Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Afghanistan policy debate - time to come home

From the shadows of history, the inestimable Bill Moyers brings the ghost of LBJ - and the real lesson of Vietnam - to the forefront of America's debate on Afgahnistan. Moyers - aside from being an excellent journalist - was at LBJ's side for much of this, so he has the moral authority from which to speak on this issue. Sadly, as the equally compelling Glenn Greenwald often points out, the Washington establishment still isn't really learning these lessons.

Read Moyer's closing paragraphs below, and then ask yourselves this question - what do we really gain by staying in Afghanistan?

Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we're fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone. Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us.

Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he's got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

The Climate Crisis in Pictures - bury your Propaganda!

If you are an oil company tyring to fight claims that you are contributing to the global climate crisis, make sure your propaganda from the 1960's is well hidden. Otherwise, please go sit quietly in the corner and take a time out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Katrina Chronicles - Laying Blame

There are three things you should be hearing about in the wakes of a federal judge’s ruling that much of the devastation of Katrina is the fault of the Army Corps of Engineers. First, you should know that the Corps, for all its earth moving might, is not generally well funded for maintenance of its projects after they are completed. That’s why in almost all cases the projects are turned over to local boards, state commissions, and county public works enterprises. It’s also why a series of dam problems in the Pacific NW had to get to emergency status before they were dealt with. Even the facilities the Corps runs itself – like locks on the Mississippi River – have to steal money from projects elsewhere in the Corps to stay in good working order.

Second, you should be hearing, as we did right after Katrina, about how much (or how little) Congress involved itself in the decisions of the Corps around New Orleans. You see, the Corps budget is the most Congressionally – messed with of any federal executive agency. More useless projects get built nationally because Congress wants to send a few million dollars to members’ districts, then because the Corps is convinced that the specific project is a good idea. Sadly, both the Press and the Courts take a routine pass at this one.

Third, you should be hearing about how marsh restoration (including the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet - MRGO; the subject of the court decision) is vital to protecting New Orleans from this point on. In a state that looses 25 to 45 square miles a year of coast (mostly to a combination of erosion, loss of Mississippi River sediment, and subsidence), no coastal levee system can provide sustained protection that can match a healthy and vibrant salt marsh. Coastal engineers have known this for decades, but we still prefer to build sea walls, levees, groins and jetties instead of planting marsh grass and filling abandoned oil field pipe canals.

You should be hearing about all these things, but I guarantee you won’t. That’s because it’s easy for the media, the plaintiffs, and the courts to fix their sights on the big, bad Corps. The problem is, by ignoring all these other forces, we as a society also get to ignore our responsibility to the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And that should shame us all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Climate Crisis getting more dire - the MSM finally starts to get it.

From Joe Romm comes word that Time Magazine has finally recognnized that the global climate crisis isn't getting better. Go read his short piece, and then the Time piece. Then go write your Congressman.

Instead, in Copenhagen, diplomats will aim to reach a less aggressive — and much less specific — "politically binding" agreement, with the hope that hard numbers and legal obligations to reduce climate change would be added soon, in a two-step approach. "There was an assessment by the leaders that it was unrealistic to expect a full internationally legally binding agreement to be negotiated between now and when Copenhagen starts in 22 days," said Mike Froman, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

The news comes as little surprise to climate change experts, who have watched as the ultimate goal of the Copenhagen summit has been steadily scaled back to meet political realities. A year ago, the expectation was for diplomats in Copenhagen to negotiate — and sign — a true global successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Today, the best the world can hope for are more words about the importance of fighting climate change.

The reason is simple: the deadlock between developed nations and developing ones. Developing nations refuse most responsibility for climate change, arguing that warming is primarily the fault of rich industrialized countries, and want the developed world to take on strict short-term emissions reduction targets. Developed nations, led by the U.S., argue that fast-growing developing nations like China and India will emit the vast majority of future carbon emissions, and that any deal that exempts them from action — as the Kyoto Protocol did — is a farce. Despite months of negotiations in Barcelona, Bangkok and other world cities, that gap remains vast.

Currently reading (And nearly finished)

I'll probably post a review this weekend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Katelin Doctor - RIP and God Bless

UPDATE (3/3/2010): my duaghter brought it to my attention that I did not have all my facts straight, and that meant she felt even more sad, as well as upset that I didn't have it right. I am more then happy to correct the facts, since they are important.

