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December 27, 2007

Wrapped In The Flag, Carrying A Cross Extremism  Politics  Religion

Mike Huckabee says he doesn't believe in evolution. If only that were all there is to it. Excerpts from an excellent piece by Chris Hedges:

George Bush is a happy stooge of his corporate handlers. He blithely enriches the oligarchy, defends a war that is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history and callously denies medical benefits to children. Huckabee is different. He has tapped into the rage and fury of the working class, dispossessed and abandoned by the mainstream Democrats and Republicans. And he refuses to make the ideology of the Christian right, with its dark contempt for democratic traditions and intolerance of nonbelievers, a handmaiden of the corporate establishment. This makes him a much more lethal and radical political force.

The Christian right is the most potent and dangerous mass movement in American history. It has been controlled and led, until now, by those who submit to the demands of the corporate state. But the grass roots are tired of being taken for rubes. They are tired of candidates, like Bush or Bill Clinton, who roll out the same clichés about working men and women every four years and then spend their terms enriching their corporate backers. The majority of American citizens have spent the last two decades watching their government services and benefits vanish. They have seen their jobs go overseas and are watching as their communities crumble and their houses are foreclosed. It is their kids who are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The old guard in the Christian right, the Pat Robertsons, who used their pulpits to deliver the votes of naive followers to the corporatists, is a spent force. Huckabee’s Christian populism represents the maturation of the movement. It signals the rise of a truly radical, even revolutionary force in American politics, of which Huckabee may be one of the tamer and less frightening examples. [...]

Huckabee has close ties with the Christian Reconstructionist or Dominionist branch of the Christian right. The Dominionist movement, which seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of the Christian faith and American patriotism, is small in numbers but influential. It departs from traditional evangelicalism. It seeks to redefine traditional democratic and Christian terms and concepts to fit an ideology that calls on the radical church to take political power. It shares many prominent features with classical fascist movements, at least as such movements are defined by the scholar Robert O. Paxton, who sees fascism as "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cultures of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Dominionism, born out of Christian Reconstructionism, seeks to politicize faith. It has, like all fascist movements, a belief in magic along with leadership adoration and a strident call for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians. [...]

Dominionism teaches that American Christians have been mandated by God to make America a Christian state. A decades-long refusal by most American fundamentalists to engage in politics at all following the Scopes trial has been replaced by a call for Christian "dominion" over the nation and, eventually, over the Earth itself. Dominionism preaches that Jesus has called on Christians to actively build the kingdom of God on Earth. America becomes, in this militant Biblicism, an agent of God, and all political and intellectual opponents of America’s Christian leaders are viewed, quite simply, as agents of Satan. Under Christian dominion, America will no longer be a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the Ten Commandments form the basis of our legal system, in which creationism and "Christian values" form the basis of our educational system, and the media and the government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the work force to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship.

Baptist minister Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America and a self-described "Christocrat,"...has endorsed Huckabee. Scarborough, along with holding other bizarre stances, opposes the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine on grounds that it interferes with God’s punishment of sexual license. And Huckabee, who once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public and opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure, comes out of this frightening mold. He justified his call to quarantine those with AIDS because they could "pose a dangerous public health risk."

"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague," Huckabee wrote. "It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."

Huckabee has publicly backed off from this extreme position, but he remains deeply hostile to gays. He has used wit and humor to deflect reporters from his radical views about marriage, abortion, damnation, biblical law, creationism and the holy war he believes we are fighting with Islam. But his stances represent a huge step, should they ever become policy, toward a theocratic state and the death of our open society. In the end, however, I do not blame Huckabee or the tens of millions of hapless Christians — 40 percent of the Republican electorate — who hear his words and rejoice. I blame the corporate state, those who thought they could disempower and abuse the working class, rape the country, build a rapacious oligarchy and never pay a political price.

We keep moving further and further into uncharted territory. Each new election cycle, things that would have seemed unimaginably grotesque in the not too distant past suddenly become mainstream. Then they, too, are surpassed. Like the proverbial boiling frog, we fail to act as things change by gradual degrees.

Resentment builds and is fed by people skilled in exploiting it. The bursting credit bubble, imploding dollar, and skyrocketing energy costs may yet push the US economy over the cliff. Then, look out.

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3900 Iraq

In Iraq, the dying goes on.

US troop deaths in Iraq hit 3900 today.


And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, millions displaced. For what?

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December 25, 2007

What The Christian Right Forgets Religion

This being Christmas, let's remember what Jesus said:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. — Matthew 25

And yet Republicans are viewed as the party of Jesus. Weird.

