Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Earth Near Tipping Point, Climatologist Warns

from the Toronto Star:

WASHINGTON-James Hansen returned to Capitol Hill a hero yesterday, but certainly not a conquering hero.

The soft-spoken scientist, hailed as the “whistle-blower for the planet,” tried to quiet a standing ovation from environmentalists here with a typically blunt admonition.

“It is not a time to celebrate,” said Hansen, 20 years to the day since he became the first leading scientist to warn of the dangers of global warming before a congressional committee.

He returned not to bask in any adulation, but to warn that the Earth is nearing a tipping point, to call for a national carbon tax and to say that CEOs of energy companies may be guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.

On June 23, 1988, by most accounts, the temperature in the committee room hovered at 38C and the U.S. was in the midst of a historic drought when Hansen told a Senate committee he was “99 per cent certain” that humans were warming the global climate.

His comments brought the issue to American consciousness.

The following day, The New York Times carried an account under the headline:

Global warming has begun, expert tells Senate.

Although global warming alarms had been sounding for more than a decade and Canadian scientists were warning of the greenhouse effect in the early 1980s, Hansen’s testimony seemed to crystallize the concern and provide the first jolt to the mass media in this country.

Two decades later, now 67 and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, his message has not changed.

“We have reached a point of planetary emergency,” he said.

“There are tipping points in the climate system, which we are very close to, and if we pass them, the dynamics of the system take over and carry you to very large changes which are out of your control.”

During a speech at the National Press Club, he rambled, as if his ideas were sprinting well ahead of his words, but he kept an overflow ballroom audience rapt.

Already, he said, the world’s safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide has been exceeded.

Yet, in the 20 years since he first testified, no major U.S. law restricting greenhouse gas emissions has been passed, 21 new coal-fired generating units have been built at power plants in this country and total U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide have climbed by about 18 per cent.

“If there is any single moment that marked the turning point where the climate issue became a serious public policy issue, June 23, 1988, had to be seen as that moment,” said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute.

“(Yesterday) may mark a second kind of turning point.”

Tim Wirth, the onetime Democratic Colorado senator who organized the hearing that day, said he knew he had made much progress with Hansen’s testimony when a report made the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.

“It was a brave and lonely leadership role he played then, and he hasn’t stopped one day since,” Wirth said.

Hansen’s second Capitol Hill appearance in 1989 was before a committee chaired by a Tennessee senator named Al Gore, but the White House edited his statement before Gore’s committee, throwing into question his certainty about the link between human activity and global warming.

Hansen was told he could accept the revisions, or he would not be able to testify.

So, in advance of the hearing, he asked Gore to question him on the edited parts, he then revealed the White House edit and the story led all U.S. network newscasts that evening. Hansen then moved out of the political spotlight for 15 years.

Yesterday, Hansen warned of greater forest fire risk in Canada, the extinction of polar and alpine species, danger to the coral reefs and the ocean life that depends on them because of carbon dioxide in the oceans, and refugees from melting ice sheets in Greenland and the western Antarctic.

He called for a phase-out of all coal-burning power plants by 2030 except those in which carbon dioxide is captured and buried and he called for a carbon tax on coal, oil and gas.

The tax, he said, should be returned in full to the public - not used by government - in equal amounts for each adult and a half-share for children, deposited directly into bank accounts or credited to debit cards.

Such a non-regressive tax, Hansen says, will spur low and middle-income people to limit their tax while profligate users will pay for their excesses.

He also accused corporate America of a “greenwash” in which their environmentally friendly words are not backed by actions and he supported criminal charges against CEOs of corporations such as ExxonMobil who are smart enough to know the situation but are intent on continuing their fossil fuel ways.

“When their descendants look back on them, they should not to be able to pretend that they didn’t know,” Hansen said.

“They do know.”

They are also guilty of funding and promoting contrarian views from scientists, furthering a charade that confuses the public into believing there is debate among scientists in this country, Hansen said.

“There is no debate,” he said.

Next year, with a new president, a new direction is desperately needed, Hansen said.

He said a call for offshore drilling, sounded last week both by U.S. President George W. Bush and Republican presumptive nominee John McCain is “crazy.”

“To go around drilling for the last drop of oil on the continental shelf will extend our addiction a little bit, but it will put us past the tipping point,” he said.

Monday, June 23, 2008

As for you Mr Bush, you and your little cabal of thieving, duplicitous venal war criminals are not fit to lick the boots of a true patriot like General Taguba.

From McClatchy:

General who probed Abu Ghraib says Bush officials committed war crimes

By Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers 

WASHINGTON — The Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison accused the Bush administration Wednesday of committing "war crimes" and called for those responsible to be held to account. 

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." 

Taguba, whose 2004 investigation documented chilling abuses at Abu Ghraib, is thought to be the most senior official to have accused the administration of war crimes. "The commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture," he wrote.

