Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What killed the dinosaurs?

Science Daily:
A series of monumental volcanic eruptions in India may have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, not a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico. The eruptions, which created the gigantic Deccan Traps lava beds of India, are now the prime suspect in the most famous and persistent paleontological murder mystery, say scientists who have conducted a slew of new investigations honing down eruption timing.

"It's the first time we can directly link the main phase of the Deccan Traps to the mass extinction," said Princeton University paleontologist Gerta Keller. The main phase of the Deccan eruptions spewed 80 percent of the lava which spread out for hundreds of miles. It is calculated to have released ten times more climate altering gases into the atmosphere than the nearly concurrent Chicxulub meteor impact, according to volcanologist Vincent Courtillot from the Physique du Globe de Paris.

Another type of black hole

New York Review of Books:
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

The free flow of poison

New York Times:
Pharmaceutical ingredients exported from China are often made by chemical companies that are neither certified nor inspected by Chinese drug regulators, The New York Times has found.

Because the chemical companies are not required to meet even minimal drug-manufacturing standards, there is little to stop them from exporting unapproved, adulterated or counterfeit ingredients. The substandard formulations made from those ingredients often end up in pharmacies in developing countries and for sale on the Internet, where more Americans are turning for cheap medicine.

In Milan, The Times identified at least 82 Chinese chemical companies that said they made and exported pharmaceutical ingredients — yet not one was certified by the State Food and Drug Administration in China, records show. Nonetheless, the companies were negotiating deals at the pharmaceutical show, where suppliers wooed customers with live music, wine and vibrating chairs.

Black holes are the hearts of galaxies

Which somehow sounds appropriate...

Washington Post:
For years, astronomers speculated that a giant, mysterious force lay at the center of the Milky Way, but it wasn't until four years ago that UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez definitively showed what it was.

Using new techniques for peering into the dusty heart of the galaxy, Ghez's observations proved that scores of stars were rapidly orbiting what could only be a black hole. But it wasn't the kind of garden-variety black hole created when a star explodes and dies; it was hundreds of thousands of times as powerful -- a "supermassive" black hole, as they are now known.

Her discoveries, along with the work of scientists studying other galaxies, have in a short time led researchers to the surprising conclusion that most, if not all, of the universe's hundreds of billions of galaxies have supermassive black holes at their core. Even more striking, the astronomers have found that the black holes' mass and nature are closely related to the size and makeup of the surrounding galaxies.

It also appears that these cosmic monsters -- which can "eat" stars whole -- are key to understanding how galaxies were formed and are still being formed today.

It continues

The Burmese army is forcibly recruiting children to cover gaps left by a lack of adult recruits, says a report by a US-based human rights organisation.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says children as young as 10 are beaten or threatened with arrest to make them enlist.

Both the army and ethnic rebels have been accused of using children before.

But the timing of this report is particularly damaging for the military, which is already under pressure after a crackdown on anti-government protests.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's Alive!

Science Daily:
Seismologists in recent years have recast their understanding of the inner workings of Earth from a relatively benign homogeneous environment to one that is highly dynamic and chemically diverse. This new view of Earth's inner workings depicts the planet as a living organism where events that happen deep inside can affect what happens at its surface, like the rub and slip of tectonic plates and the rumble of the occasional volcano.

New research into these dynamic inner workings are now showing that Earth's upper mantle (an area that extends down to 660 km) exhibits how far more than just temperature and pressure play a role in the dynamics of the deep interior.

A study by Nicholas Schmerr, a doctoral student in Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration is shedding light on these processes and showing that they are not just temperature driven. His work helps assess the role chemistry plays in the structure of Earth's mantle.

Resistance is futile!

Science Daily:
A research project carried out by a University of Hertfordshire academic has found that thought suppression can lead people to engage in the very behaviour they are trying to avoid.

It also found that men who think about chocolate end up eating more of it than women who have the same thoughts.

In his research project, Dr Erskine looked at the effect of thought suppression on action and used eating and chocolate to investigate this further.

Another day...

A suicide bomb attack has killed at least six people and injured 11 near Pakistan's army headquarters, in the city of Rawalpindi.

Officials said the blast had occurred some 2km away from a high-security compound containing the army HQ and President Pervez Musharraf's office.

General Musharraf was reported to have been in his office at the time of the blast, but was not hurt.