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December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas Culture

Iris Dement.

[Via RI]

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AOL, You Suck Media

This is just despicable. Gawd.

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December 21, 2007

Plug-In Hybrids Energy  Peak Oil  Science/Technology

Go here and click for a great little video on plug-in hybrids. The technology works. So Cal Edison has been running an all-electric fleet of big repair trucks and over 200 cars for 10 years or more. Batteries are rapidly getting smaller and more powerful. What's needed now are economies of scale.

What are we waiting for?

[Thanks, Miles]

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Congress passed legislation to toughen the Freedom of Information Act, and over at the White House, a series of secret, clandestine, behind-closed-door meetings will determine whether they'll sign the bill. — Will Durst

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December 18, 2007

Past The Tipping Point Environment  Future

Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On and Boiling Point, thinks it's no longer possible to prevent catastrophic climate change. It's too late. We need, therefore, to stop thinking (only) about how we're going to avert global warming and start thinking about how we're going to deal with its consequences. It's quite a long piece, but worth excerpting at length (Grist):

As the pace of global warming kicks into overdrive, the hollow optimism of climate activists, along with the desperate responses of some of the world's most prominent climate scientists, is preventing us from focusing on the survival requirements of the human enterprise.

The environmental establishment continues to peddle the notion that we can solve the climate problem.

We can't.

We have failed to meet nature's deadline. In the next few years, this world will experience progressively more ominous and destabilizing changes. These will happen either incrementally — or in sudden, abrupt jumps.

Under either scenario, it seems inevitable that we will soon be confronted by water shortages, crop failures, increasing damages from extreme weather events, collapsing infrastructures, and, potentially, breakdowns in the democratic process itself. [...]

[If] humanity decided tomorrow to replace its coal- and oil-burning energy sources with noncarbon sources — it would still be too late to avert major climate disruptions. No national energy infrastructure can be transformed within a decade. [...]

The truth is that we may already be witnessing the early stages of runaway climate change in the melting of the Arctic, the increase in storm intensity, the accelerating extinctions of species, and the prolonged nature of recurring droughts.

Moreover, some scientists now fear that the warming is taking on its own momentum — driven by internal feedbacks that are independent of the human-generated carbon layer in the atmosphere.

Consider these examples:

  • Despite growing public awareness of global warming, the world's carbon emissions are rising nearly three times faster than they did in the 1990s. As a result, many scientists tell us that the official, government-sanctioned forecasts of coming changes are understating the threat facing the world.

  • A rise of 2 degrees C over preindustrial temperatures is now virtually inevitable, according to the IPCC, as the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is approaching the destabilizing level of 450 parts per million. That rise will bring drought, hunger, disease, and flooding to millions of people around the world.

  • Scientists predict a steady rise in temperatures beginning in about two years — with at least half of the years between 2009 and 2019 surpassing the average global temperature in 1998, to date, the hottest year on record.

  • Given the unexpected speed with which Antarctica is melting, coupled with the increasing melt rates in the Arctic and Greenland, the rate of sea-level rise has doubled — with scientists now raising their prediction of ocean rise by century's end from about three feet to about six feet.

  • Scientists discovered that a recent, unexplained surge of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is due to more greenhouse gases escaping from trees, plants, and soils — which have traditionally buffered the warming by absorbing the gases. In the lingo of climate scientists, carbon sinks are turning into carbon sources. Because the added warmth is making vegetation less able to absorb our carbon emissions, scientists expect the rate of warming to jump substantially in the coming years.

  • The intensity of hurricanes around the world has doubled in the last decade. As Greg Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research explained, "If you take the last 10 years, we've had twice the number of category-5 hurricanes than any other [10-year period] on record."

  • In Australia, a new, permanent state of drought in the country's breadbasket has cut crop yields by over 30 percent. The 1-in-1,000-year drought exemplifies a little-noted impact of climate change. As the atmosphere warms, it tightens the vortex of the winds that swirl around the poles. One result is that the water that traditionally evaporated from the Southern Ocean and rained down over New South Wales is now being pulled back into Antarctica — drying out the southeastern quadrant of Australia and contributing to the buildup of glaciers in the Antarctic — the only area on the planet where glaciers are increasing.

As one prominent climate scientist said recently, "We are seeing impacts today that we did not expect to see until 2085."

The panic among climate scientists is expressing itself in geoengineering proposals that are half-baked, fantastically futuristic, and, in some cases, reckless. Put forth by otherwise sober and respected scientists, the schemes are intended to basically allow us to continue burning coal and oil. [...]