A White House spokeswoman, Kate Starr, had no comment.(more)

Oh Ghod...the Neocons Can't Even Do Propaganda Right

Another example of BushCo's incompetent management of the "War on Terror." This US taxpayer financed 'organization' actually spends most of its time broadcasting anti-American programming. I am  feeling so much safer.
from ProPublica:

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, whose speeches were carried live and unedited on Alhurra. The State Department lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Lost in Translation:

Alhurra—America’s Troubled Effort to Win Middle East Hearts and Minds

by Dafna Linzer

An Arab-language television network and radio station, founded by the Bush administration to promote a positive image of the United States, has aired anti-American and anti-Israeli viewpoints, has showcased pro-Iranian policies and recently gave air time to a militant who called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. 

So far, U.S. taxpayers have spent nearly $500 million to fund those broadcasts. The television station, called Alhurra, and the radio network, Sawa, were meant to provide an American perspective on world events and counter the wave of global criticism that had been building against the Bush administration since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

Instead, Alhurra’s four years of operation have been marked by a string of broadcast disasters that government officials believe are as negative as anything aired by Al Jazeera, the widely watched Qatar-based station that aired unedited speeches of Osama bin Laden. 

Alhurra’s reporters and commentators operate with little oversight. Alhurra’s president, Brian Conniff, does not speak Arabic and is unable to understand anything broadcast on the radio and television networks he is paid to manage. Conniff has no journalism experience and worked previously as a government auditor. His news director, Daniel Nassif, grew up in Lebanon and has no background in television. Before coming to the network, he helped promote the political aspirations in Washington of a Lebanese Christian former general. 

Both men said in interviews that they are providing effective supervision of the network’s five 24-hour radio and television broadcasts and they praised their staff as professional and committed. A string of highly publicized “mistakes” are behind them, Conniff said. 

That does not appear to be the case. (more)

Congratulations George and Brad

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — "Star Trek" star George Takei is ready to "live long and prosper" with his partner of 21 years.

Takei will marry 54-year-old Brad Altman on September 14th in Los Angeles.

The 71-year-old actor, known for his role as Sulu on the "Star Trek" sci-fi TV series, was the first to pay $70 for a marriage license in West Hollywood early Tuesday. The marriage license is good for 90 days.

Takei was jubilant, saying "it's going to be the only day like this in our lives and it is the only day like this in the history of America."

He told reporters and a swelling crowd outside the West Hollywood city auditorium "may equality live long and prosper."

The California Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage.

HURRAY! Some good news for a change.

An uncivil tongue

From Kolchak:

I saw George Carlin live only once. It wasn't his finest moment.

He spent a long time--what seemed like a half hour or more--playing with the microphone cord and waiting, perhaps, for creative lightning to strike. Or maybe he was waiting for the drugs to kick in. Or wear off. That was a long time ago, for both of us.

As you probably know already, Carlin died on June 22, of heart failure. He was 71.

Most of the news stories that I've seen today are leading with his involvement in the landmark obscenity case stemming from his routine, "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television." I don't want to devalue that in any way (and I see that handdrummer has already posted about it) but I want to talk about the other way Carlin used language, to point out the absurdities in daily life. Most of the lines I'm going to use here are paraphrases, and I apologize for that in advance.

I'm not a sports guy and I'll never be one, but one of my favorite Carlin monologues is when he explained how baseball was pastoral and football was technological. It shows how something that looks like a trifle actually says something very real about the world. In baseball, you make an error. Everybody makes errors. In football, you pay a penalty. Football has to be played in a set time period. A baseball game can go on forever.

Carlin talked about how we all grow up to expect certain phrases to go together. You're probably not going to deposit your savings in Arnie's National Bank. And you're probably not going to hang out at the First National Bar and Grill.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I remember a few of Carlin's earliest appearances on television, before his beard and his anger grew. He did a character he called the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, who delivered playful lines like: There was a freak accident out on Route 295 today. Two freaks in a VW hit three freaks in a van."

And wouldn't he have loved the phrase "heart failure"? I'm sorry, you failed. We're going to have to hold your aorta back a year.

As much fun as it is to recall punchlines, George Carlin did more than tell jokes. He had a way of looking at the world. And that's why he'll be remembered.

George Carlin, RIP

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits

Times have changed since Carlin made these words famous.

Piss is said on regular TV with a growing frequency.

Shit crops up in dialog on the cable channels regularly.

Fuck was immortalized by HBO's Deadwood.

Few rap songs exist that don't use MotherFucker.

Cocksucker is still a bit outre, though it does sneak an appearance into a movie or  comedy routine on occasion.

And Tits, well Tits is as Carlin said, cute.

That leaves Cunt as the lone holdout, the one that still can offend even the staunchist  free speech advocate. And that is more because its meaning has shifted from being denotive of a part of a woman's anatomy to being a hateful derogatory term for that woman in general.

