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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

Food Shortages, Ethanol and Mike Gravel

In civil, Consumerism, Direct action, Election 2008, Environment, Food Justice, International politics, Misc., Progressive Politics, US Politics on December 19, 2007 at 4:52 pm

A disturbing article in the International Herlad Tribune appeared a couple days ago, and has gotten little, if any traction in the domestic press. According to the UN, on top of everything else going to shit on this planet, our food supplies are running dangerously low.

In an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created “a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food,” particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

There – of course – some seriously alarming numbers backing these claims:

The agency’s food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before – a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world’s total consumption – much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time Monday, the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil

….

high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

There are several reasons for all this:

On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

Ironically, our own prosperity is driving our demise. Worse yet, our attempts at combating global warming may be deepening the problem.

In the lead story in last week’s Economist, The End of Cheap Food, the British authority pointed their fingers squarely at America:

But the rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America’s reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America’s (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV‘s fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world’s overall grain stocks.

There is no doubt that many of the politicians – and subsequently businesses – pushing for ethanol have overlooked this fact in a nakedly political attempt to curry favor in Iowa while looking serious on climate change and American jobs. Sugar cane-based Ethanol produced in Brazil is cheaper and more efficient than our domestic flavor, especially considering the fact that the amount of energy needed to turn corn into fuel is so high that it offsets any environmental gain; but that won’t win you a caucus in Des Moines. It looks as though these concerns are actually being considered as there is an Energy Bill close to ratification that will expand funding and production quotas for non-corn Ethanol.

All this being said, we are still looking at a fundamental challenge to our way of life, something far more serious than terrorism or Iran getting the bomb. Who cares if we defeat the Jihadists if a loaf of bread ends up costing $500 and you can’t afford to feed your family? Emerging countries have been yearning for the protein-filled, doggy bag taking, dangerously obese lifestyle we’ve pioneered in America; and if the devastating droughts we’ve seen in Australia and our own South-East continue, it’ll be impossible to grow enough for everybody.

There will obviously be plenty of initiatives put forth by Governments, NGO’s, think tanks and the myriad brain trusts we have set up to find answers to problems like this. Nothing will be done, though, unless we as a people can control ourselves. People will always be hungry, but they don’t need to be fat. I’ll start with my own country. It is difficult to consume less in a culture and economy that is solely devoted to that very action, but if this crises deepens (which it likely will) eventually we’ll have to realize that resources are finite and the more we take, the less we leave for the rest of world. Steaks are dope, but not necessary every night of the week and gigantic meals are meant for celebrations, not necessarily lunch.

I’m not advocating a hunger strike or anything, and far be it from me to point fingers, but it seems ridiculous to expect progress without sacrifice. If we are concerned about these problems, we must not only be the first to act, but also be capable of accepting the consequences.  It is well and good to want to feed others, but to be willing to give part of your meal, that’s something else entirely.  The same goes for global warming.  It is fairly easy to rationalize that hybrid SUV, but why not demand better public transit and save $34,000?  Want to get rid of illegal immigration?, then go ahead and work in a strawberry field for $5 and hour and demand higher pay.  Do you support better health-care and education for all?, then pay more taxes.  These are somewhat extreme, but we must realize that we are not powerless to effect change.  The success we seek is only sustainable if we’re all willing to work for it.

Mike Gravel’s candidacy might not be remembered too far past January 3rd, but he had moment of brilliance during a recent debate on NPR. When asked to describe an issue he does not know the answer to, the former Senator from Alaska responded immediately:

“I wish I knew how to convince the American people that they are the answer to these problems, not the politicians. I wish I knew how to make that argument.”

Amen, sir.

 

 

 

Clean Living (and driving)

In Environment, Technology on December 4, 2007 at 5:03 pm

You’ve heard of hybrid cars, electric cars, and maybe even hydrogen cars. But have you heard about the air car? It was listed as one of Time magazines best inventions of 2007 (best invention being the iphone), and it could very well be coming to the states soon. Here’s what Time had to say:

Electric cars are so 2006. French R&D firm MDI signed a deal this year with India’s largest automaker, Tata Motors, to start manufacturing compressed-air-technology vehicles. These ultra-eco-friendly cars run on air, and the only thing they emit is colder, cleaner air. Another convenient feature: a built-in air compressor can be plugged in to refill the tanks within minutes.
Available: 2009
theaircar.com

Bush Censors Science

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Environment, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Technology on December 15, 2006 at 1:56 am

A very interesting article from the associated press. I found it here. Seems they’re no longer satisfied denying science’s findings: they’ve graduated to tooling it. A shame when you have to police “truth”. That’s usually a sign of weakness, I think.