Climate change won't kill all of us — but it will dramatically reduce the human population through the warming-driven spread of infectious disease, the collapse of agriculture in traditionally fertile areas, and the increasing scarcity of fresh drinking water. (Witness the 1-in-100-year drought in the southeastern U.S., which has been threatening drinking water supplies in Georgia and other states.)

Those problems will be dramatically intensified by an influx of environmental refugees whose crops are destroyed by weather extremes or whose freshwater sources have dried up or whose homelands are going under from rising sea levels. [...]

One frequently overlooked potential casualty of accelerating climate change may be our tradition of democracy (corrupted as it already is). When governments have been confronted by breakdowns, they have frequently resorted to totalitarian measures to keep order in the face of chaos. It is not hard to imagine a state of emergency morphing into a much longer state of siege, especially since heat-trapping carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Add the escalating squeeze on our oil supplies, which could intensify our meanest instincts, and you have the ingredients for a long period of repression and conflict.

Ominously, this plays into the scenario, thoughtfully explored by Naomi Klein, that the community of multinational corporations will seize on the coming catastrophes to elbow aside governments as agents of rescue and reconstruction — but only for communities that can afford to pay. This dark vision implies the increasing insulation of the world's wealthy minority from the rest of humanity — buying protection for their fortressed communities from the Halliburtons, Bechtels, and Blackwaters of the world while the majority of the poor are left to scramble for survival among the ruins.

The only antidote to that kind of future is a revitalization of government — an elevation of public mission above private interest and an end to the free-market fundamentalism that has blinded much of the American public with its mindless belief in the divine power of markets. [...]

There needs to be a vision that accommodates both the truth of the coming cataclysm and the profoundly human need for a sense of future.

That vision needs to be framed by the truly global nature of the problem. It starts with the recognition that this historical era of nationalism has become a stubborn, increasingly toxic impediment to our collective future. We all need to begin to think of ourselves — now — as citizens of one profoundly distressed planet.

I think that understanding involves a recognition that a clean environment is about far more than endangered species, toxic substances, and the "dead zones" that keep spreading off our shorelines. A clean environment is a basic human right. And without it, all the other human rights for which we have worked so hard will end up as grotesque caricatures of some of our deepest aspirations. [...]

At the level of social organization, the coming changes imply the need to conduct something like 80 percent of our governance at the local grassroots level through some sort of consensual democratic process — with the remaining 20 percent conducted by representatives at the global level. [...]

The key to our survival as a civil species during an era of profound natural upheaval lies in an enhanced sense of community. [...]

As the former Argentine climate negotiator, Raul Estrada-Oyuela, said, "We are all adrift in the same boat — and there's no way half the boat is going to sink."

To keep ourselves afloat, we need to change the economic and political structures that determine how we behave. In this case, we need to elevate the ethic of cooperation over the deeply ingrained reflex of competition. We need to elevate our biological similarities over our geographical differences. We need, in the face of this oncoming onslaught, to reorganize our social structures to reflect our most humane collective aspirations.

The triumph of the ideology of private self-interest over a shared sense of public responsibility came at the worst possible time, historically speaking. The last couple of generations of Americans have had it ingrained in them that greed is good and unrestrained markets are the only way of organizing human activity that actually works. Unfortunately, the total here is qualitatively different from the sum of its parts: countless acts that each advance individual self-interest add up to collective suicide. If there ever were a refutation of naked, unregulated capitalism, this is it. But the Titanic steams on.

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The Rich Get Richer Much, Much Faster Economy

We all know the US income distribution is obscenely skewed. But this is truly grotesque (NYT):

The increase in incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans from 2003 to 2005 exceeded the total income of the poorest 20 percent of Americans, data in a new report by the Congressional Budget Office shows.

The poorest fifth of households had total income of $383.4 billion in 2005, while just the increase in income for the top 1 percent came to $524.8 billion, a figure 37 percent higher.

Got that? In just two years, the increase in incomes of the top 1% was more than a third greater than the total incomes of the bottom 20%. Things haven't been this skewed since 1929, and we all know what happened then.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

George Bush should get another dog and name him Diplomacy. Because then you couldn't say George Bush wouldn’t know Diplomacy if it bit him in the ass. — Will Durst

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December 14, 2007

"Iraq Doesn't Exist Anymore" Afghanistan  Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

From an excellent interview with Nir Rosen:

Question: Is the "surge" working as Bush claims or is the sudden lull in the violence due to other factors like demographic changes in Baghdad?