San Francisco Chronicle:
The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stewy body of plastic and marine debris that floats an estimated 1,000 miles west of San Francisco, is a shape-shifting mass far too large, delicate and remote to ever be cleaned up, according to a researcher who recently returned from the area.

But that might not stop the federal government from trying.

Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris - which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas - is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean.

"Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans - it boggles the mind," Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. "There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big."

The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. It accumulates the same way bubbles gather at the center of hot tub, Moore said.

They got away with it

Nato has "lost in Afghanistan" and its failure to bring stability there could provoke a regional sectarian war "on a grand scale", according to Lord Ashdown.

The former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina delivered his dire prediction after being proposed as a new "super envoy" role in Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown said: "We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely."
New York Times:
Foreign fighters are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps also Turkey and western China, Afghan and American officials say.

Their growing numbers point to the worsening problem of lawlessness in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which they use as a base to train alongside militants from Al Qaeda who have carried out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Europe, according to Western diplomats.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented level of reports of foreign-fighter involvement,” said Maj. Gen. Bernard S. Champoux, deputy commander for security of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. “They’ll threaten people if they don’t provide meals and support.”

In interviews in southern and eastern Afghanistan, local officials and village elders also reported having seen more foreigners fighting alongside the Taliban than in any year since the American-led invasion in 2001.

There is no such thing as accountability

Associated Press
The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

"Once you give immunity, you can't take it away," said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Your tax dollars at work- on you!

Washington Post:
The director of national intelligence will disclose today that national intelligence activities amounting to roughly 80 percent of all U.S. intelligence spending for the year cost more than $40 billion, according to sources on Capitol Hill and inside the administration.

The disclosure means that when military spending is added, aggregate U.S. intelligence spending for fiscal 2007 exceeded $50 billion, according to these sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the total remains classified.

Adm. Mike McConnell will announce that the fiscal 2007 national intelligence program figure, classified up to now, is being made public at the urging of the Sept. 11 commission and the insistence of Congress, which turned the commission's recommendation into law. The commission's plan was to have the president make the figure public each year.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Global Warming- Bush league

Associated Press:
The White House severely edited congressional testimony given Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential health risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Atlanta-based CDC, the government's premier disease monitoring agency, told a Senate hearing that climate change "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans."

But her prepared testimony was devoted entirely to the CDC's preparation, with few details on what effects climate change could have on the spread of disease. Only during questioning did she describe some specific diseases that likely would be affected, again without elaboration.

Her testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had much less information on health risks than a much longer draft version Gerberding submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review in advance of her appearance.

"It was eviscerated," said a CDC official, familiar with both versions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process.

Global Warming- future school?

Global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries could trigger a mass extinction, UK scientists have warned.

The temperatures are within the range of greenhouse phases early in the Earth's history when up to 95% of plants and animals died out, they say.

Experts examined the link between climate and diversity over 520 million years, almost the entire fossil record.

They found that global diversity is high during cool (icehouse) periods and low during warm (greenhouse) phases.

"Our results provide the first clear evidence that global climate may explain substantial variation in the fossil record in a simple and consistent manner," said Dr Peter Mayhew, one of the paper's co-authors.

Global Warming- new school

Science Daily:
The catastrophic fires that are sweeping Southern California are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years, experts say, and they may be just a prelude to many more such events in the future -- as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged drought periods.

"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change," said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.

"You can't look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate," said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

"But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows," Neilson said, "and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects."

Global Warming- old school

Real old school...

Science Daily:
The greatest mass extinction in Earth's history also may have been one of the slowest, according to a study that casts further doubt on the extinction-by-meteor theory.

Creeping environmental stress fueled by volcanic eruptions and global warming was the likely cause of the Great Dying 250 million years ago, said USC doctoral student Catherine Powers.

Writing in the November issue of the journal Geology, Powers and her adviser David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences at USC, describe a slow decline in the diversity of some common marine organisms.