The Bush administration is clamping down on scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest agency subjected to controls on research that might go against official policy.

New rules require screening of all facts and interpretations by agency scientists who study everything from caribou mating to global warming. The rules apply to all scientific papers and other public documents, even minor reports or prepared talks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Top officials at the Interior Department’s scientific arm say the rules only standardize what scientists must do to ensure the quality of their work and give a heads-up to the agency’s public relations staff.

 

“This is not about stifling or suppressing our science, or politicizing our science in any way,” Barbara Wainman, the agency’s director of communications, said Wednesday. “I don’t have approval authority. What it was designed to do is to improve our product flow.”

Some agency scientists, who until now have felt free from any political interference, worry that the objectivity of their work could be compromised.

“I feel as though we’ve got someone looking over our shoulder at every damn thing we do. And to me that’s a very scary thing. I worry that it borders on censorship,” said Jim Estes, an internationally recognized marine biologist in the USGS field station at Santa Cruz, Calif.

“The explanation was that this was intended to ensure the highest possible quality research,” said Estes, a researcher at the agency for more than 30 years. “But to me it feels like they’re doing this to keep us under their thumbs. It seems like they’re afraid of science. Our findings could be embarrassing to the administration.”

The new requirements state that the USGS’s communications office must be “alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature.”

The agency’s director, Mark Myers, and its communications office also must be told, prior to any submission for publication, “of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.”

Patrick Leahy, USGS’s head of geology and its acting director until September, said Wednesday that the new procedures would improve scientists’ accountability and “harmonize” the review process. He said they are intended to maintain scientists’ neutrality.

“Our scientific staff is second to none,” he said. “This notion of scientific gotcha is something we do not want to participate in. That does not mean to avoid contentious issues.”

The changes amount to an overhaul of commonly accepted procedures for all scientists, not just those in government, based on anonymous peer reviews. In that process, scientists critique each other’s findings to determine whether they deserve to be published.

From now on, USGS supervisors will demand to see the comments of outside peer reviewers’ as well any exchanges between the scientists who are seeking to publish their findings and the reviewers.

The Bush administration, as well as the Clinton administration before it, has been criticized over scientific integrity issues. In 2002, the USGS was forced to reverse course after warning that oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would harm the Porcupine caribou herd. One week later a new report followed, this time saying the caribou would not be affected.

Earlier this year, a USGS scientist poked holes in research that the Interior Department was using in an effort to remove from the endangered species list a tiny jumping mouse that inhabits grasslands coveted by developers in Colorado and Wyoming.

Federal criminal investigators are looking into allegations that USGS employees falsified documents between 1998 and 2000 on the the movement of water through the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The USGS had validated the Energy Department’s conclusions that water seepage was relatively slow, so radiation would be less likely to escape.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists and advocacy groups alike are worried about closing libraries that contain tens of thousands of agency documents and research studies. “It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what it likely one of our country’s comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials,” four Democrats who are in line to head House committees wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson two weeks ago.

Democrats about to take control of Congress have investigations into reports by The New York Times and other news organizations that the Bush administration tried to censor government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

 

 

 

 

 

UN: Pro-poor mortgages to curb growth of slums

In Children and Youth, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Environment, Housing, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, Technology, Urban Planning / Space on November 14, 2006 at 2:24 pm

From the UN late last month:

Mortgages that allow poor people to buy housing will soon be needed to curb the worldwide growth of slums and improve living standards, the head of the United Nations agency charged with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable housing has warned, saying that her organization has already begun testing various financing methods… But she said that there were some signs of progress, noting in particular that new rules, effective since August, meant that UN-HABITAT could finally act as a catalyst, enabling countries to meet the slum upgrading and water and sanitation targets of 2015.

