Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pass cards ahead?

So the Supreme Court has upheld Indiana's voter ID law. The requirements are tough:

The Indiana law, adopted by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2005 without a single Democratic vote, is regarded as the strictest in the country. It requires a voter to present a photograph as part of an unexpired document issued either by Indiana or the federal government, a requirement that in most cases can be satisfied only by a current driver’s license or a passport. The state’s motor vehicle agency provides a free photo ID card for people who do not drive, but obtaining it requires a “primary document” like an original birth certificate or a passport.

Would-be voters without proper identification may cast a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they appear within 10 days at a county clerk’s office and present acceptable photo identification or, alternatively, swear either that they are indigent or that they have a religious objection to being photographed.

New York Times,
April 29, 2008

That ought to be enough to discourage old and poor people who don't have a current drivers license from voting, don't you think? A 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School concluded that there are a lot of U.S. citizens who would be tripped by such a law if this rule goes national.
  • Thirteen million citizen adults do not have legal documents proving citizenship.
  • Poor people are those most likely to lack legal documents. Some 12 percent of voting-age citizens earning less than $25,000 per year do not have a readily available U.S. passport, naturalization document, or birth certificate.
  • As many as 32 million voting-age women may have available only proof of citizenship documents that do not carry their current name.
I guess those Indiana Republicans had some people in mind that they didn't want voting -- and it seems likely those people are poor, old, and otherwise marginalized, probably by race. And the Supremes have just said, "Go for it! It's fine to create obstacles to some people voting."

The disenfranchisement that may come of this law is profoundly anti-democratic, small "d" as well as large "D." And there's an additional aspect of this ruling that is in some ways just as troubling.

We're all getting more and more used to proving our identity in order to go about our daily lives. We need those driver's licenses not only to drive, but also to get aboard a passenger plane. Parts of Canada and Mexico that once shared an economy and daily life with communities on the U.S. side of the border are now cut off by the requirement that U.S. residents have a passport to get back into their own country. More and more workers are accustomed to swiping company ID badges to enter their workplaces; a few even have been implanted with RFID chips by employers to verify their identity. Stores often demand to see a driver's license from a customer using a credit card.

We're becoming a society in which various identity cards, usually driver's licenses, have become a kind of "pass card." Don't leave home and try to go anywhere without one. (Actually, the Feds are now issuing a kind of cut-rate wallet size passport for use at the Mexican and Canadian borders that they label a "pass card.") Does that worry anyone? It certainly makes me feel no safer and less free.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Those "harsh interrogation techniques"

Yesterday the New York Times reported:

"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public. ...

It has been clear that the order preserved at least some of the latitude that Mr. Bush has permitted the C.I.A. in using harsher interrogation techniques than those permitted by the military or other agencies.

Like this:

Watch the video. Then go on over to Amnesty International's Unsubscribe Me site and sign the petition. Now.

Unsubscribe is a movement of people united against human rights abuses in the 'war on terror'. Thousands of unsubscribers have now joined up. The threat of terrorism is real, but trampling over human rights and abandoning our values is not the answer. From Guantanamo Bay, Rendition, Torture and Waterboarding -- we unsubscribe.

H/t Rachel from North London

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gear experiment on San Bruno Mountain

The air was warm, the breezes light, the sky as blue as it gets amid the Bay Area smog. So yesterday I headed off for San Bruno Mountain to try a gear experiment.

This harness holds the camera in front of me, freeing both hands. I can run in this rig -- or at least trot rapidly. I've been looking for something like it for awhile. Photography is possible, though sweaty. Take a look.

The mountain is not, itself, photogenic. It is a hard, rocky out-cropping, the northernmost bit of the Santa Cruz mountains, surrounded by city and suburbia. Its trails are usually empty. Its wind-whipped, brush covered sides are not particularly scenic. I love it. There is more green this time of year than any other time.

Trails wind through impenetrable scrub growth.

At this season, there are poppies.

And wild iris.

And swaths of what I think is yellow broom.

There was also plenty of this pretty weed -- poison oak.

Not a bad view of downtown San Francisco.

Earnest park enthusiasts work hard at eradicating non-native planets on the mountain. But these tall, straight eucalyptus provide a lovely avenue on its lower flank.

The camera harness works fine. The experiment is a success. I'll have to come back and photograph the mountain again when it assumes its normal, parched gold color.

Health insurance blues

Yesterday, the NFL football team I root for, the currently hapless 49ers, picked up a new hunk of beef. Chosen 39th in the draft, he's Chilo Rachel, a 6-5, 313-pound guard. He had left that fine football factory, the University of Southern California, a year early to take his chances on the NFL. Why go out early?

...his mother, Veronica Pinkette had a stomach tumor. "She didn't have health insurance," Rachel said. "It was a really hard decision to make," Rachel said.

San Francisco Chronicle,
April 26, 2008

Let's hope it works out for Rachel, his mother and the 49ers.