The Nation:
On Thursday, former Judge Radhi al-Radhi, Iraq's top anticorruption official until he was recently forced out by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, appeared before the House government oversight committee and described what had become of people who had worked for him at the Commission on Public Integrity as they investigated crime and fraud within the Iraqi government:

Thirty-one employees have been killed as well as at least twelve family members. In a number of cases, my staff and their relatives have been kidnapped or detained and tortured prior to being killed. Many of these people were gunned down at close range. This includes my staff member Mohammed Abd Salif, who was gunned down with his seven-month pregnant wife. In one case of targeted death and torture, the security chief on my staff was threatened with death many times. His father was recently kidnapped and killed because of his son's work at CPI. His body hung on a meat hook. One of my staff members who performed clerical duties was protected by my security staff, but his 80-year-old father was kidnapped because his son worked at CPI. When his dead body was found, a power drill had been used to drill his body with holes. Waleed Kashmoula was the head of CPI's Mosul branch. In March 2005, a suicide bomber met with Waleed in his office...and then set off his vest [bomb], killing Waleed....My family's home has been attacked by rockets. I have had a sniper bullet striking near me as I was outside my office. We have learned the hard way that the corrupt will stop at nothing.

Tinder box

Spiegel Online:
The mood in Turkey is becoming increasingly jingoistic as thousands take to the streets, calling for war against the Kurdish rebel organization PKK and an invasion of northern Iraq. But Baghdad has promised to curb the Kurds.

Virulent racism resurgent

San Francisco Chronicle:
Sar-ron Beverly knew about nooses from family stories and historical photos. But he never understood their power until he walked into his boss' Fairfield office one day and saw one hanging from the ceiling, in front of a bookshelf and a family portrait.

"It was just too much," said Beverly, 30. "I'm from Mississippi. My grandparents moved to California to get away from this stuff.

"A hangman's noose shows the ultimate hatred for African Americans."

Since a noose hanging in a schoolyard triggered a civil rights firestorm this summer in Jena, La., there's been a resurgence of nooses across the United States. They've been found in a post office, in a hospital, on a professor's door, in a Coast Guard cadet's bag, in a fire station and on a bronze sculpture of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

Historians and academics are examining why the noose is resurfacing and trying to explain its current cultural significance. Some say the symbol will always represent hate and proves that racism still exists in America. Others say the nooses are meaningless pranks.

If they only had oil

Washington Post:
In April 2006, a small group of Darfur activists -- including evangelical Christians, the representative of a Jewish group and a former Sudanese slave -- was ushered into the Roosevelt Room at the White House for a private meeting with President Bush. It was the eve of a major rally on the National Mall, and the president spent more than an hour holding forth, displaying a kind of passion that has led some in the White House to dub him the "Sudan desk officer."

Bush insisted there must be consequences for rape and murder, and he called for international troops on the ground to protect innocent Darfuris, according to contemporaneous notes by one of those present. He spoke of "bringing justice" to the Janjaweed, the Arab militias that have participated in atrocities that the president has repeatedly described as nothing less than "genocide."

"He had an understanding of the issue that went beyond simply responding to a briefing that had been given," said David Rubenstein, a participant who was then executive director of the Save Darfur Coalition, which has been sharply critical of the administration's response to the crisis. "He knew more facts than I expected him to know, and he had a broader political perspective than I expected him to have."

Yet a year and a half later, the situation on the ground in Darfur is little changed: More than 2 million displaced Darfuris, including hundreds of thousands in camps, have been unable to return to their homes. The perpetrators of the worst atrocities remain unpunished. Despite a renewed U.N. push, the international peacekeeping troops that Bush has long been seeking have yet to materialize.

Iran can handle Bush's bluster

Washington Post:
Confronted by mounting U.S. and U.N. pressure, Iran has been steadily shifting its trade from West to East and, with the benefit of record high oil prices, is likely to be able to withstand the new U.S. sanctions, according to U.S., European and Iranian analysts.

China, a permanent member of the Security Council that can veto any U.N. resolution, is expected to overtake Germany as Iran's biggest trading partner this year. Germany and other European countries had consistently been Iran's largest trading partners for more than a decade, according to the Iran Investment Monthly.

The U.S. Treasury said that more than 40 banks, mostly in Europe, have curbed business with Iran as a result of U.S. pressure, but smaller banks, Islamic financial institutions and Asian banks are likely to step in and replace the Western financial institutions through which Iran has long sold oil on the international market. Oil traders said that Iran does an increasing portion of its petroleum sales in euros and yen, instead of U.S. dollars, and often through third parties, to help its customers circumvent U.S. financial sanctions.