Nir Rosen: I think that even calling it a surge is misleading. A surge is fast; this took months. It was more like an ooze. The US barely increased the troop numbers. It mostly just forced beleaguered American soldiers to stay longer. At the same time, the US doubled their enemies because, now, they're not just fighting the Sunni militias but the Shiite Mahdi army also.

No, I don't think the surge worked. Objectively speaking, the violence is down in Baghdad, but that's mainly due to the failure of the US to establish security. That's not success.

Sure, less people are being killed but that's because there are less people to kill.

The violence in Iraq was not senseless or crazy, it was logical and teleological. Shiite militias were trying to remove Sunnis from Baghdad and other parts of the country, while Sunni militias were trying to remove Shiites, Kurds and Christians from their areas. This has been a great success. So you have millions of refugees and millions more internally displaced, not to mention hundreds of thousands dead. There are just less people to kill.

Moreover, the militias have consolidated their control over some areas. The US never thought that Muqtada al Sadr would order his Mahdi Army to halt operations (against Sunnis, rival Shiites and Americans) so that he could put his house in order and remove unruly militiamen. And, the US never expected that Sunnis would see that they were losing the civil war so they might as well work with the Americans to prepare for the next battle.

More importantly, violence fluctuates during a civil war, so people try to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. It's the same in Sarajevo, Beirut or Baghdad — people marry, party, go to school when they can — and hide at home or fight when they must.

The euphoria we see in the American media reminds me of the other so-called milestones that came and went while the overall trend in Iraq stayed the same. Now Iraq doesn't exist anymore. Thats the most important thing to remember. There is no Iraq. There is no Iraqi government and none of the underlying causes for the violence have been addressed, such as the mutually exclusive aspirations of the rival factions and communities in Iraq. [...]

Question: The media rarely mentions the 4 million refugees created by the Iraq war. What do you think the long-term effects of this humanitarian crisis will be?

Nir Rosen: Well, the smartest Iraqis — the best educated, the professionals, the middle and upper classes — have all left or been killed. So the society is destroyed. So there is no hope for a non-sectarian Iraq now.

The refugees are getting poorer and more embittered. Their children cannot get an education and their resources are limited. Look at the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948 you had about 800,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and driven into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Over time, they were politicized, mobilized and militarized. The militias they formed to liberate their homeland were manipulated by the governments in the region and they became embroiled in regional conflicts, internal conflicts and, tragically, conflicts with each other. They were massacred in Lebanon and Jordan. And, contributed to instability in those countries.

Now you have camps in Lebanon producing jihadists who go to fight in Iraq or who fight the Lebanese Army. And this is all from a population of just 800,000 mostly rural, religiously-homogeneous (Sunni) refugees.

Now, you have 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, a million in Jordan and many more in other parts of the Middle East. The Sunnis and Shiites already have ties to the militias. They are often better educated, urban, and have accumulated some material wealth. These refugees are increasingly sectarian and are presently living in countries with a delicate sectarian balance and very fragile regimes. Many of the refugees will probably link up with Islamic groups and threaten the regimes of Syria and Jordan. They're also likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

They're also bound to face greater persecution as they "wear out their welcome" and put a strain on the country's resources.

They'll probably form into militias and either try go home or attempt to overthrow the regimes in the region. Borders will change and governments will fall. A new generation of fighters will emerge and there'll be more attacks on Americans.

Question: You have compared Iraq to Mogadishu. Could you elaborate?

Nir Rosen: Somalia hasn't had a government since 1991. I've been to Mogadishu twice. Its ruled by warlords who control their own fiefdoms. Those who have money can live reasonably well. That's what it's like in Iraq now — a bunch of independent city-states ruled by various militias — including the American militia and British militias.

Of course, Somalia is not very important beyond the Horn of Africa. It's bordered by the sea, Kenya and Ethiopia. There's no chance of the fighting in Somalia spreading into a regional war. Iraq is much more dangerous in that respect.

Question: Is the immediate withdrawal of all US troops really the best option for Iraq?

Nir Rosen: It really doesn't matter whether the Americans stay or leave. There are no good options for Iraq; no solutions. The best we can hope for is that the conflict won't spread....The civil war has already been fought and won in many places, mainly by the Shiite militias.

The Americans are still the occupying force, which means that they must continue to repress people that didn't want them there in the first place. But, then, if you were to ask a Sunni in Baghdad today what would happen if the Americans picked up and left, he'd probably tell you that the remaining Sunnis would be massacred. So, there's no "right answer" to your question about immediate withdrawal. [...]