First off, has there been a sudden crisis in the world’s urban slumdwelling population that is in such an emergent need for an innovative tool, but only in need of this tool “soon?” I guess the living standards are deteriorating, but at a slowth enough speed that they’re not needed now… soon will do.

I agree that the expansion “pro-poor” financing options will be useful to the “poor,” but enforcing contracts/mortgages can also be a dangerous tool.

Let’s pull this string through:

Living in a slum, oftentimes on squatted land, and then, as this articles alludes to, water and utility infrastructure improvements shift people off squatted land and onto land where they will be formally recorded and deeded. If they’re not shifted, they are at the very least recorded and deeded. (Here’s a post about utility work and land displacement.)

This deed is then exchanged for a mortgage, be it a “pro-poor” mortgage or what seems under this framework to be an “anti-poor” or perhaps “pro-wealthy” mortgage. Times get tough though because, say, unfair subsidies artificially deflate the prices of the goods these “pro-poor” borrowers can get for their crops. These “pro-poor” homeowners fall behind on their mortgage and while they are unable to sell their goods in an open economy (due to maladjusted subsidies) they are certainly going to tossed from their home, which will then be sold on an open market.

“Pro-poor” mortgage means nothing unless the strongest protections are reserved for the homeowner, not the lender. Shift the “pro” in “pro-poor” to be short for “protection.”

And don’t think this call for protection is paternalistic… it’s actually self-serving.

We all need protections brought back a bit more to the borrowers of the world; the scales are tipped too far in favor of “investors’ rights” at the expense of human rights, in my not-so-modest opinion.
If this were in fact for the urban poor the alarm for this innovative tool would have sounded to have it developed NOW; the call was made for this tool to be developed “soon.” This is for investors, not for the world’s “pro-poor” urban slumdwellers.

Where they reaaally belong…

In Disaster Relief, Environment, Hurricane Katrina, Misc., Urban Planning / Space on November 10, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Thanks again, Matt Wuerker!

World Health Org Gets New Head Honcho

In Disaster Relief, Environment, Freedom of Speech, HIV/SIDA, International politics, International Public Health on November 10, 2006 at 12:12 am

Dr Margaret Chan is the new head of the WHO. The Chinese health expert, who came to prominence during the Bird Flu and SARS scares in China, says she will butt heads with her native country if need be. One bio is available on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (it’s English).

Daniel McGowan Refuses to Cooporate, Enters Guilty Plea

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture jamming, Direct action, Economic Justice, Environment, Freedom of Speech, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Netroots, Progressive Politics, US Politics on November 9, 2006 at 11:28 pm

Whew. This has been a long battle and Daniel today pled guilty in order to protect others involved. His comment to the Judge read, in part:

This plea agreement is very important to me, because it allows me to accept full responsibility for my actions and at the same time remain true to my strongly held beliefs.  I hope that you will see that my actions were not those of terrorist but of a concerned young person who was deeply troubled by the destruction of Oregon’s beautiful old-growth forests and the dangers of genetically modified trees...

To read more about Daniel’s story, goto www.SupportDaniel.org. Also check out Green Scare and what is a formidable resource: GreenIsTheNewRed. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports the basics as such:

Four people intend to plead guilty to causing $20 million in damages from firebombings around the Northwest, according to lawyers in the case… The Oregon indictments covered arsons from 1996 to 2001 that were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Colorado.

Tanzania Sees Water Privatization-Driven Resistence, Violence

In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on October 18, 2006 at 8:45 pm

I was living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2003, during the “build up” to the Iraq inavsion. I was about 4 miles from the fortress that was the newly opened US Embassy — it replaced the US embassy bombed in 1998.  It was painful to be an American in another city that had also been victimized by Al-Queda (I was coming from NYC, where I was on 9/11/01) . Many of the people in Dar, like many in NYC, saw the attck on Iraq as a pitiful distraction from the true perpetrators of NYC/DC attacks in 2001, but that is a story for another day…

While in Tanzania, I analyzed a World Bank-induced public utility privatization scheme that was clear to me to be an impending disaster. Beyond the complications that would arise from tiered access to safe water and increased prices, the sheer number of landholders without deeds in Dar es Salaam, I believed, tipped the equation of potential problems beyond even that of Bolivia’s wonderfully horrific water privatization scheme. (My opinionated, poorly written report on Dar’s plan is at my old blog. It includes interviews w officials from the city’s to-be-privatized water utility, representatives from the World Bank  and the Tanzanian government, as well as ‘everyday’ Tanzanians I played basketball with while there.)