"Given particularly the price and demand for oil, Iran clearly has leverage with countries that need Iran's oil," said Shaul Bakhash, a George Mason University historian and author of "The Reign of the Ayatollahs." In addition, he said, "Iran has a huge cushion of foreign-exchange reserves."

Friday, October 26, 2007

For Bush, something more important than warmongering...

Washington Post:
A U.S. military strike against Iran would have dire consequences in petroleum markets, say a variety of oil industry experts, many of whom think the prospect of pandemonium in those markets makes U.S. military action unlikely despite escalating economic sanctions imposed by the Bush administration.

The small amount of excess oil production capacity worldwide would provide an insufficient cushion if armed conflict disrupted supplies, oil experts say, and petroleum prices would skyrocket. Moreover, a wounded or angry Iran could easily retaliate against oil facilities from southern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joan Walsh on GOP flip-flops


Marines want out

Old link, but I never posted it.

New York Times:
The Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and to send marines instead to Afghanistan, to take over the leading role in combat there, according to senior military and Pentagon officials.

The idea by the Marine Corps commandant would effectively leave the Iraq war in the hands of the Army while giving the Marines a prominent new role in Afghanistan, under overall NATO command.

The suggestion was raised in a session last week convened by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders. While still under review, its supporters, including some in the Army, argue that a realignment could allow the Army and Marines each to operate more efficiently in sustaining troop levels for two wars that have put a strain on their forces.

As described by officials who had been briefed on the closed-door discussion, the idea represents the first tangible new thinking to emerge since the White House last month endorsed a plan to begin gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, but also signals that American forces likely will be in Iraq for years to come.

Deepening Freeze

Spiegel Online:
George W. Bush once thought he could look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and see his soul. But now that the Russian leader has tightened his grip on power, the strained friendship between these two major statesmen could turn to outright enmity. The conflict over Iran is just one example.

Senator John McCain spoke in a low voice, as he often does at campaign appearances. The Republican presidential hopeful had just discussed Iran, and now it was time to say a word or two about Russia. "When I looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes," he told the audience in a conspiratorial whisper, "I saw three things: a K and a G and a B."

On Wednesday, at a White House press conference with George W. Bush, a reporter asked the president what he thought of McCain's words. "Pretty good line," said Bush with a chuckle -- and threw some more rhetorical coal on the fire. He said Putin was "wily" over the question of who might succeed him at the Kremlin. "He wouldn't tip his hand."

Find out how you can reprint this SPIEGEL ONLINE article in your publication.
Bush had just used unusually hawkish words at this press conference to describe the nuclear tension with Iran. Clearly referring to Putin, Bush had told reporters, "If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing Iran from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

That reference to "World War III" was reminiscent of earlier presidential rhetoric like "The Axis of Evil" (Bush, 2002) and "The Evil Empire" (Reagan, 1983). The choice of words reflected a deep chill in US-Russian relations -- and differences over Iran are not the only reason for the falling out.

"The relationship is really shaken. Both sides appear determined to verbally assault each other as often as possible over the coming months," says Rose Gottemoeller, Director of the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Bush looked into his soul, and saw the man he'd like to be.

Good money after bad. LOTS of good money...

Washington Post:
President Bush announced Monday in Washington that he will ask Congress to approve a $500 million package to help Mexico fight drug cartels, the largest international anti-drug effort by the United States in nearly a decade.

The proposal could represent a seismic shift in relations between the two countries, whose law enforcement agencies and policymakers have often bickered over the drug war, as well as other hugely contentious issues such as immigration reform and trade.

U.S. and Mexican negotiators reached the agreement in secrecy. Some in Mexico worried that an aid package would infringe upon its sovereignty, and concerns surfaced in the United States about costs and strategy in light of the oft-criticized effort to combat drugs in Colombia.

Obama's not ready

That's why.

Republic of T.:
How schizophrenic does a Democratic candidate have to be, or think he has to be, in order to win? How schizophrenic does a Democratic candidate have to be, or thinks he has to be, on gay issues if he wants to win? I don’t know but I’d have to ask Barrack Obama. He’d have to know. Why else is Obama touring with anti-gay “ex-gay” Donnie McClurkin?

More Arnold

Oakland Tribune:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his allies are scrambling to keep his health care reform plan from collapsing amid an ever widening — and increasingly contentious — rift between two of the most politically important special interests in the state: labor and business.