Question: The US-led war in Afghanistan is not going well. The countryside is controlled by the warlords, the drug trade is flourishing, and America's man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has little power beyond the capital. The Taliban has regrouped and is methodically capturing city after city in the south. Their base of support, among disenchanted Pashtuns, continues to grow. How important is it for the US to succeed in Afghanistan? Would failure threaten the future of NATO or the Transatlantic Alliance?

Nir Rosen: Although the US has lost in Afghanistan; what really matters is Pakistan. That's where the Taliban and al Qaeda are actually located. No, I'm NOT saying that the US should take the war into Pakistan. The US has already done enough damage. But as long as America oppresses and alienates Muslims; they will continue to fight back. [...]

Question: The US military is seriously over-stretched. Still, many political analysts believe that Bush will order an aerial assault on Iran. Do you think the US will carry out a "Lebanon-type" attack on Iran; bombing roads, bridges, factories, government buildings, oil depots, Army bases, munitions dumps, airports and nuclear sites? Will Iran retaliate or simply lend their support to resistance fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Nir Rosen: I think it's quite likely that Bush will attack Iran; not because he has a good reason to, but because Jesus or God told him to and because Iran is part of the front-line resistance (along with Hizballah, Syria and Hamas) to American hegemony in the region. Bush believes nobody will have the balls to go after the Iranians after him. He believes that history will vindicate him and he'll be looked up to as a hero, like Reagan.

There is also a racist element in this. Bush thinks that Iran is a culture based on honor and shame. He believes that if you humiliate the Iranian regime, then the people will rise up and overthrow it. Of course, in reality, when you bomb a country the people end up hating you and rally around the regime. Just look at the reaction of the Serbs after the bombing by NATO, or the Americans after September 11. [...]

Question: Bush's war on terror now extends from the southern border of Somalia to the northern tip of Afghanistan — from Africa, through the Middle East into Central Asia. The US has not yet proven — in any of these conflicts — that it can enforce its will through military means alone. In fact, in every case, the military appears to be losing ground. And it's not just the military that's bogged down either. Back in the United States, the economy is rapidly deteriorating. The dollar is falling, the housing market is collapsing, consumer spending is shrinking, and the country's largest investment banks are bogged down with over $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt. Given the current state of the military and the economy, do you see any way that the Bush administration can prevail in the war on terror or is US power in a state of irreversible decline?

Nir Rosen: Terror is a tactic; so you can't go to war with it in the first place. You can only go to war with people or nations. To many people it seems like the US is at war with Muslims. This is just radicalizing more people and eroding America's power and influence in the world. But, then, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

There's a lot more in the original interview. It's worth reading in full.

One thinks of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed...

And one thinks of Humpty Dumpty. This particular Humpty Dumpty won't be put back together again any time soon.

None of this was necessary.

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Fake Calm In Iraq Iraq

There's no denying that US troop deaths are down in Iraq. Is peace breaking out? Don't believe the hype, says Pierre Tristam:

When Kuwait was liberated in 1991 — a strange concept, Kuwait having been free neither before being invaded by Iraq nor since — its citizens lined up the streets of their capital and waved thousands of American flags as troops drove by. "Did you ever stop to wonder," a man called John Rendon proudly asked during a speech to a government agency, "how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?" He answered his own question: "That was one of my jobs then."

The first Bush administration hired Rendon to produce the television show known as the first Gulf War. With the Rendon Group, his public relations firm, Rendon won multi-million dollar contracts to make the American occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan look good, and do the same on behalf of the Afghan and Iraqi governments. Propaganda has been a lucrative business in these wars. It gave us such classics as the fabricated toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad early in the war, the taxpayer-supported Pentagon effort to plant positive stories in the Iraqi press, and the more recent mini-series about the successes of the American "surge."

The propaganda controls are clearly in effective hands today. There's been no need, as there is in more discriminating Iraq, to plant positive stories in the domestic press. For the most part the mainstream news media here seem as willing as they were in 2003 to buy the Bush administration's latest recasting of the Iraqi catastrophe as a country on the mend. But caveats grow as lush as date palm in Iraq. Here's this season’s crop.

Al-Qaida was routed. Not exactly. The semi-mythical invention of "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" was never a force as potent as its Iraqi enemies. One thing Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis agree on is rejection of foreign meddling, be it bin Laden's or Bush's. Iraqis reviled al-Qaida before the invasion and had no connection to 9/11. They revile al-Qaida more today, now that Bush's invasion made its brand of terrorism possible on Iraqi soil. Absent American troops, ironically, al-Qaida would have faced an unrestrained assault from Shiite and Sunni militants, to whom tribe comes before religion, and religion before caliphate.