Ron Wyden, a Democratic Senator from Oregon, who doesn't have to run for office this year, is promoting a health care plan that would do away with the need for people to organize their lives around health keeping insurance. His video is just a little too true -- and funny as well. Take a look.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Direct from Afghanistan
The forgotten war

A Daily Kos poster, profmarcus, is in Kabul and reports what he sees.

from the time i emerged from immigration and customs at kabul international airport and was driven in to town, i've been struck by just how virtually nonexistent the basic infrastructure is in the city... (i haven't been outside of kabul, so, right now, that's my only point of reference...) roads are shit... water and sewer is shit... the kabul river that flows through town is nothing but a sewage canal cum garbage dump with stone wall embankments... municipally-supplied electric power is spotty at best, most everybody has a back-up diesel electric power generator and most of the compounds housing internationals are powered exclusively by generators...

landline telephone service is a joke... there are 4-5 cellphone providers and they have done a relatively decent job of blanketing the country with service... thank god, because, without them, telephone communication wouldn't exist... internet service is provided by satellite downlink providers who beam service via microwave to those who can afford their usurious rates... needless to say, international organizations are paying through the nose... i know internet cafes are relatively plentiful but, because i'm not allowed to get out and about without an armed escort, i can't speak to that first-hand...

the pollution is ghastly, combining the exhaust of dense traffic with dust from mostly unpaved roads, the exhaust of the generators, the smoke and fumes of the wood and kerosene that's used for heating and cooking, and the general dust of a very dry climate... the city infrastructure might have been adequate at one time, pre-war, 35 years ago, for a population of 250,000 max., but now there's 5 million people trying to survive here...

There's a lot more. And he also thinks he knows what could have been done by the U.S. invaders to fix it. And he talks with Afghans. Go read it all.

KSM has a lawyer

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is our government's most famous torture subject. They admit to half drowning him and who knows what else to get him to "confess." Now they've given him a military lawyer. This lawyer is a spunky guy.

Prescott Prince is a small-town lawyer who has never taken a death penalty case to trial. Yet he finds himself involved in one of the biggest capital punishment cases this century: He's defending the alleged mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed....

No civilian court, he says, would accept confessions obtained after a defendant was mistreated. But the CIA admits Mohammed was waterboarded, a controversial interrogation technique that involves simulated drowning.

"I take the position that this is mock execution. ... Colloquially speaking, at least it's torture," Prince said.

The fact that whatever Mohammed said during such duress could be used at trial is alarming to Prince.

"That's not the rule of law. That's just insanity. ...

"Even the greenest deputy sheriff or rookie police officer in Skunk Hollow County knows that if you rough up a defendant, anything he says after that is not going to be admitted into court," Prince said. "The officer might not like those rules, but he understands them and will abide by them."

But a judge in a military commission could have it entered into evidence. "We have created a system under the military commissions that says, in essence, 'if he was roughed up but what he says still seems reliable, we'll accept it any way.' And that's just wrong."

... Prince doesn't believe that Mohammed can get a fair trial and says the country risks trashing "our constitutional values when it becomes convenient to do so."

April 23, 2008

Notice that I described this plug-ugly prisoner as this country's most famous torture victim. He may in fact have had something to do with the 9/11 -- he may have been the "mastermind" of that atrocity. But our idiot government has managed to transform him into a sympathetic figure, someone we beat the shit out of in violation of our own best traditions.

And this interview makes Prescott Prince sound like a fine, down to earth, sort of guy. He is is a Navy Reservist who served 6 months in Iraq. Clearly he'd play well in a public courtroom drama. I can see the headline: "Little guy from Mayberry takes on evil Washington ..."

So they won't be holding a real court for KSM -- he'll get judged by one of our "Military Commissions" -- the special gulag proceedings at Guantanamo where the military and ultimately the Administration picks the judges and the judges decide whether anyone, including the accused, gets to see the "evidence."

Only our current bumbling authoritarians could have managed to make an admitted Al Qaeda leader the "good guy" in this situation.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A no fly list fix

If this proposal caught on, I bet the government would clean up the "no fly list" and the "terrorist watch list" right quickly. Like yesterday.

The suburban Chicago Sun Herald editorializes:

Today, nearly seven years after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, it is hard to believe those listed on our government's "no fly list" can legally purchase guns.

What is Congress waiting for? ...

... we believe closing the no-fly-list loophole and others are reasonable attempts at restrictions that might prevent violence. They should be adopted by Congress as soon as possible.

Sure, this is a roundabout attempt to bring attention to the yawning loopholes that the gun lobby had driven through all efforts at gun regulation. The editorial talks further about gun trade show exceptions to existing requirements, the lack of any background check on gun store employees, and the permission that gun dealers who loose their licenses enjoy to sell off their stock.

We know this proposal is going nowhere -- gun owners who think the Feds are out to get them will never let it. But why do we allow the government to compile, without any judicial process, ever expanding lists of names of people who it then subjects to extra scrutiny when they carry on ordinary activities?

More "Gay and Gray"

My latest "Gay and Gray" post is up over at Time Goes By. The piece draws heavily on the work of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, musing on the housing challenges gay people face when we get old. HRC has pissed off lots of us with their willingness to ditch equity for people whose gender presentation is unorthodox for toothless legislation against employment discrimination. But that's another story. Their housing stuff is thoughtful.

While you are there -- or while you are here -- if you are over 50 and read or comment on blogs, click on the "The Elderblogger Survey" box and spend five minutes answering questions. Ronni Bennett at Time Goes By figures, since we are so small a part of surveys from the big blogs, that we need to do our own. The survey will be live until May 1.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

About those watch lists...

A federal magistrate judge in Chicago has ruled that protecting state secrets is not a valid argument for the government to refuse to tell American citizens whether they are on the terrorism watch list, the Terrorist Screening Database. The ruling, signed on April 16 but made public by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Wednesday, ordered the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. to give the court the files regarding the 10 Muslim or Arab-American plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit starting in 2005, seeking court protection from what they contend is unwarranted harassment at the border. The magistrate judge, Sidney I. Schenkier of Federal District Court, said the court could review the information to decide whether it should remain classified. The F.B.I. said it had no comment.