Earlier this week, the California Labor Federation — having walked out of negotiations earlier — launched an aggressive campaign accusing Schwarzenegger's plan of gouging the working class by requiring people to buy health insurance without enough subsidies.

Business groups lashed back, warning that unions risked blowing up nearly a year's worth of work on what many in Sacramento consider potentially the most significant legislation in decades.

The division has created a form of political checkmate for Schwarzenegger, who can either hold the line on employer taxes or try to subsidize more uninsured workers, which would likely require more taxes on employers. Either move willalienate someone.

"Health care is on life support," said Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "I can't figure out how the governor can salvage this. It's difficult to reconcile the competing interests of business and labor."
Well, he could decide that people are more important than business, but this is Arnold we're talking about...

Privatizing a war

Washington Post:
Last Christmas Day in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad received a furious phone call from Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. An American -- drunk, armed, wandering through the Green Zone after a party -- had shot and killed one of his personal bodyguards the night before, Mahdi said. He wanted to see Khalilzad right away.

At the vice president's home, Khalilzad found the slain guard's family assembled. Mahdi demanded the names of the American and his employer. And he wanted the man turned over to the Iraqi government.

After consulting with the embassy's legal officer, Khalilzad identified the shooter as Andrew J. Moonen, an employee of Blackwater USA, the company that provides security for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad. But he would not deliver Moonen himself. Within 36 hours of the shooting, Blackwater and the embassy had shipped him out of the country.

"As you can imagine," the embassy's Diplomatic Security office said in an e-mail to its Washington headquarters the day of Moonen's departure, "this has serious implications."

But as with previous killings by contractors, the case was handled with apologies and a payoff. Blackwater fired Moonen and fined him $14,697 -- the total of his back pay, a scheduled bonus and the cost of his plane ticket home, according to Blackwater documents. The amount nearly equaled the $15,000 the company agreed to give the Iraqi guard's family.

Ten months later, however -- after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle on Sept. 16 -- the State Department can no longer quietly manage the consequences of having its own private army in Iraq. The FBI is investigating the incident, Baghdad has vowed to overturn a law shielding contractors from prosecution, and congressional critics have charged State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security with failing to supervise Blackwater and other security companies under its authority.

The shootings have also reopened long-standing, bitter arguments between the State Department and the Pentagon, which over the years have feuded over policies including the decision to invade Iraq and the treatment of detainees. Such broad disagreements have frequently played out over a narrow question: Who is responsible for the safety of U.S. civilians serving in Iraq?


Ministers are planning a U-turn on Britain's pledges to combat climate change that "effectively abolishes" its targets to rapidly expand the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Gordon Brown will be advised today that the target Tony Blair signed up to this year for 20% of all European energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 is expensive and faces "severe practical difficulties".

According to the papers, John Hutton, the secretary of state for business, will tell Mr Brown that Britain should work with Poland and other governments sceptical about climate change to "help persuade" German chancellor Angela Merkel and others to set lower renewable targets, before binding commitments are framed in December.

It admits that allowing member states to fall short of their renewable targets will be "very hard to negotiate ... and will be very controversial". "The commission, some member states and the European parliament will not want the target to be diluted, though others may be allies for a change," says a draft copy of Mr Hutton's Energy Policy Presentation to the Prime Minister, marked "restricted - policy".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Arnold is no environmentalist

Los Angeles Times:
On a Sunday evening this month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quietly vetoed what environmentalists had deemed to be one of the most important global warming bills to reach his desk this year.

The legislation, opposed by oil companies, would have required cleaner fuels for trucks and cars as part of the state's ambitious attempt to reduce greenhouse gases.

On the same day, Oct. 14, the governor also deep-sixed three bills that would have set energy-efficient building standards and another that would have required landlords to offer recycling services to tenants.

Nationally and internationally, Schwarzenegger is known for championing a bold 2006 law that aims to reduce California's emission of carbon dioxide and other planet-heating gases to 1990 levels over the next 13 years.

But as it comes time to implement strategies for meeting those targets, his critics say, the governor is proceeding cautiously.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Here Comes The Sun

Solar power could be the world's number one electricity source by the end of the century, but until now its role has been negligible as producers wait for price parity with fossil fuels, industry leaders say.

Once the choice only of idealists who put the environment before economics, production of solar panels will double both next year and in 2009, according to U.S. investment bank Jefferies Group Inc, driven by government support especially in Germany and Japan.