My study focused on the land rights of residential properties, not that of unregistered and “unofficial” businesses. The problems, though, are similar in many ways. 

There is unfortunate news from Dar today. As reported by the BBC:

Thousands of Tanzanian market traders are up in arms after being moved away from the centre of the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

More than 40,000 traders have been relocated to the city’s remote Kigogo area. They say they now have to pay taxes before they can ply their wares…

But the government insists that the traders have been occupying space in the city centre illegally – preventing the installation of sewage and clean water pipes and reducing traffic in the busy area to a single lane… In March, two people were killed in violent clashes between police and street vendors in the northern town of Mwanza.

Mwanza is the section I lived in and Kigogo is way out there. I mean, it is WAY out there. There is no way these vendors will be able to do the same type of business as they would in downtown Dar. Especially since much of their business is based on downtown-oriented foot traffic, as opposed to foot traffic intending to go to the market.

This is part of a much larger conversation of the suburbanization of the poor.  It is happening in the US (usually boiled down to the concept of gentrification, although these ideas are not synonymous) and it is happening in countless cities throughout the world.

This will have incredibly negative effects on the poor, in terms of their access to social infrastructure — transportation will be losing funding, public utilities such as electricity and water are currently being installed in cities under the guise of the economies of scale (more water users and payers in the city makes the infrastructure investment feasible) while not being supplied to the suburbs. While saying nothing of the access to health services and disaster relief infrastructure,  first-and-foremost in my book, this facilitates the deeding of the unrecorded class and, subsequently, taxation.

If we can’t get our system implemented on them in their squatter town, the thought goes, let’s move their squatter town to where we can implement our system on them. It’s how the government makes money and maintains social control.

Plus, the thinking follows, there’s good times to be had in the city, let’s freshen it up a bit and give the tourists access to it — those low-wage workers will find a way to get into work for them ‘cuz they got nowheres else to work… except that export processing zone

P.S. Hey, investors! Don’t worry, those pesky “existing” Tanzanian exporters have been disallowed from investing in the EPZ… this is strictly for folks like you!

ThinkProgress Lays the Global Warming Smack on Drudge

In Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Environment, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on October 18, 2006 at 1:17 am

This nicely done piece courtesy of ThinkProgress:

Global warming is real. Matt Drudge, “the Walter Cronkite of his era,” is working overtime to convince people it isn’t happening. Here’s what he put up on the Drudge Report today:

Drudge Snip

First, this is totally irrelevant. Global warming does not mean there is never going to be a cold day or a cold month somewhere on the globe. Globally, September 2006 was the 4th warmest on record.

Second, Drudge leaves out this crucial fact from the NOAA report he links to:

The January-September 2006 combined temperature is warmest on record. The previous record warm January-September happened in 2000.

In other words, according to the NOAA report Drudge cites, there has never been a warmer year in the United States so far than 2006. Amazingly, Drudge is seizing on this report to suggest that global warming isn’t real.

To the States,

In civil, Civil Liberties, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Hurricane Katrina, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Labor, Media Criticism, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on October 12, 2006 at 2:10 pm

by Walt Whitman

______

Why reclining, interrogating? why myself and all drowsing?

What deepening twilight – scum floating atop of the waters,

Who are they as bats and night-dogs askant in the capitol?

What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns! O

North, your arctic freezings!)

Are those really congressmen? are those the great Judges? is

that the President?

Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these States sleep,

for reasons;

(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent

shoots we all duly awake,

South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will

surely awake.)

Written 1891

Wendell Berry on Local, Sustainable Agriculture

In Environment, International Public Health, International Trade on October 7, 2006 at 5:01 pm

Earlier this week I posted a poem by Wendell Berry – poet, farmer, essayist, novelist. Heres an excerpt from a fantastic interview with Sojourner magazine, in which he discusses the difficulties faced by American farmers, and the need for local, sustainable agriculture. Also, the fact that our current system of exporting and importing food is completely reliant on fossil fuels, and that it would collapse if fossil fuel production slowed or stopped. What would we do then, starve? How do you feed cities of millions if your local farms are producing for export, the city relies on import, and there’s no fossil fuel to do the job? Smells like Babylon to me.