New York Times,
April 24, 2008

Not likely this will survive appeal. Further up the judicial pecking order, too many judges seem pretty relaxed about giving away our legal protections. But it is nice to know that there's a judge somewhere who thinks there ought a process before the government can put people on its terrorist lists.

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001

Part Four of a sketchy chronology of the contemporary antiwar movement. Part One. Part Two. Part Three

Peace movement finds causes to support;
Insurgent new Democrats and a counterculture emerge

Despite all the rallies and vigils, the web postings and speeches, probably the most energizing antiwar demonstration since the Iraq invasion was Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey. Plopped outside Bush's ranch in the baking summer of 2005. Sheehan's demanded that the Commander in Chief tell her why he had sent her son to his death. Her question became the nation's and helped galvanize peace work.

This devastating condemnation of the Bush regime was shortly reinforced by the spectacle of its abandonment of New Orleans to the Hurricane Katrina. We all saw on TV that the people in power didn't give a damn about caring for anyone -- not only faraway Muslims, but also ordinary U.S. residents, especially those with dark skins.

The two events, painfully, gave a U.S. peace movement real live people to fight FOR -- Katrina refugees and "the troops." Though the connections were not always articulately drawn, ever since that time, there has been a powerful infusion into the peace movement of the sort of energy which people have fighting for their own well-being and the well-being of people whose lives they can imagine. And a significant majority of people in the United States have now turned against the war, firmly convinced that somehow, the Iraq war was a mistake. In December 2006, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq hit 3000; 4000 troop deaths was reached in March 2008.

Counter recruitment -- organizing to discourage enlistment in the military -- had been a named antiwar project from the get-go. The historic peace group American Friends Service Committee provided resources. But as it became more and more clear that U.S. deaths in the Iraq were for no purpose embraced by the majority of the country, as the abysmal treatment of injured vets was revealed, counter recruitment gained energy. Moreover, this work provided an entry space to younger activists. Counter recruitment challenged the daily presence of the military in high schools -- it was real and tangible and often considered disruptive by schools and adults -- an attractive project for young people asserting their own voice. Aimee Allison and David Solnit record the movement in "Army of None."

Concurrently, people seeking to remake the Democratic Party as a loosely progressive coalition shoved their way into prominence and some power. The opportunity created by a new technological and media environment came together with a vigorous push for a generational transition in the party's hierarchy. A new generation wants to be heard by the Democrats. This first showed its force in the 2004 Dean campaign. It has the feeling of a domestic insurgency on the rise, of people who know they are sweeping dead wood away and can't be stopped. As such, it has an attractive force that a peace movement unable to find its imagination notably lacks.

There is no question that these new Democrats' animating issue is the war. They view it as a Republican crime against the country. It is easy sitting within a stalled peace movement to underestimate the excitement and sheer grit that have been expended to breathe new life into the Democratic Party by people who have largely never related to antiwar movement activities. Political blogs, Move-On, and local Democratic committees have become their arena for giving political expression to their antiwar convictions. They take antiwar opinions for granted. They are extremely unhappy with the inaction of the Democrats they believe they put into office in 2006.

Perhaps most important of all, because they found their concerns and beliefs erased in the MSM, as they label old mainstream media, a very substantial fraction of people in the United States generated our own cultural markers. From early anti-Bush outbursts by the Dixie Chicks through Jon Stewart's alternative "news", expressions of revulsion against the regime in power have become commonplace. Open access to new media platforms has unleashed a torrent of creative resistance, apparently shapeless to observers outside it, yet forming to an oppositional culture in which millions live.

This somewhat amorphous oppositional culture, this new "counter culture," is currently fueling the Obama campaign -- and winning a victory over the old culture it sees represented by Hillary Clinton.

This new counter culture is not anti-imperialist. It is not in any way classically left. It is sometimes aware that it is more white than U.S. population demographics warrant. (Concurrently, people of color have long been far more critical of the post 9/11 wars than white folks.) It is often ignorant of the corporate loyalties of its Democratic Party leaders -- but it is a force that wasn't there in 2001. It is far larger and more influential than anything that the self-conscious peace movement has accomplished. A peace movement that is not in some way of this counter culture is simply irrelevant.

One more post to come... some things I've learned while writing this...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Let 'em eat burgers and fries

Continuing my ongoing discussion of what campaigns feed their volunteers, take a look at this:

The interviewer seems to think he is uncovering something nefarious here in Philadelphia. I don't get it. What's the difference between giving the GOTV crew a voucher for a Big Mac and ordering up pizzas for them? I've never seen a campaign so poor it didn't feed the volunteers, even some of the two-bit ones I've run. And Senator Obama's campaign is not poor.

I like how the guy just answers up, sure he has nothing to hide.

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001

Part three of a sketchy chronology of the contemporary antiwar movement. Part One. Part Two.

Liberal elites get the bad news:
U.S. has "lost" Iraq war;
Presidential election subsumes activism

While the various Iraqi nationalist and religious insurgencies increased their ability to contest the occupation, the U.S. administration mucked around with constitutions and elections to try to create a compliant but also legitimate Iraqi government. Occupation authorities were transparently inept; Iraqi collaborators were transparently self-serving and venal. Iraq drifted toward becoming a bloody failed state torn by civil war.

The fact that, against all expectations, the U.S. was actually losing the war has been the backdrop against which all U.S. antiwar activism has played out since at least early 2005 -- though this is usually unacknowledged, even among peace movement people. The U.S. can't "win" in Iraq, or even project a meaningful description of what "winning" would look like. And gradually, mainstream elites have figured this out, largely without reference to the activities or demands of the antiwar movement.