Similar support in Spain, Italy and Greece is now driving growth in southern Europe as governments turn to the sun as a weapon both against climate change and energy dependence.

Subsidies are needed because solar is still more expensive than conventional power sources like coal, but costs are dropping by around 5 percent a year and "grid parity," without subsidies, is already a reality in parts of California.

Very sunny countries could reach that breakeven in five years or so, and even cloudy Britain by 2020.
Note that there is no mention of American government support. Wonder why...

One way to bolster military enlistments

Spiegel Online:
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has granted US citizenship to 32,500 foreign soldiers. In July 2002, US President George W. Bush issued an executive order to expand existing legislation to offer a fast track to citizenship to foreigners who agree to fight for the US Armed Forces. About 8,000 non-Americans have joined the US military every year since then.

The foreigners already represent 5 percent of all recruits. They even make up the majority of soldiers from some New York and Los Angeles neighborhoods. Four years and 3,800 US deaths after the beginning of the Iraq campaign, fewer and fewer American citizens are willing to fight in a war opposed by a majority of the US population. But despite the Iraq war's lack of popularity, US generals are demanding 180,000 new recruits a year.

The Pentagon already spends $3.2 billion a year on recruitment, even sending its recruiters to high schools to persuade 17-year-olds still a year away from graduation to enlist.
No one wants to fight Bush's war, so people desperate to become Americans are bribed to do so. If they survive.

Pelosi speaks out...

against Pete Stark.

San Francisco Chronicle:
Rep. Pete Stark may be Congress' foremost expert on health care, but on Capitol Hill the Fremont Democrat is better known for his explosive remarks that drive his critics - and sometimes his allies - crazy.

The 18-term lawmaker stirred the pot again Thursday when he attacked President Bush and congressional Republicans for backing hundreds of billions of dollars for the Iraq war, but blocking a $35 billion expansion of a children's health insurance program.

"You're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement," Stark told Republicans on the floor of the House.

The remarks during the debate over Bush's veto of the children's health bill drew howls of outrage from House Republicans and conservative commentators. His words were replayed endlessly on cable news and talk radio. By Friday, even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - who praised Stark for his leadership on the children's health bill a day earlier - was distancing herself from his comments.

"While members of Congress are passionate about their views, what Congressman Stark said during the debate was inappropriate and distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand - providing health care for America's children," Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Such a delicate balance

New York Times:
He has invoked the Rev. Rick Warren, a popular evangelical author and megachurch pastor. He has quoted Scripture and alluded to the Gideon Bible as favorite late-night reading. And he has cited his belief in Jesus Christ as his personal “savior.”

As Mitt Romney has had to grapple with suspicions about his Mormon religion during his presidential run, he has tried in various ways to signal his kinship with evangelical Christians, who represent a crucial constituency of the Republican base but consider his religious beliefs to be heretical.

He faces a delicate task in trying to stake out common ground with conservative Christians, while not running afoul of deeply rooted evangelical sensitivities about any blurring of distinctions between Mormonism and conventional Protestantism.

“He has to be very cautious,” said Oran P. Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council, a conservative Christian group in South Carolina. “When he actually says things that make Mormonism sound like orthodox Christianity, I think that’s where he runs into a lot of trouble.”

Friday, October 12, 2007

Arnold the asshole

San Francisco Chronicle:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday carried out his promise to continue to veto gay marriage bills.

The Republican governor turned down a measure by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, that would have lifted the state's ban on same-sex marriages by defining marriage as a union between two persons, not just a man and a woman.

Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar Leno bill in 2005.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A discouraging dose of lies

The commander of US forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, yesterday sharpened America's confrontation with Iran, claiming that a leader of its Revolutionary Guard corps was in direct charge of policy in Baghdad.

The charge that Tehran's ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, was a member of the Quds force, a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, takes US accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq's violence to a new level. It strengthens suggestions that Washington is ratcheting up the rhetoric against Tehran in preparation for military strikes against Revolutionary Guard facilities in Iran.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

An encouraging dose of rationality

Diplomatic relations between Britain and the United States over Iran are under increasing strain after Gordon Brown's special security adviser warned that American claims about Tehran's military capability should be taken 'with a pinch of salt'.

As a new conservative campaign group with links to the White House prepares to make the case that Iran is a direct threat to the US, Patrick Mercer urged scepticism towards any US justification for strikes against the country.