That's just as true in the rest of the Arab world. A Brookings Institution survey of Arab opinion in six countries last year showed bin Laden’s popularity never breaking 5 percent. Bin Laden's popularity in the Middle East is itself an invention, convenient to the Bush administration's offensive posture there, inconvenient to Arabs who must pay its price. Bin Laden is the Arab world's Timothy McVeigh, a fringe loon, but one lucky enough to be constantly re-validated by Bush's monomaniacal war on Islamowhatever.

Refugees are coming back: The return of 25,000 refugees from abroad, out of a total of 2 million, is deceptive. News reports have generally neglected to mention that Syria, where most of Iraq's refugees have gone, shut its door to them two months ago and is now requiring refugees already there to apply for visas — through the Syrian embassy in Baghdad. In other words, Syria is booting them out.

Our friends the Sunnis. The Bush administration says the new alliance with former Sunni insurgents is a benefit of the surge's supposed rout of al-Qaida. But those Sunni insurgents had themselves began routing al-Qaida before their alliances with American troops, and well before the "surge" peaked. The Pentagon reversed the chronology to make itself appear as the new strategy's broker — and to obscure the deeper reason the Bush administration is aligning itself with Sunnis anew. Osama or a free Iraq are not it.

Our former friends the Shiites: Southern Iraq is already a fiefdom under the control of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite who got rid of most of the British presence, and is biding his time before being rid of the American. Sunnis dread a Shiite take-over unrestrained by American occupation. So does Bush, because so do oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates, where militant, resentful Islam is the shifty sands under those authoritarian, unelected, lavishly corrupt and American-backed sheikhdoms. In Iraq, the Bush administration is rediscovering that a Sunni-dominated authoritarian regime wasn't such a bad thing after all. Lacking that, Sunnis as a proxy force against Shiite hegemony will have to do.

Peace isn't breaking out in Iraq. A colder, longer war is. It's further miring the United States in the shards of the Sunni-Shiite divide. And it's confirming once again in Arab eyes that America's end game is control of the Middle East's authoritarian houses of cards. If Enron was an emirate, Bush would be its principal shareholder right now, with America's foreign policy as collateral.

Seldom mentioned is the fact that Muqtada al Sadr unilaterally called a halt to attacks by his Mahdi Army. That had nothing to do with the "surge."

For a darker and deeper analysis of the "surge" and the state of Iraq, see the next post.

[Thanks, Miles]

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says when he said people with AIDS should be quarantined, he didn't really mean, "quarantined." Hopefully, when he said he was running for President he didn't really mean, "President." — Will Durst

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December 13, 2007

Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

Guaranteed to make you smile...

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December 12, 2007

"The Arctic Is Screaming," "The Canary Has Died" Environment

The global warming news keeps getting worse. AP:

An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer, a warning sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point. One even speculated that summer sea ice would be gone in five years.

Greenland's ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer's end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

"The Arctic is screaming," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government's snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.

Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

So scientists in recent days have been asking themselves these questions: Was the record melt seen all over the Arctic in 2007 a blip amid relentless and steady warming? Or has everything sped up to a new climate cycle that goes beyond the worst case scenarios presented by computer models?

"The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming," said Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal. "Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines." [...]

In the United States, a weakened Arctic blast moving south to collide with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can mean less rain and snow in some areas, including the drought-stricken Southeast, said Michael MacCracken, a former federal climate scientist who now heads the nonprofit Climate Institute. Some regions, like Colorado, would likely get extra rain or snow.

More than 18 scientists told the AP that they were surprised by the level of ice melt this year.

"I don't pay much attention to one year ... but this year the change is so big, particularly in the Arctic sea ice, that you've got to stop and say, 'What is going on here?' You can't look away from what's happening here," said Waleed Abdalati, NASA's chief of cyrospheric sciences. "This is going to be a watershed year."

2007 shattered records for Arctic melt in the following ways:

• 552 billion tons of ice melted this summer from the Greenland ice sheet, according to preliminary satellite data to be released by NASA Wednesday. That's 15 percent more than the annual average summer melt, beating 2005's record.

A record amount of surface ice was lost over Greenland this year, 12 percent more than the previous worst year, 2005, according to data the University of Colorado released Monday. That's nearly quadruple the amount that melted just 15 years ago. It's an amount of water that could cover Washington, D.C., a half-mile deep, researchers calculated.