And Iraqis and U.S. troops kept dying. The U.S. fatality count reached 1000 in September 2004. The Iraqi casualty count was and remains extremely disputed; for an overview of counts, see this article.

Two events in this period belatedly forced most liberal opinion makers -- and lots of Democrats -- to turn against a war they'd supported as long as they thought it would be successful and cheap. In April 2004, U.S. forces laid siege to the Iraqi town of Fallujah, wreaking havoc apparently in revenge for killings of four U.S. contractors/mercenaries. To the shock of many, after inflicting awful casualties on Iraqi civilians, the US units were forced to withdraw. Leveling centers of opposition was obviously going to be more brutal and bloody than liberals had bargained for. Smarter war supporters and opponents began to realize the U.S. could not "win" in Iraq at any acceptable cost. All that military might could not be usefully employed to reach any imaginable goal, not to mention any goal remotely acceptable to Iraqis. (Bush ordered the militarily useless but brutal destruction of uppity Fallujah after his re-election.)

Just weeks later, the Abu Ghraib torture photos hit the U.S. press. Iraqis of course knew that prisoners swept up by U.S. forces were being abused -- the revelation was to the world outside Iraq and particularly to the U.S. population. Widespread, visceral revulsion followed, This too showed liberal elites they had backed the wrong horse.

With Democrats now by and large leery of the war though not yet calling for withdrawal, antiwar activism was easily subsumed into the 2004 campaign. John Kerry failed to articulate an attractive antiwar position, but millions worked to elect him in place of George W. Bush as the only hope of ending what more and more was seen as a disaster. Folks in the peace movement made noises about keeping the war at the center of the campaign, but we didn't really have access to the megaphone -- the candidate and conservative elements in the Democratic Party held tight to their wishy-washy message. We fell in with the chorus of voices blaming George Bush for all the country's ills without being able to project any more sophisticated or positive critique.

Polls from that time illuminate the deep ambivalence about the war that helped Bush to eke out his victory. Sometime in 2004, both Bush's approval rating and the number of people in the U.S. who thought the war was not worth it slipped under 50 percent. But a majority continued to say that the U.S. "done the right thing" by going to war in Iraq. That is, a majority essentially still endorsed the right of the U.S. to wage preemptive war, or a war of revenge, or a war of conquest, on the say-so of its government, even if they didn't like this war. No wonder the peace movement felt we weren't making a dent -- though we kept trying.

Those who came to believe that the Iraq war had not been "the right thing to do," only fell consistently below 50 percent after Bush was re-elected and 2005 began. By October 2005, the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq topped 2000.

To be continued...

Monday, April 21, 2008

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001

Asked to contribute to a panel on the antiwar movement at the recent Historians Against the War conference, I decided to assemble a chronology to ground my thoughts. Part One is here.

Part Two: Afghanistan and the Iraq invasion;
the antiwar movement builds some infrastructure
and tries some initiatives:

In October 2001, peace movement forces were run over by the U.S. rush to overthrow the Taliban and take revenge on Al Qaida, mostly in the person of miscellaneous Afghans. We also most emphatically did not have the US people on our side. Close to 90 percent of the U.S. population supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan in late 2001.

For many months, though we now know there was never any doubt that U.S. rulers were bent on invading Iraq, folks in the peace movement wondered whether an Iraq war would happen -- and often asserted that our rulers couldn't be foolish enough to do anything so obviously stupid.

Very gradually we built some weak, but increasingly real structures of resistance. The outfit I'm associated with, WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras, published its first issue of the free newsprint tabloid in February 2002 and promptly had to reprint to meet demand. The WarTimes steering committee thought of ourselves as providing infrastructure for a peace movement not yet in being. The broad coalition of U.S. peace groups that would become United for Peace and Justice was also beginning to talk with each other at this time.

By February 2003, there was a visible U.S. peace movement and a vigorous world peace movement. Across the entire world, millions rallied against the looming invasion of Iraq; the New York Times famously described this international outpouring:

"...the huge anti-war demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

The enormous scale of this public manifestation gave peace forces a benchmark we've never come close to repeating. Many participants from that day apparently concluded: if they aren't going to listen to us, why bother to assemble? The movement's underlying lack of deep ongoing organization made it easy for war opponents to retreat into the woodwork. And since what they had done didn't work, why shouldn't they turn to other concerns.

When President Bush pulled the trigger on Iraq in March, 2003, 75 percent of the U.S. population believed the war as necessary and justified -- not as nearly unanimous approval as greeted the attack on Afghanistan, but nothing for the peace movement to cheer about. As the invasion quickly became a violent, contested occupation and no WMD turned up, support for the war began to erode as early as the summer of 2003.

In June of 2003, United for Peace and Justice formalized its existence as a representative coalition of hundreds of peace groups with an elected board from member organizations led by a full time staff in New York. Traditional peace organizations joined with more recent and often more local efforts to try to rein in the Iraq occupation. Code Pink, the feisty "women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education and other life-affirming activities," began to demonstrate imaginatively wherever politicians supported the war. Local vigils proliferated. International human rights organizations raised an outcry against the U.S. gulag at Guantanamo.

From early on, Military Families Speak Out was able to break through the silence imposed by anguish after 9/11. They worked to publicize the devastating effect extended tours of duty and call ups from the reserves were having on U.S. soldiers. Donald Rumsfeld at the Defense (War) Department, had calculated that the U.S. could fight two concurrent campaigns with very few soldiers on the ground. When this failed, military necessity quickly stretched the human beings who had to fight to the breaking point.