Mercer, the former shadow homeland security spokesman, who visIted the Iranian capital recently, said: 'There is increasing concern about the apparent evidence that America is preparing about Iranian military involvement.'


Assoicated Press:
Thousands of walrus have appeared on Alaska's northwest coast in what conservationists are calling a dramatic consequence of global warming melting the Arctic sea ice.

Alaska's walrus, especially breeding females, in summer and fall are usually found on the Arctic ice pack. But the lowest summer ice cap on record put sea ice far north of the outer continental shelf, the shallow, life-rich shelf of ocean bottom in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

Walrus feed on clams, snails and other bottom dwellers. Given the choice between an ice platform over water beyond their 630-foot diving range or gathering spots on shore, thousands of walrus picked Alaska's rocky beaches.

"It looks to me like animals are shifting their distribution to find prey," said Tim Ragen, executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission. "The big question is whether they will be able to find sufficient prey in areas where they are looking."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


New York Times:
The Arctic ice cap shrank so much this summer that waves briefly lapped along two long-imagined Arctic shipping routes, the Northwest Passage over Canada and the Northern Sea Route over Russia.

Over all, the floating ice dwindled to an extent unparalleled in a century or more, by several estimates.

Now the six-month dark season has returned to the North Pole. In the deepening chill, new ice is already spreading over vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Astonished by the summer’s changes, scientists are studying the forces that exposed one million square miles of open water — six Californias — beyond the average since satellites started measurements in 1979....

Scientists are also unnerved by the summer’s implications for the future, and their ability to predict it....

The pace of change has far exceeded what had been estimated by almost all the simulations used to envision how the Arctic will respond to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. But that disconnect can cut two ways. Are the models overly conservative? Or are they missing natural influences that can cause wide swings in ice and temperature, thereby dwarfing the slow background warming?

What We Have Lost: Impeachment As Existential Imperative

In the past weeks, even the most ardent Democratic partisans have come to condemn Congressional Democrats for their lack of will, in confronting Bush and the Republicans: the war, domestic spying, torture, the absurd MoveOn resolution, the dangerous Iran resolution- we're all baffled and discouraged and heartbroken, and many of us are just plain pissed off. Those of us who still intend to work for the election of Democrats, next year, find it increasingly difficult to convince those who have been straying that they should remain in the fold. We continue to insist that we need larger Congressional majorities, the executive branch, and if nothing else- and this ought to convince even the most recusant- to prevent four more years of Republican judges. But we cannot pretend that we don't feel betrayed. We cannot pretend that we are having trouble answering the question: why? We are not using our majority power, and we are not using all the legislative and procedural tools we have available. Why?

Some say the Democrats are willfully complicit- beholden to the same nefarious interests as are the Republicans. I disagree. To me, it all comes back to impeachment. It comes back to the lack of will to make the ultimate and necessary confrontation. It comes from allowing a criminal administration to remain in power, and thus conferring on it a legitimacy that its criminality should have long ago voided. It comes from establishing a precedent and a dynamic that say the Bush Administration can push all boundaries, and the Democrats will not push back. If impeachment is off the table, then every form of criminality is on it!

Let me state, at the outset, that I do think the window for impeachment likely has closed. Barring some new bombshell revelation, there is likely neither the will in Congress to even start proceedings, nor the time for such proceedings to produce fair results. I come neither to praise nor bury impeachment. I come to discuss what I deem to be the consequence of its not having been pursued: a paralysis in the Democrats that renders them incapable of confronting Bush on anything.

If we were lied into the war, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for those lies makes it impossible to accept the necessity of ending what should never have been started. If domestic spying is a Constitutional crime, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for that crime necessitates the further Constitutional outrage of attempting to legislatively make such crimes legal. If torture is a crime against humanity, then being unwilling to hold the Administration accountable for that crime gives it tacit permission to violate pretty much any legal or moral standard. Oversight and subpoenas are irrelevant, because there are no consequences to what is discovered, and subpoenas can be, and are being, ignored. Despite being as unpopular as any "president," ever, Bush knows he can just thumb his nose at the Democrats, and they will do nothing. They are incapable even of sound and fury.