BERRY: Tobacco acreages have declined here because the companies can fill their needs more cheaply elsewhere. The other products we grow are thrown into the world market to compete as best they can. With the help of subsidies, of course. In Kentucky we have always raised for export…

As it used to be, the subsistence economy carried people through the hard times, and what you might call the housewife’s economy of cream and eggs often held these farms and their families together. The wives would go to town with eggs and cream once a week, buy groceries with the proceeds, and sometimes come home with money. Or they’d sell a few old hens, that sort of thing. So that’s the first lesson to learn about agriculture, as far as I’m concerned: It needs a sound subsistence basis. People need to feed themselves, next they need to feed their own communities. That’s what we’re working for now. We want to develop a local food economy that local producers will supply and that the local consumers will support. It’s ridiculous that we should be importing food into this state while our farmers are suffering.

BERGER: What are the models that are being used here in Kentucky to resist the economic pressure from the larger market?

BERRY: Community-supported agriculture, farmer’s markets, direct marketing of meat, that sort of thing. There’s an effort under way to develop a retail market for local produce. But this is hard to bring about.

The local landscape used to contribute food to Louisville. There was a significant amount of truck farming going in those days. That’s gone. The stockyard’s gone, the packinghouses are gone. So there’s Louisville economically and culturally isolated from its rich agricultural landscape. Which is ridiculous.

BERGER: It’s almost a process of reweaving the city life with its agricultural counterpart – its breadbasket.

BERRY: That’s right – building commercial linkages between the city and its local countryside. And there are good reasons to do that. You’ve got the prospect, to begin with, of better, fresher food…

You have the possibility that urban consumers, by fulfilling their responsibility to local producers, can make secure their local food supply in the face of various threats… The influence of local consumers could work, not only to maintain farming in the local landscape, but also to diversify it. And American agriculture is badly in need of diversity. Another threat to the present food system of course is the likelihood that petroleum is not going to get any cheaper.

BERGER: That happened in Venezuela a few years ago. They had an oil producer’s strike and people lost their gasoline supply. As a result they couldn’t truck food anywhere. Whole communities were starving because they couldn’t get access to food in stores, and they didn’t have any capacity to feed themselves.

BERRY: What could be more terrible? There are lots of bad things that can happen to a food economy that’s both extensive and centralized. There’s no substitute for petroleum. And from what I read, the curve of discovery and production of petroleum is about to decline. To have a growth economy based on a declining fuel supply is bound to be stressful.

The World Can’t Wait Demos

In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Education, Election 2006, Environment, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Hurricane Katrina, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, The War On Drugs, US Politics on October 4, 2006 at 2:05 pm

Tomorrow there will be a “Day of Mass Resistence,” organized by The World Can’t Wait. They’ve placed ads in newspapers across the country for this event that will be centered in DC, but will have locations throughout the nation. Our friends from Outernational, who Tom Morello says will be the next Rage Against the Machine, will be playing the NYC demo.

It’s going to take all kinds to get the change we need in this world, and this group is one that is making the necssary noise to make people turn and listen. That is for damn sure.

Join in–get loud–demand more. The time to be silent has long since passed.

Vietnamese Trade Pact Facing Resistance [wsj wash wire]

In Economic Justice, Environment, HIV/SIDA, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Misc., The War On Drugs, US Politics on September 22, 2006 at 7:36 am

Another on trade issues from Wash Wire

ADMINISTRATION FACES congressional resistance to Vietnam trade pact.

Textile-friendly Republican Sens. Dole of North Carolina and Graham of South Carolina resist letting Vietnam join WTO. They warn trade representative Schwab of “large-scale job losses in both our states” and seek limits on Vietnamese apparel exports to U.S.

“We’re looking for some way for the industry to defend itself,” says industry advocate Cass Johnson. To soothe domestic companies, Commerce Department official Lavin visits North Carolina textile executives.

After returning from China, Paulson will meet with Sen. Schumer, who may seek floor action on tariff bill.