In the year after the Iraq invasion, the peace movement put down some roots and worked at educating the rest of the United States about the realities of war that the administration conspired to hide from us. In that time period, a clandestinely captured photo showing the flag-draped coffins of dead U.S. soldiers became an act of resistance. And we kept on keeping on.

To be continued...

Clinton campaign is over

I keep telling friends that the Democratic Presidential nomination campaign is over. Obama won (yes, he does deserve credit for running an inspirational, shrewd campaign) and Clinton lost (she ran a tone-deaf, unfocused march toward nowhere as if premised on a belief in her entitlement). People say, how can that be? There are still these primaries yet to happen ...

Here's how:

According to campaign reports filed with the Federal Election Commission over the weekend, the New York senator began the month of April with close to $32 million cash-on hand. But, according to the Associated Press, only $9 million of that total are funds that are able to be spent in the primary races. The report also showed Clinton owes more than $10 million, meaning the Democratic presidential candidate was in the red even before she heavily stepped up television advertising in Pennsylvania.

The newly released reports offer the clearest picture to date of just how much of an advantage Barack Obama holds over Clinton heading into the final stretch of the prolonged Democratic race for the White House.

April 21, 2008

My emphasis. Clinton is no longer taking in enough money to compete. Since this end of March snapshot, Obama outspent her 2-1 on TV in Pennsylvania -- and he's only playing to keep it close there.

She'll win in Pennsylvania tomorrow, but not by enough to catch up. If she limps forward, she can even win a few more places.

But she can't win the big prize and the smart money has already jumped off her train.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oops -- we fried the planet

Mark Lynas reports in his introduction to Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet that

...I overheard a conversation in the restroom after one event in which one audience member apologized to another for dragging them out to something so depressing. I was truly shocked. Depressing? It had honestly never occurred to me that Six Degrees might be depressing. Yes, the impacts presented are terrifying -- but they are also, in the main, still avoidable. Getting depressed about the situation is now is like sitting in your living room and watching the kitchen catch fire and then getting more and more miserable as the fire spreads throughout the house -- rather than grabbing an extinguisher and dousing the flames.

As we come toward Earth Day, I admit to some sympathy with the folks in the bathroom. I haven't been so gripped by a dystopian vision since reading Jonathan Schell's Fate of the Earth some years ago. But we haven't done in the species with nukes yet, so just perhaps we can also evade some of the worst effects of the grand experiment in accelerated planetwide climate change we set loose through our innocent, thoughtless, greedy exploitation of our only home.

Lynas's project is simple. He has read the massive accumulation of scientific papers now in circulation about particular probable effects of global warming and brought them together in narrative descriptions of what the world will be like as it warms from one to six degrees Celsius (roughly warming over a range of 1.8 degrees to 13 degrees Fahrenheit). The news is bad. Very bad. The few of us humans still around in a six degrees Celsius warmer world would be lonely, hungry and chronically terrified of catastrophe.

I'll pull out some particular scientific predictions recounted by Lynas that apply to where I live, California.
  • At one degree of warming (virtually accomplished today), the entire Great Plains agricultural region of the United States will be prone to perennial drought leading to permanent conditions like the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. In California we'll have to pick up some of the people and some of the slack in food growing -- while our own water shortages worsen.
  • At two degrees, a couple of centuries of water engineering in California that have made the underlying desert bloom will reach the end of their capacity to hide water scarcity. We'll be

    on a collision course between a burgeoning population and a declining water supply as the world warms. One major study ... projected declines of between a third and three-quarters in a two degree world. In addition, heat waves in Los Angeles will quadruple in frequency, while crippling droughts will occur 50 percent more often, increasing the demand for scarce water. With Sierra Nevada snowpack declining and earlier melt producing earlier spring runoff, surface water supplies to 85 percent of Californians, orange growers and city dwellers alike, will be reduced.

    ...the likelihood of winter flooding will also increase, even while reduced runoff causes water shortages in the summer. Most affected by increased floods will be the mountainous regions of the California Coastal Range and the Sierra Nevada.... In addition summer droughts mean forests becoming tinder dray and increasingly susceptible to wildfires.

    ...the changes in snowpack and runoff will not just mean that golf courses and ski resorts bite the dust. They call into question the whole region's capacity to support big cities and agricultural areas. California will no longer be the Golden State once global warming begins to bite.

  • In a three degree Celsius warmer world, the melting Artic will change weather patterns further. Low pressure systems that now blow in off the Pacific and dump rain on California will move north as Artic ice melts to open water. Scientists project 30 percent less winter rain fall. In these conditions, Forest Service scientists based at the Lawrence Berkeley lab project 50 percent more out of control wild fires in the San Francisco Bay Area -- and 125 percent more on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

    As summer droughts dry out grassland and forest, people will wait for that single spark that will set their world aflame. Fire crews may arrive, but their trucks will be empty and their hoses useless. There will be nothing to stop the burning.

  • In a five degree warmer world, ninety percent of California's snowpack is gone -- there simply isn't any water in most of the state.
California doesn't get much further play in Lynas's account; as the planet moves into the six degree world, much of it will become inhospitable to plant, animal and human survival. And what lives will experience sudden environmental catastrophes -- methane eruptions, tsunamis, flash floods, infernos as drying tropical forests burn themselves to cinders.

Okay, all this is scary as hell. Can we avert it? According to Lynas, maybe.