In December 2005, John Conyers proposed an impeachment investigation. Once the Democrats regained Congressional majorities, he began making excuses for not again doing so. Even before regaining the majorities, Barney Frank said:
I know of virtually no support for trying to impeach President Bush among House Democrats, because we understand that this would be entirely counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish both politically and governmentally.
Note that he did not render an opinion on whether impeachment is even plausibly justified. His is a statement of pure political calculation. The concept of legal and Constitutional right seems irrelevant. And this from one of our best and smartest elected representatives!

And then there was Senator Russ Feingold, who wrote this diary, on Daily Kos. It included these telling words:
I believe that the President and Vice President may well have committed impeachable offenses.
And it then proceeded to make excuses for not holding the Administration accountable for such offenses- as if a President and Vice President committing impeachable offenses is somehow of little import. This, too, from one of our best and smartest elected representatives! My full response was here.

It is clear that many of our best elected officials believe, at the very least, that Bush and Cheney may have committed impeachable offenses. That they have been unwilling to do anything about it speaks to something much graver than the issue of impeachment. I want, now, to briefly discuss a psychological mechanism best articulated by Frantz Fanon, in his seminal work, The Wretched Of The Earth. Let me first say that the situations are not at all comparable, but I do think the psychology is. Writing of the insidious effects of colonialism, Fanon says:
At times this Manicheism goes to its logical conclusion and dehumanizes the native, or to speak plainly, it turns him into an animal. In fact, the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms. He speaks of the yellow man's reptilian motions, of the stink of the native quarter, of breeding swarms, of foulness, of spawn, of gesticulations. When the settler seeks to describe the native fully in exact terms he constantly refers to the bestiary.
Now, the Bush Administration obviously hasn't colonialized the United States, although it is imposing Neo-Colonial conditions on Iraq. But it is here, in the United States, that this Neo-Colonialism must be stopped. It is here that the continued failures of the Democrats prove that their will has been broken. Politically marginalized, their very ideology ridiculed by the corporate media, Democrats have come to accept that the best they can achieve is incremental advances on relatively small issues, while the largest issues, including the very legitimacy of government, cannot be even openly debated. They don't need Bush or the Republicans to beat them down, because they have already internalized that they are beaten!

In The Hermeneutics of African Philosophy, Tsenay Serequeberhan succinctly defines Fanon's answer to colonialism:
It is only when the colonized appropriates the violence of the colonizer and puts forth his own concrete counterviolence that he reenters the realm of history and human historical becoming.
Again, let me be explicit: clearly, what the Democrats have suffered is in no way comparable to the suffering of those subjected to imperialist violence; but just as clearly, impeachment is in no way comparable to revolutionary violence against imperialism. The scale is immeasurably different, but it is, again, the psychological mechanism that I propose as being the same. Having been, essentially, exiled from participation in both the functions of government, and the framing of its political dialogue, Democrats have been humiliated to the point of no longer even remembering who they are and for what they stand. They have come to accept that they have no role to play in the process of constructing major policy decisions, and that their entire ideology is effectively void. Politically, they have grown accustomed to being adrift and irrelevant. Psychologically, they have been not only neutralized, but neutered.

Impeachment, then, is not only necessary for Constitutional reasons, but for existential ones! Failing to pursue impeachment proceedings is a failure to rupture what has now become a calcined political framework, within which Democrats cannot fully function. Only something so bold and dramatic, only something so just but unthinkable, can restore to the Democrats their ability to reenter the realm of history and political historical becoming.

I hope I am wrong, and that the Democrats will soon begin actually standing up to Bush. I don't see it happening. For the Democrats to realize the historical and practical necessity of taking control of our government, they will have to come to terms with the depths of the depravity that is the Bush Administration. It is not just about ending one war, or preventing another, or restoring the Constitutional rights that have been so blithely tossed to the wind, it is about truly confronting both the people and the ideology that have created this historical crisis. It is not going to be pretty, and it is not going to be nice. It will, of necessity, be as dramatic as have been the assaults on our American ideals.

For a generation, the Republicans have spoken of a revolution. The Democrats seem to have taken such talk as mere rhetoric. Clearly, it was not. This has been more than a revolution, it has been an anti-Revolution. It has been an attempt to effectively reverse the American Revolution! By failing to impeach Bush and Cheney, the Democrats have allowed our very system of government to teeter on the brink of collapse.

We may win, big, in next year's elections, but will the nation we take over even any longer exist?