happen again.

A innovative and aggressive push for health care reform that focuses not just on access but also on costs, and trying to just provide relief to working families.

And a push for an energy policy that puts us on a path to sustainability.

You asked given what we inherited, are we going to be able to get all this done. Some of these reforms don't cost money. They will still be heavy political lifts because there are philosophical arguments about how to approach it. Some of these problems are very complicated. Health care is a classic situation where it may cost money on the front end and save enormous money on the back end and what we're going to have to figure out is what can we do now to start getting that ball rolling, because the longer we put that off, the worse off we are financially.

Medicare and Medicaid on their current trajectory cannot be sustained. And the only way I think we're going to fix it is if we see those two problems in the broader contest of bending the curve down on health care inflation....

I should add one more thing and that is a budget process that starts bending the deficit curve down.

I think that all these goals are complementary. I also think that the American people understand we won't get everything done overnight. The U.S. government and the U.S. economy are enormous ocean liners, they're not speedboats. So what we will do this year is to try to get them on the right trajectory and hopefully that means at the end of my term you'll look back and you'll say we're at a different place than we would have been had we not made these changes."