Click for a larger image of Lynas's chart.

The key to his prescription for us -- worldwide, collectively -- is not to allow carbon dioxide concentrations to exceed 400 ppm (parts per million) which would stabilize the climate at not more than 2 degrees warming and give us a chance of pick up after the mess we've made. We stand at 385 ppm now. We probably have less than 10 years to avert the most drastic parts of this forecast.

Does the species choose to fry? Apparently we can't avoid having an opportunity to find out.

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001

Union Square, September 22, 2001

Asked to contribute to a panel on the antiwar movement at the recent Historians Against the War conference, I decided to assemble a chronology to ground my thoughts. In the panel, I presented a condensed version of this post which is Part One of the four part chronology I found myself writing. I'll be posting further chronological reflections over the next few days.

Part One: Trying to find the ground under our feet: 2001-2002

The attacks of 9/11 left the small contingent of progressive individuals and organizations in this country just as horrified and nearly as confused as everyone else. I remember watching the towers fall and thinking "some guys somewhere are seeing their 'made for TV' movie succeed beyond their wildest dreams -- and everything I care about is in deep shit." I imagine most "Historians against the war" felt similarly.

At first, the chief venue in which we tried to comprehend the new terrain and new tasks ahead of us was via a series of emailed "letters" that buzzed around the internet. Revenge was the order of the day in the public at large; anything but the most bellicose posture made the speaker suspect. These internet communications have mostly disappeared into the ether. I want to make sure that we capture some of the expressions from those times here.

Bill Quigley of Loyola Law School sent around "Ten Principles for Social Justice Organizing in A Time of Crisis." These were good tips -- I think they are still sound and worth reading. He concluded:

"If our only response to the events of September 11 is to do what we did before that, but only harder, I think we will waste a lot of energy. We have to thoughtfully and humbly reconsider our strategies and develop some new ones. Otherwise we will just remain stuck."

This seems to me prescient.

Bob Wing, then editor of Colorlines Magazine, tried to explain to the left what had changed:

"I believe the Sept. 11 attacks are ushering in a major rightwing offensive, both global and national. It is likely to be sustained for some time and become a historical watershed. The rightwing of the ruling class and its ultra-right allies could not have asked for a better opportunity to aggressively move to reshape the world in their image. In the absence of a major countervailing force, they have serious grounds to feel that they will be successful.

Appealing to the American psyche, which sees its relatively peaceful surroundings as a birthright (when it is really a national privilege), the rightwing seeks to capture the moral high ground, whipping up patriotism and "anti-terrorist" fervor. Wielding its superior military and financial strength, Washington will seek to rally its First World allies into a world "anti-terrorism campaign," bring its erstwhile and vacillating allies into line, and destroy or mortally cripple its enemies, especially in the Middle East and South Asia."

How right he was.

Wing went on to urge that progressives recognize a new challenge and opportunity:

"By far the most important is ... addressing the issue of why this attack happened and how to respond. ... I believe our main message should be that U.S. life will become increasingly insecure and dangerous unless this country improves its international behavior. In the era of globalization, peace at home is linked to peace abroad. And increased insecurity would likely result in lost civil liberties. ... What we are talking about is a new kind of peace movement."

That is, 9/11 meant we had to conceptualize what a peace movement would mean in a nation that had lost its certainty of invulnerability while still grotesquely able to inflict damage on the world. The attacks revealed that we are dependent for our security on "playing well with others." But could we learn this?

I don't think we've built that kind of "new kind of peace movement." Instead of trying to move the U.S. into a post-imperial posture, we've predominantly relied on the inertia of an historic American isolationism to drag the U.S. away from its wars. We've got a strong force at our backs when we rely on U.S. ignorance of and indifference to foreign realities, but this is not necessarily the force that can carry us forward.

The peace movement has notably failed to organize by attraction. We have not imagined or presented an animating vision that draws ever wider circles of people into the fold with us. In part this is because post-2001 U.S. military adventures have been undertaken against states and individuals who do not look attractive to us, except perhaps as stubborn people who display admirable tenacity in resisting foreign occupation. But there is nothing much to inspire most of us in the communal and religious loyalties that seem to underlie most of the opposition to the U.S. in Iraq.

People who came into the movement from the experience of supporting Vietnamese communist nationalism, or the popular forces in Central American in the 1980s, or the anti-apartheid struggle, found no parallel in this peace movement because there were no indigenous allies in Afghanistan and Iraq who we would want to campaign in favor of. Iraqis can be sympathetic victims (and many are) but we have not come to know them as sympathetic allies, a far more inspiring posture. And we have failed to project a convincing picture of non-militaristic, peaceful United States, as an alternative to the paranoid authoritarian direction provided by our rulers. Apparently the conditions don't currently exist for elaborating such a vision.

Yet with all these obstacles, we have created something of an antiwar movement.

To be continued ...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Don't mourn, organize

And if you organize, you may not have to mourn.

I heard the Rev. Bonnie Perry preach a most animated sermon based on this little video at an Integrity mass in Chicago last night. It starts a little slowly, but this drama of improbable survival is worth watching for the full 8 minutes. Don't skip it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Clinton prosperity recalled:
A mixed bag

And one more thing: let’s hope that once Mr. Obama is no longer running against someone named Clinton, he’ll stop denigrating the very good economic record of the only Democratic administration most Americans remember.

Paul Krugman,
New York Times,
April 18, 2008

I hate to say this, but Krugman is right -- the Clinton administration was the only time voters under about 50 may have experienced prosperity under a Democrat. And since most folks now have a visceral experience of a terrible economy under George W., that contrast is vital to Democratic prospects in November.