Last Tuesday, the communities of Silver Creek and Angola, New York lost a bright and shining light - and a future leader. Katelin Doctor, a sixth gradeer at Silver Creek Middle School, died unexpectedly after a short illness. You can read the obit here.

I bring this to you attention because Katie D was my 11 year old daughter's best friend. They have been inseperable for most of the last two and a half years, and for the longest time she was part of a really close group of 6 friends. I don't remember a school story that my daughter told in that time that didn't include Katie. Katie D hosted my daughter at her first sleep over.

As you might imagine, this has hit my little Sweet Pea pretty hard. She was at the funeral this AM, and I can't even begin to imagine what she must have felt. I wanted to throw my arms around her and make it all right, but I can't. No father can. And no little girls should ever have to face this.

So to Katie - you may be gone from this earth, but you will live on in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lifetime. Thanks for being so close to Sweet Pea. Thanks for welcoming her into your life, sharing her secrets, making her laugh, and being a part of her life. She misses you, and therefore I miss you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Too Big To Fail meets Too Much Common Sense

Over at the Baseline Scenario, they have published the text of a bill by Senator Sanders of Vermont to break up the "Too Big to Fail" financial institutions. It's well worth the time to link over and read - short, sweet, and to the point. Wish all federal legistation were thus. Once you read it, use the imbedded link to go to Senator Sanders' website and sign his petition. Then email your Senators and tell them to support the bill.

This AM I sent the follow email to each mof my Senators, and my Congressman. Fell free to crib the text for your own use, changing the names as appropriate:

Senator ________,

As you may be aware, Senator Sanders of Vermont has introduced a bill that would direct Treasury to break up the "too big to fail" banks and financial institutions that continue to imperil our financial sector. The Bill reads:

To address the concept of ‘‘Too Big To Fail’’ with respect to certain financial entities.
1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of representa-
2 tives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

4 This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Too Big to Fail, Too
5 Big to Exist Act’’.6
8 Notwithstanding any other provision of law, not later
9 than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the
10 Secretary of the Treasury shall submit to Congress a list

1 of all commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds,
2 and insurance companies that the Secretary believes are
3 too big to fail (in this Act referred to as the ‘‘Too Big
4 to Fail List’’).
6 Notwithstanding any other provision of law, begin-
7 ning 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the
8 Secretary of the Treasury shall break up entities included
9 on the Too Big To Fail List, so that their failure would
10 no longer cause a catastrophic effect on the United States
11 or global economy without a taxpayer bailout.
13 For purposes of this Act, the term ‘‘Too Big to Fail’’
14 means any entity that has grown so large that its failure
15 would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either
16 the financial system or the United States economy without
17 substantial Government assistance.

Introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. That’s the entire bill.

I urge you, in the strongest terms, to support this bill. No company, no private interest, has the right to grow so big as hold our economy hostage. No company has the right to take private risks with its money, and expect public bailouts when those risks fail. You have the obligation, as a U.S. Senator, to help us, your constituents, combat those companies. Please co-sponsor this bill, and work with your Senate and House Colleagues to make this important change in our national financial system.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday's Question - What Recovery are you talking about?

Yesterday my federal colleagues released the monthly unemployment numbers for October 2009. Officially, the Nation now has 10.2% of its workforce unemployed. That means that 15.7 million people are now unable to work, whether they want to or not because there are no jobs for them to work at.

Yet, the economists and talking heads tell us, we should be HAPPY! Why? Because the rate at which we lost jobs in October was less the September! We shed jobs more slowly. Surely you know that this is a sign of recovery!

Um yeah, not so much. Americans are funny people - once they have lost a job, they don't see economic recovery until they have that job back. Period. So no, we're not rejoicing since the total - that 10.2% - is still climbing.

So, if you are in economics, or business, please consider this. The rate of loss means nothing outside of certain academic circles. The totals matter. And the more people loose jobs, the longer the recession will go on, no matter what the Stock Market does.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Words of Wisdom from a dead guy - George Carlin

I frankly don't give a f&%$ how it all tunrs out in this country - or anywhere else for that matter. I htink the human game was up a long time ago (When the high priests and traders took over), and now we're just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing: the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy, ever-more-desparate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of "American Dream" which has been merely misplaced.

Have a great Friday - and ask yourself this: How did Mr. Carlin see the world that he got this so right?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

GLUT turns 40!