The surface area of summer sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean this summer was nearly 23 percent below the previous record. The dwindling sea ice already has affected wildlife, with 6,000 walruses coming ashore in northwest Alaska in October for the first time in recorded history. Another first: the Northwest Passage was open to navigation.

• Still to be released is NASA data showing the remaining Arctic sea ice to be unusually thin, another record. That makes it more likely to melt in future summers. Combining the shrinking area covered by sea ice with the new thinness of the remaining ice, scientists calculate that the overall volume of ice is half of 2004's total.

Alaska's frozen permafrost is warming, not quite thawing yet. But temperature measurements 66 feet deep in the frozen soil rose nearly four-tenths of a degree from 2006 to 2007, according to measurements from the University of Alaska. While that may not sound like much, "it's very significant," said University of Alaska professor Vladimir Romanovsky.

Surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean this summer were the highest in 77 years of record-keeping, with some places 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to research to be released Wednesday by University of Washington's Michael Steele.

Greenland, in particular, is a significant bellwether. Most of its surface is covered by ice. [...]

Other new data, from a NASA satellite, measures ice volume. NASA geophysicist Scott Luthcke, reviewing it and other Greenland numbers, concluded: "We are quite likely entering a new regime."

Melting of sea ice and Greenland's ice sheets also alarms scientists because they become part of a troubling spiral.

White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun's heat off Earth, NASA's Zwally said. When there is no sea ice, about 90 percent of the heat goes into the ocean which then warms everything else up. Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.

"That feedback is the key to why the models predict that the Arctic warming is going to be faster," Zwally said. "It's getting even worse than the models predicted."

NASA scientist James Hansen, the lone-wolf researcher often called the godfather of global warming, on Thursday was to tell scientists and others at the American Geophysical Union scientific in San Francisco that in some ways Earth has hit one of his so-called tipping points, based on Greenland melt data.

"We have passed that and some other tipping points in the way that I will define them," Hansen said in an e-mail. "We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time — but it is going to require a quick turn in direction."

Once again, we are confronted by the two themes I've been harping on for a long time. First, we are constantly being surprised by the pace of global warming, with pretty much every surprise being on the side that warming is happening faster than anticipated. That implies that climate models are overly conservative and we're a lot worse off than we think. Second, much of the acceleration of global warming is likely caused by various self-reinforcing feedback loops that are rapidly gaining strength. The whole process is taking on a life of its own.

We tend to expect things to proceed in a nice linear fashion, so we feel like we've got time, but our intuition here is our enemy. In nonlinear, far-from-equilibrium systems like the Earth's climate, change can be quite sudden. And so we see the Arctic ice cut in half in a mere four years. Like the man said, the Arctic is screaming. Are we listening?

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Where I've Been Health

Regular readers will have noticed that posts have been conspicuously absent the past couple of weeks. Here's what's been going on. I've got issues.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an intestinal polyp removed that came up positive for two kinds of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). Since then, I've had a number of tests and scans to determine the extent of the cancer. The good news is that no cancer has been found anywhere else so far. It could easily have spread to one or more lymph nodes, which is what typically happens with lymphoma, but that's not what the tests (PET scan, CT scan, bone marrow biopsy, blood work) have shown. I'm getting a few more tests done next week, and they may still turn up something, but so far it's all very encouraging. I have no symptoms whatsoever and generally feel great, which is also very encouraging.

My hematologist hasn't decided on a recommended course of treatment yet, but he says it's likely that he'll recommend chemotherapy. As I said, no cancer has shown up on the tests so far (other than what was in the polyp that was removed) but he's concerned about the possibility that there may still be tiny amounts present, possibly in multiple sites, so chemo now would be the prudent thing to do. If that's what the treatment turns out to be, it'll probably start soon after New Year's. It would last 18 weeks – six infusions three weeks apart. It would be a moderate dosage, not the really aggressive dosage that is used in some cancers, so he anticipates that I'll still be able to go to work and so on. There may be a few days in each three week period where I'll feel like I've got the flu, but overall he doesn't expect it to be debilitating. It's also possible that he'll decide instead to recommend a wait-and-see approach.

All in all, I feel extremely optimistic. I'm in good health and have been eating well and exercising regularly and taking good care of myself generally, so I think my body will be my ally in this. Meanwile, I'm trying to learn as much about cancer as I can as quickly as I can, including possible treatment options in addition to the mainstream ones of surgery, radiation, and/or chemo. If any of you has experience with cancer that you want to share with me, I'd love to hear about it. As I said, my attitude is completely upbeat, and I don't consider my cancer a taboo subject that people need to tiptoe around. I intend to take as active a role as I can in getting healthy and staying that way and then to go on to live the rest of my life. I'm more grateful than I can say for the love and support of family and friends and especially of my daughters Molly and Ali and my wonderful life partner Carie. I'm a very lucky man.