But as it happens, I don't remember the Clinton economy so fondly. The 1990s squeezed a lot of people even though times were good for many.

In my neighborhood, the dot.com boom meant gentrification -- displacement of long time, working class residents -- by newly affluent tech winners who unconsciously disrupted existing communities and patterns of life. It is hard now to remember how wildly heady that bubble was but here's one of my recollections: behind my house, a dot.com rented the bottom floor of a single room occupancy hotel populated by day laborers because this was the only venue it could find because office space had become so expensive. Goodbye day laborers...

Concurrently, the Bill Clinton administration capitulated to a vicious conservative demand that it trash the safety net for poor women and children. The so-called "welfare reform" forced millions of poor women into forced "work experience" labor that largely did not lead to real jobs. The law's work requirements forced poor women out of college where they were getting an education that might have enabled them to climb out of poverty.

And the "reform" cut funding for the research that might have shown what happened to women after they were forced off welfare. Conservatives -- and liberals -- crowed that welfare rolls declined. But what happened to these women and their kids? We don't know. Essentially, they were disappeared. I imagine they don't remember the Clinton years so fondly. Are they part of the Democratic voter target? It is not easy to get such folks out, but Obama may have a better chance at it than Clinton. It is not clear whether he deserves that support, but he has a good chance, by identity and history, to seek it.

Friday critter blogging

What is it with Evanston? Within three otherwise ordinary square blocks near Northwestern University, I ran across these inanimate inhabitants of front porches and yards. Perhaps these stone critters are suited to survival in the cold winds and snows whipping in over Lake Michigan?







Thursday, April 17, 2008

Polio Daddy


Walking through downtown Evanston, Illinois, I was somewhat astonished to come upon the statue above. What is this obviously quite modern, representational sculpture?

The plaque explains. This statue honors the generous, laborious efforts of Rotary International to raise funds to eradicate polio. Rotarians -- those business-oriented "service" clubs that hold breakfasts for their clubby, stereotypically male, members -- committed themselves to combating the disease in 1985 and helped make possible huge programs of vaccination all over the world.

Father Rotarian does seem to be a 1950s Daddy.

And those children -- do kids who look like these ever look with such trust and confidence at a guy who looks like that?

We don't think much about polio in the United States nowadays. I'm old enough to have been part of the generation that wasn't allowed to go to public swimming pools in the summer for fear of the disease. Some of our classmates succumbed; a few were crippled, depending on iron lungs and leg braces for their survival. We were a less litigious society in the 1950s. Millions of parents let their kids be guinea pigs in vaccine trials, in the earnest hope that the drugs we took would prevent the disease. The vaccines worked; polio is unknown today in the United States.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the disease was the AIDS of its day; the Rotary-sponsored video at this link tells the story well.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there was reason to hope that polio might follow small pox as a scourge made extinct by worldwide public health measures, especially aggressive universal vaccination of children. But this has not come about. Instead, the world is seeing a resurgence of the disease in Pakistan, India, and especially Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the diseases thrives, with 1,116 reported cases in 2006. World Health Organization officials blame the Nigerian polio outbreak on politically inspired fears of Western medicine.

KANO, Nigeria - For Ramatu Garba, the polio vaccine is part of an evil conspiracy hatched in the West to sterilize Nigerian girls.

"Allah used Muslim scientists to expose the Western plot of using polio vaccines to reduce our population," said the 28-year-old Muslim food vendor in Kano.

Each time health teams have tried to vaccinate her daughter, Garba has refused.

It's been three years since local politicians began a campaign of fear and rumor, claiming the polio vaccine would sterilize children. Those unfounded fears still persist today, and it's this myth, and others like it, that are largely responsible for the spread of polio into almost two dozen other countries where it was once stamped out.

"The world is still paying the price for what happened in Nigeria in 2003," said Dr. David Heymann, the top official for polio eradication with the World Health Organization. Most of the new infections in other countries can be traced to Nigeria.

Sept. 25, 2006

Obviously this is tragic. And wrong. And horrible.

But I can't help wondering if the spirit of "Father knows best" that animates the Rotarian statue here in Evanston doesn't somehow percolate through to vaccine recipients around the world, inspiring some of those fears that are condemning more and more children. Patronizing kills sometimes, literally.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Flag seems low.

Oh, yeah, there's a war on.

UPDATE: This post was mistaken. I had assumed that the Dept. of Naval Science was noting the death of some student who had passed through Northwestern, but I was completely wrong. The flag flew at half-staff by Presidential order to commemorate the Virginia Tech massacre. Thanks to Nell for finding the real reason.

View from and of the refectory tower

For the last several days I have been enjoying the kind hospitality of Seabury-Western Episcopal Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Considering that this place is going through its own difficult changes, people could not have been more welcoming, friendly, and accommodating to a guest.

The physical plant is a wonderful example of an architectural style I'd call Early Twentieth Century Pseudo-Monastic. My window this week is the one on the left at the top of the tower.

Here's what I see when I look toward the street. It is a lovely time of year alongside Lake Michigan. It is also colder than it looks as the wind whips off the lake.

Other buildings look like this.

To get to my room, I enter here.

Yes, I am staying above the Horlick Refectory.

Across from the entrance I see this...

... explicated by this.

Turning to my right, I see the refectory itself. Clerical gents, some quite modern, look down from the walls.

If I ate here regularly, I am not sure they'd improve my digestion.