The “I don’t have a car!” dance

In Chicago, Children and Youth, civil, Environment, International Trade, Iraq War, Misc., Sexuality, Technology on September 19, 2006 at 1:32 am

If you’re in NYC you might scoff at this, but there are many places where driving is the norm. Chicago is one of them..

I live in Chicago, however, and I don’t have a car!!!

Why am I dancing about it? Let me tell you all the reasons:

I don’t pay for gas!! Hence, i provide less motivation to go to war for oil than i might if i made trips to the pump

I don’t pay for car insurance! Hence, i have more &^$(#ing money than i would have otherwise

Biking everywhere keeps me in shape!! -Hence, my mood is improved, and my body-image experiences a boost.

Bike repairs don’t cost nearly as much as car repairs. And you can do them yourself!!!

Experience the world as you travel, without a barrier of glass and steel.

I experience the elements, and am therefore more in tune with nature and weather! When its raining, i know it; when its cold, i feel it! Biking through a cold Chiciago winter is something to be very proud of, an ordeal of beauty.

The bicycle is one of the most incredible inventions we’ve ever come up with! -Still powered by my peanut-butter sandwich, but much faster than walking

And the best thing of all: NO *@&^ TRAFFIC!

i just weave past em!

A candid little anecdote to support what i’m saying:

I went to a party last weekend, and pedalled home with a beautiful woman on my bike seat. I offered to call a cab, but she preferred the biking experience! Who would have thought?

Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement Negotiations

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Global War On Terror, HIV/SIDA, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on September 13, 2006 at 2:03 pm

Negotiations are gonna be tense on this one:

 

In addition to strenuous negotiations on sensitive agricultural goods, Seoul trade officials are now facing the challenges of responding to irksome U.S. demands concerning the financial sector.

Seoul’s Trade Ministry said it expected agricultural talks to intensify, and the services and investment sectors, including financial services, to enter full-fledged negotiations during the four-day FTA talks in Seattle.

While not delineated, here’s a nice note from the piece on corporate hegemony above and beyond national sovereignty (read up on NAFTA’s Chapter 11 [pdf], a.k.a. “investor protections,” for a better understanding on this critical point that will have massive implications over generations):

 

Classified as “special financial institutions regulated by unique laws,” Seoul firmly says they are not subject to the trade talks. The government fears that new complications would emerge, such as foreign financial institutions filing lawsuits against the government for assisting public banks.

[…]

Both countries hope to conclude the talks by March 2007 to get the pact ratified before U.S. President George W. Bush’s trade negotiation authority expires on July 1, 2007. The trade promotion authority allows the Bush administration to negotiate a free trade deal without Congress having to approve amendments.

Thanks to Inner City Press for the heads up on this article. Remember,it is almost three years to the day (9/10/03) that, Lee Kyang Hae, 55, who headed South Korea’s Federation of Farmers and Fishermen, stabbed himself in protest against the WTO, ‘which destroys Korea’s economy and its agriculture.'”

Privatization of Disaster

In Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Housing, Hurricane Katrina, International Public Health, Labor, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on August 30, 2006 at 10:37 am

“The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the government’s calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: Businesses do disaster better.”

This is how Naomi Klein starts a piece she wrote earlier this week on disaster relief. But she goes on to show that just because Wal-Mart may do disaster relief better, the end result isn’t better for taxpayers and the country as a whole.

She describes privatization of disaster relief as follows:

Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatized disaster-response infrastructure…

I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, water tanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it. So far, that reality hasn’t sunk in because when these companies are getting their bills paid by government contracts, the Disaster Capitalism Complex provides its services to the public free of charge.

But here’s the catch: The U.S. government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8-trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260-billion. That means that sooner rather than later, the contracts are going to dry up. And no one knows this better than the companies themselves. Ralph Sheridan, chief executive of Good Harbor Partners, one of hundreds of new counter-terrorism companies, explains that “expenditures by governments are episodic and come in bubbles.” Insiders call it the “homeland security bubble.”

When it bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose their primary revenue stream. They will still have all their high-tech gear giving them the ability to respond to disasters — while the government will have let that precious skill whither away — but now they will rent back the tax-funded infrastructure at whatever price they choose.