Breaking down the semi-anonymous nature of this blog just a tad, I want to publicly acknowledge a birthday in my community - The Glut Co-Op is turning 40! As the WaPo story notes, this is an eclectic place - and i love shopping there. We get much higher quality produce and dry bulk goods then at the supermarket, and the prices is great. They also have a bulk spice wall that has to be seen to be believed. And then there's the cheese cooler . . .

My point is that we're fortunate to have such a great food source right down the street. Here's hoping they have another 40 years, and that many more communities get to experience this sort of shopping one day soon.

The Great White (Pacific) Shark - Savage of the . . . buffet line?

Today’s Washington Post on-line edition contains one article worth reading – Juliet Eilperin piece on Pacific (Great) white sharks. Eilperin’s article is a summation of the longer scientific piece published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B(iological Science) that looks at a decade of acoustic tagging and tracking of Pacific White sharks. And for us marine science types, it’s really cool.

First, though, a word about names – white sharks are technically named for the basin in which they occur, not a “Great.” In fact, all white sharks world-wide share the same scientific name (Carcharodon carcharias), and then scientists generally add the basin to the name. Thus the article refers to Pacific white sharks, to denote those members of this species found in the Pacific Ocean.

Second, the researchers who published the Royal Society article have made a major break through in the understanding of white shark behavior. It seems, again based on a decade’s worth of tagging, tracking, and genetic analysis, that white sharks spend the majority of each year cruising the west coast of the continental U.S. From a biological perspective, its easy to understand why – that coast is a veritable predator’s buffet of fatty seals and sea lions (and salmon) which can help feed a hunger shark well for a long time.

It also seems that the sharks swim en masse out to Hawaii every year, both for mating purposes (!) and for additional feeding. That later part actually comports with several scientific studies on endangered Hawaiian monk seals – who face a threat from general shark predation on pups that may be limiting recovery of the seal population.

Now, the most fascinating part of the use of these locations is that individual sharks have tremendous site fidelity – meaning they come back to the same places year in and year out. Salmon exhibit similar behavior in returning to their birth streams to spawn, and all species of sea turtles exhibit site fidelity when choosing beaches on which to lay their eggs. So in the marine animal world, this isn’t new.

What these finding do suggest, however, is that white sharks probably learn what the ecology of their “territory” is, and that when humans alter that ecology we run the risk of increasing our interactions with white sharks (including infamous shark bite episodes). The research also suggests that white shark presence and site fidelity might just be good indicators of ecosystem health, because one can assume that an adult white shark will alter its migratory and feeding behavior if food sources change.

The bottom line, then, is that white sharks are for more fascinating then even shark biologists previously thought. They like having a ready “buffet” to cruise just as much as we humans do, and we might be able to harness them (or at least their presence) to help define and understand large swaths of our coastal ecology.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Geoengineering - an idea whose time has NOT come.

Over at ClimateWire yesterday (subscription required), there was a story about the “new” controversy that’s brewing in climate crisis response. It seems there’s now open debate in the climate science community about whether geoengineering – active manipulation by humans of the Earth’s many systems – should be on the table as part of our climate crisis toolkit.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Some geoengineering schemes to fight climate change would probably succeed in cooling the planet, scientists said here Friday -- but whether we should ever deploy them is still an open question.

Researchers who gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology outlined a stark list of potential side effects of different climate engineering approaches, including further depleting the ozone layer, inducing drought and turning the blue sky white.

At the same time, many experts said geoengineering could be a planetary "Plan B," an option to exercise if cutting greenhouse gas emissions can't stave off dangerous climate change. "Even if we cut emissions, we have a lot of carbon dioxide already in the air," said David Keith of the University of Calgary. "We don't know exactly how bad the climate response will be, and we have to think clearly about how we manage the risk posed by CO2 already in the air."

Here’s where the scientists begin to loose the framing battle. By explicitly acknowledging the uncertainty around whether emissions reductions alone will have an effect on the warming trend that is occurring, Dr. Keith (following good scientific practice though he is) has opened the door to denialists. “Wait,” they will now scream “if all this carbon is still going to be left in the air, and you’re right (snicker) about carbon causing global warming, won’t the remainder still do that? If it will, why cut emissions (i.e. change our lifestyle) – it won’t do any good.”

The following three paragraphs don’t make it any better in the framing war:

An ongoing MIT research project into the risks posed by different levels of greenhouse gas emissions suggests that even steep cuts won't guarantee the world will stay under the 2-degree-Celsius climate guardrail espoused by many political leaders.

Stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the equivalent of 550 parts per million of CO2 -- a goal that's "not easy," according to MIT Energy Initiative director Ron Prinn -- would give the world just a 25 percent chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees between 1990 and 2090.

"Even with a very tough and expensive target, we are still at risk," Prinn said. "Hence, I think it's legitimate to begin thinking about geoengineering as something that should be on the table."

Much of the rest of the article from that point talks about the two main types of geoengineering being debated – those approaches that eat more carbon (like ocean fertilization), and those that reflect more sunlight back into space (like painting roofs white, or seeding the atmosphere with sulfates). Sure, it would be nice to have tools like this IF emissions reductions fail, but . .

'Precious little' science has been done

"The thing that's always frustrated me," said Philip Boyd, a professor of ocean biochemistry at the University of Otago in New Zealand, is that geoengineering "has great press coverage. It has that science fiction component that makes good copy. But there's been precious little or no science done."

David Keith, the University of Calgary scientist, agreed. "The actual number of real, serious science done on this topic is pitifully small," he said.

And that’s a huge part of the problem where both the efficacy of the techniques are concerned, and for how science frames this issue in talking to the general public. Because geoengineering as a word appeals to humans apparently innate desire to control nature, these approaches seem to get disproportionate media coverage. Far easier, so the story goes, to “geoengineer” our way out of the crisis, then to change our habits that lead to the crisis in the first place. That’s been the stuff of climate crisis denial for years now, and will continue to be so as long as scientists refuse to make “normative” statements about the impacts of all these decisions.

Yet, there is hope for my fellow science travelers :

Boyd said he's about to publish a study that predicts many geoengineering proposals would increase the potential for conflict, in part because documenting their effectiveness and assigning blame if things go wrong would be difficult tasks. He and others also noted that some climate engineering options, like delivering sulfate particles to the stratosphere, appear cheap enough that a large corporation or an individual country could deploy them without any international input. "The fact that it's cheap automatically means the policy challenge is control," said Keith, the University of Calgary professor. "The challenge is to control early actors."

But in the end, if more conventional efforts to blunt climate change don't succeed, whether to proceed with geoengineering may become an easier question to answer. "The most dangerous approach," said Keith, "is to assume geoengineering will work if we need it to -- without doing the research to prove it."

Dr. Keith is, of course, correct from a scientific standpoint. And, he and his colleagues do a better job then most of highlighting explicitly the threats from geoengineering as an approach to dealing with this self-inflicted wound. Yet they don’t go far enough, in my view. They avoid discussions of how, in essence, the climate crisis is the result of generations of unintentional, undirected geoengineering. They miss (perhaps because they are unaware) the fact that climate crisis induced ecological effects are already upon us. And they couch it all in the emotion-less, cautionary language of science. And by doing so, they give deniers one more chance to drive a wedge between the good that science can bring to this issue, and the reality that we’re all living today – namely that Americans want more then anything for this slow bleed out to be someone else’s’ fault.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaBloPoMo 2009

That's Right, you heard it here - I'm participating! The question is - Are you?

Hard Work and Just Rewards: The baseline Scenario's take.

The first is that you shouldn’t look down on other people (1) because their
parents weren’t as rich as yours, or (2) because they aren’t as smart as you, or
even (3) because they don’t work as hard as you. I think most people agree with
(1); I think you should agree with (2) and (3), too.

The second is that the moral argument should be on the side of
redistribution. I am willing to listen to utilitarian arguments against
redistribution (e.g., high marginal tax rates reduce the incentive to work, blah
blah blah blah blah); I may not agree with them, but they are a plausible
position. However, I have little patience for the idea that rich people deserve
what they have because they worked for it. It’s just a question of how far back
you are willing to acknowledge that chance enters the equation. If you are
willing to acknowledge that chance determines who you are to begin with, then it
becomes obvious (to me at least) that public policy cannot simply seek to level
the playing field, because that will just endorse a system that produces good
outcomes for the lucky (the smart and hard-working) and bad outcomes for the
unlucky. Instead, fairness dictates that policy should attempt to improve
outcomes for the unlucky, even if that requires hurting outcomes for the lucky.
But given that society is controlled by the lucky, I’m not holding my

By James Kwak

Now, This is economic justice I can get behind. Go here to read the rest.