But I turn left and proceed up this absolutely not ADA compliant stairwell.

Here's my room where I am composing this now. You'll note the only disorder is my suitcase. And whatever else these accommodations may lack, they provide a solid fast internet connection. What else does the modern traveling organizer really need?

I hope the future goes well for Seabury. The physical plant may present some obstacles to modern uses, but the spirit here is a pleasure and a challenge -- just what I would hope the spirit would be in a place that teaches religious leadership.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Income tax day musings

Friends of mine are doing a very good, very right thing this Tax Day.

Peace activists withhold taxes

Two aspects of American foreign policy in the past few years pushed Ethan and Rima Vesely-Flad to step up their protests against the government's militarism.

One was the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, when the Israelis used American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas, they said. Another was the continuing occupation of Iraq and their sense that there was no way to influence U.S. policy there.

"We've been out and marched and protested and contacted members of Congress, did all the things we were supposed to do as citizens of our democracy, and it wasn't having any effect," said Ethan Vesely-Flad, 40, who works at Fellowship of Reconciliation in Upper Nyack, a peace-and-justice group committed to nonviolence.

They began to think more deeply about the connections between the money they pay to the government and how it flows to military purposes. So last year for the first time the couple held back 51 percent of their federal tax check and deposited it in an escrow account in protest. The 51 percent is the amount peace groups calculate is going to the current war, the general Defense Department budget and other military-related spending.

In withholding their taxes, as they are doing again this year, the Vesely-Flads are joining a long tradition of protest whose most famous practitioner is probably Henry David Thoreau, jailed after refusing to pay taxes during the Mexican-American War, but includes generations of Quakers and other religious groups that have protested military spending, weapons of mass destruction and armed conflict.

Lower Hudson Valley-LodHud.com
The Journal News
April 15, 2008

Ethan and Rima are correct in their understanding of our relation to U.S. wars -- these wars do continue because we, the people, allow them. In fact, they continue because we pay for them.

Too few of us care enough to undertake the kind of protest my friends have chosen. What makes numbers of people undertake protests of such determination and scale that governments cannot brush them aside?

I was reading some thoughts on this question by Tony Karon just now. They were not happy observations. His topic was the recent International Monetary Fund projection that food price inflation threatens the survival of 100 million people; the World Bank fears that food riots could bring down some 33 governments.

When all that stands between hungry people and a warehouse full of rice and beans is a couple of padlocks and a riot policeman (who may be the neighbor of those who're trying to get past him, and whose own family may be hungry too), the invisible barricade of private-property laws can be easily ignored. Doing whatever it takes to feed oneself and a hungry child, after all, is a primal human instinct. So, with prices of basic foods skyrocketing to the point that even the global aid agencies -- whose function is to provide emergency food supplies to those in need -- are unable, for financial reasons, to sustain their current commitments to the growing army of the hungry, brittle regimes around the world have plenty of reason for anxiety.

Behind the wars are the vicious inequalities, the wealth of some and the destitution of many. Unless we, the rich, can learn to say "Enough" to our consumption and our desires, the wars will go on.

I say this as someone whose present employment has me flying around the country for weeks at a time, staying in comfortable hotels, eating out continuously. I'm not loafing. Though to most of the world my surroundings amount to luxury, to me they are a blur of work. But the planet and its inhabitants can't take having numbers of people living as I am at present. Can we scale back without crashing?

Actions like Ethan and Rima's challenge us to consider these dilemmas. They challenge us to edge toward consistency. That's a gift. Thanks you two!

Time to wrap it up

Apropos of nothing in particular, I've gotten sick of Hillary Clinton.

I've tried to stay above the fray in this Democratic primary season. After all, I haven't believed that any of the candidates, even the one whose policy positions I liked best (Edwards), were going to make any radical break with the present U.S. trajectory. We're trudging along in a dying empire, but the pain isn't even close to universal enough to force a dramatic course change, at home or abroad. The planet is in deep doo-doo because our species has thoughtlessly used up and screwed up its resources. But the U.S. election will only lead to tinkering at the margins of these real problems.

On Super Tuesday, I dutifully voted for the one I considered the "least worst" Democrat, Senator Obama. He got my nod not because he is so inspiring, but because he and the people around him are at least interesting. Since then, he's risen some in my esteem, especially for speaking aloud some truths about race and class. But his policy pronouncements are still pretty feeble.

But if my respect for Obama has grown, my respect for Clinton has plummeted. She certainly knows her stuff, the stuff of conventional liberal governance, and that's a good thing. I would have worked for and voted for her in the general election. But that isn't going to happen. She thought she had a right to be the Democratic nominee; she ran a piss poor campaign and has lost; and now she won't acknowledge reality. Apparently she, and the people around her, thought they were orchestrating a coronation, not fighting a campaign.

Her mistake is somewhat understandable; U.S. politics hasn’t seen a campaign that had a chance of winning run with smarts, vigor and apparent passion for a long time. Obama has reached around the barrier that slick media puts between pols and the people with a combination of new media and old time shoe leather that confounds the image-makers. Once he outflanked them, then he overwhelmed them. They are currently fighting back by trying to pin him down with a series of hyped up "gaffes" -- much abetted by Ms. Clinton. It remains to be seen whether they can nail him into a known place on their accustomed, truncated map of the possible, or whether he can continue to elude them right into office.

But whatever Obama makes of the rest of his run, Clinton is done. He's won the delegate battle unless the supers overthrow the voters, and they won't. They didn't get where they are by jumping up and down on hornets' nests. When will she admit defeat?