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

President Bush said even though the latest National Intelligence Estimate purports Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program years ago, it changes nothing. Bush has a mind like a cement bedspread. Once he's made it up, it stays made. — Will Durst

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December 04, 2007

Do The Math Environment

I hate to say it, but the likelihood that the UN conference in Bali will produce reductions in carbon emissions sufficient to prevent catastrophic global warming is essentially zero. Not going to happen. Because what's really needed is not even being hinted at.

George Monbiot does the math:

There is now a broad scientific consensus that we need to prevent temperatures from rising by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial level. Beyond that point, the Greenland ice sheet could go into irreversible meltdown, some ecosystems collapse, billions suffer from water stress, droughts could start to threaten global food supplies. [...]

In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table which links different cuts to likely temperatures. To prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2°, it suggests, by 2050 the world needs to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537t by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6t(9,10). Reducing these figures to 0.537t means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9bn in 2050, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.

The IPCC figures might also be out of date. In a footnote beneath the table, the panel admits that "emission reductions...might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks." What this means is that the impact of the biosphere's response to global warming has not been fully considered. As seawater warms, for example, it releases carbon dioxide. As soil bacteria heat up, they respire more, generating more CO2. As temperatures rise, tropical forests die back, releasing the carbon they contain. These are examples of positive feedbacks. A recent paper (all the references are on my website) estimates that feedbacks account for about 18% of global warming. They are likely to intensify.

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters finds that even with a 90% global cut by 2050, the 2° threshold "is eventually broken." To stabilise temperatures at 1.5° above the pre-industrial level requires a global cut of 100%. The diplomats who started talks in Bali yesterday should be discussing the complete decarbonisation of the global economy.

It is not impossible. In a previous article I showed how by switching the whole economy over to the use of electricity and by deploying the latest thinking on regional supergrids, grid balancing and energy storage, you could run almost the entire energy system on renewable power. The major exception is flying (don't expect to see battery-powered jetliners) which suggests that we should be closing rather than opening runways.

This could account for around 90% of the necessary cut. Total decarbonisation demands that we go further. Preventing 2° of warming means stripping carbon dioxide from the air. The necessary technology already exists: the challenge is making it efficient and cheap. [...]

The Kyoto Protocol, whose replacement the Bali meeting will discuss, has failed. Since it was signed, there has been an acceleration in global emissions: the rate of CO2 production exceeds the IPCC's worst case and is now growing faster than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It's not just the Chinese. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that "no region is decarbonizing its energy supply." Even the age-old trend of declining energy intensity as economies mature has gone into reverse. [...]

Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one...[A] growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just 7 years...Each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined. In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again. [...]

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge which is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.

I'd like to think that humans can look at the science, do the math, draw the conclusions, and do what's necessary. But it's not going to happen. Certainly not any time soon. Only when they feel like their very survival is threatened will people make the needed changes and sacrifices. Realize that we're not talking about cutting emissions by a few percent here, a few percent there. We're talking about cutting carbon emissions almost to zero. Monbiot says it's not impossible and invokes the example of WWII, but people are a long way from feeling anything like the level of urgency they felt during WWII. The problem is that the threat is relatively abstract (not a sabre-toothed tiger or an invading army, but a prediction made by scientific modeling) and it's happening in slow motion (not in geological terms, certainly, but in terms of the average human life span). When people make life-changing decisions, there's a huge emotional component. Hardly anybody feels anything like the emotional urgency that would be required for the "complete decarbonization of the global economy." It's nowhere on anybody's to-do list.

A note on the math. I've written a number of times in the past (for example, here) about the crucial importance of understanding exponential growth. Think compound interest: growth by a steady percentage per year. Which is equivalent to growth by doubling at a constant rate. And, as Monbiot notes, when you grow by doubling, each step is greater than the sum of all the preceding steps. Consider the sequence 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on. Each number in the sequence is greater (by one) than the sum of all the preceding numbers. Check it for yourself. So if something grows at a rate of 3% a year, say, that sounds pretty innocuous. But that means it doubles about every 24 years, and during that 24 years it increases more than it has in all previous history combined. We're good at creating exponential growth, but we're not wired to grasp its implications, and that may be our species' fatal flaw.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Joke Humor & Fun

You got to love Mitt Romney. First, he's pro choice, then he's anti choice; so I guess that makes him-multiple choice. — Will Durst

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