Does this mean that the next time a disaster hits, we will be even less equipped to handle it? It looks like that may be the case.

Meanwhile, in other disaster relief funding news, the Washington Post reports today that FEMA is trying to cut corners and hold back funding on some of the repair and renewal projects in New Orleans and other areas damaged by Katrina. They report:

Someone had to pay to remove 3,000 dead trees in New Orleans. The trees, insisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, couldn’t have been killed by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters because they weren’t toppled to a certain angle. New Orleans would have to pay…

Through hundreds of such disputes large and small, the most costly disaster in U.S. history is fast becoming its most contentious, with appeals and disputes worth nearly a billion dollars bogging down repairs of critical public systems and delaying the return of residents.

Current and former officials at all levels blame FEMA workers’ inexperience with eligibility rules, weaknesses in U.S. disaster laws and inconsistent treatment by Congress for much of the wrangling.

But why are the workers inexperienced? Well, that sort of leads us back to Naomi Klein’s article. The WaPo article describes the situation as follows:

Elsewhere [outisde of New Orleans] local officials say a parade of new FEMA officials — the overstretched agency rotates workers every 90 days or so and relies on temporary employees as well — leads to constantly changing decisions on project approvals and paperwork.

One reason for mistakes is that FEMA has suffered a “brain drain” of top officials familiar with the complex rules to retirements and agency upheaval in recent years, said David Fukutomi, a FEMA consultant who is serving as a spokesman….

The state of Louisiana had only 14 disaster recovery employees before the storm and is relying on 173 contract workers provided by James Lee Witt Associates, the firm headed by the Clinton administration FEMA director, to help it manage the process, Jones said. FEMA has more than 700 people in the Gulf states working on the program, about 90 percent of them interim or contract workers, Fukutomi said.

So in summary, privatization leads to debt, unskilled workers, chaos, disputes, and a dependency on private companies to save us when something bad happens again. And when something does happen, the best services will go to people who can pay the most.

To top it off, disaster relief isn’t the only industry that is being sold off by the government to private companies. You can add border patrol, healthcare, homeland security, and more to the list. Naomi Klein puts it best when she says:

The model, of course, is the U.S. healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46-million Americans lack health insurance. As emergency-response, the model is already at work in the global AIDS pandemic: private-sector prowess helped produce lifesaving drugs (with heavy public subsidies), then set prices so high that the vast majority of the world’s infected cannot afford treatment.

If that is the corporate world’s track record on slow-motion disasters, why should we expect different values to govern fast-moving disasters, like hurricanes or even terrorist attacks?

Following Bush’s Lead, The Yes Men Make Empty Promises to New Orleans

In Children and Youth, Culture jamming, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Housing, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Netroots, Race, The War On Drugs, US Politics on August 28, 2006 at 8:32 pm

From Talking Points Muckraker:

A team of political hoaxers fooled New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, and a thousand construction-industry members today.

Posing as fictitious senior HUD official Rene Oswin, Andy Bichlbaum — a member of the Group the Yes Men — promised big (and unlikely) changes in New Orleans to a privately-organized conference in Kenner, Louisiana. Among his expansive promises, according to CNN:

– Energy giants Exxon and Shell would spend $8.6 billion “to finance wetlands rebuilding from $60 billion in profits this year.”

– Wal-Mart would withdraw its stores from poor neighborhoods and “help nurture local businesses to replace them.”

– the federal government would spend $180 million to fund “at least one well-equipped public health clinic for every housing development.”

– the feds would reverse plans to replace public schools with private and charter schools, and instead create a national tax base to supplement local taxes.

If you haven’t seen it, their movie is well worth watching.

Alaska Oil Update

In Environment, International Trade on August 24, 2006 at 12:13 pm

cbc oil image

A while back I posted on BP and the shutdown of pipeline in Alaska.

Here is a link to a press release about what Bush is doing in regards to oil and Alaska. It looks like it will have some major environmental implications.

Here is the intro paragraph:

Following closely on the heels of the largest oil spill in North Slope history and the recent pipeline shutdown in Prudhoe Bay, the Bush administration today formally announced a Sept. 27th oil and gas lease sale for portions of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, including 100 percent of the irreplaceable wildlife habitat around Teshekpuk Lake.

Check out the link for the details.