I think Carlin would choose a different set of words today.

Nigger, Kike, Fag come to mind instantly...

Any suggestions for the other three?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nine meals from anarchy

I'm so used to being called a nutjob when I worry aloud about this stuff that it is a shock to find an article like this is a middle of the road mainstream newspaper.

from The Daily Mail:

Nine meals from anarchy - how Britain is facing a very real food crisis 

By Rosie Boycott

The phrase 'nine meals from anarchy' sounds more like the title of a bad Hollywood movie than any genuine threat.

But that was the expression coined by Lord Cameron of Dillington, a farmer who was the first head of the Countryside Agency - the quango set up by Tony Blair in the days when he pretended to care about the countryside - to describe just how perilous Britain's food supply actually is. 

Long before many others, Cameron saw the potential of a real food crisis striking not just the poor of the Third World, but us, here in Britain, in the 21st Century. 

The scenario goes like this. Imagine a sudden shutdown of oil supplies; a sudden collapse in the petrol that streams steadily through the pumps and so into the engines of the lorries which deliver our food around the country, stocking up the supermarket shelves as soon as any item runs out. 

If the trucks stopped moving, we'd start to worry and we'd head out to the shops, cking up our larders. By the end of Day One, if there was still no petrol, the shelves would be looking pretty thin. Imagine, then, Day Two: your fourth, fifth and sixth meal. We'd be in a panic. Day three: still no petrol. 

What then? With hunger pangs kicking in, and no notion of how long it might take for the supermarkets to restock, how long before those who hadn't stocked up began stealing from their neighbours? Or looting what they could get their hands on? 

There might be 11 million gardeners in Britain, but your delicious summer peas won't go far when your kids are hungry and the baked beans have run out. 

It was Lord Cameron's estimation that it would take just nine meals - three full days without food on supermarket shelves - before law and order started to break down, and British streets descended into chaos. 

A far-fetched warning for a First World nation like Britain? Hardly. Because that's exactly what happened in the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People looted in order to feed themselves and their families. 

If a similar tragedy was to befall Britain, we are fooling ourselves if we imagine we would not witness similar scenes of crime and disorder. 

Well, today Britain is facing a very real crisis. Granted, it is not the threat of a sudden, terrifying phenomenon such as the hurricane that struck New Orleans. But in its capacity to cause widespread hardship and deprivation nationwide, it is every bit as daunting. 

Oil prices are spiralling - $120 a barrel this week, up 23 per cent since the start of the year - and the cost is being felt not only by drivers but by each and every one of us who has seen our food bills soaring. 

This week, the British Retail Consortium revealed that food price inflation had risen to 6 per cent - the highest figure since comparable records began - and up from 4.7 per cent in April and 4.1 per cent in March. 

At its most basic, the reasons for this food inflation are twofold: increasing demand (particularly in the emerging economies of India and China) and spiralling production costs. 

The former had been predicted for years, but the latter is more unexpected. 

Conventional wisdom had it that in an age of mechanisation, the cost of producing the food that we eat would decrease as technology found new ways of improving yields and minimising labour costs. But there was a problem that hadn't been factored in. Production methods are now such that 95 per cent of all the food we eat in the world today is oil-dependent.

The 'black gold' is embedded in our complex global food systems, in its fertilisers, the mechanisation necessary for its production, its transportation and its packaging. 

For example, to farm a single cow and deliver it to market requires the equivalent of six barrels of oil - enough to drive a car from New York to LA. 

Unbelievable? One analysis of the fodder pellets which are fed to the vast majority of beef cows to supplement their grazing found that they were made up of ingredients that had originated in six different countries. Think of the fuel required to transport that lot around the world. 

Now factor in the the diesel used by the farm vehicles, the carbon footprint of chemical fertilisers used by most nonorganic beef farms and the energy required to transport a cow to the abattoir and process it. The total oil requirement soon adds up. 

And so as oil prices have risen, so too has the cost of food - and I'm afraid it's only set to get worse. The age of cheap food is at an end - and it will impact not only on our supermarket bills, but on the whole economy.

Fifty years ago, food represented around 30 per cent of the average household budget, whereas nowadays it is nearer to 9 per cent. 

In other words, cheap food has not only helped keep inflation down, it also allowed the postwar consumer boom to flourish. 

With our most basic and necessary commodity - the food on our plates - costing proportionally less every decade, we had plenty of free capital to spend on luxuries: flat-screen TVs; the holidays abroad; the home improvements and extensions that so many of us have acquired. 

That's all set to change in a major way. A new era of austerity is approaching, and we are illpreparedfor its scale and effect. As a farmer myself, who runs a smallholding in Somerset, I was one of the first to detect the winds of change, as the prices for my animal feed rose. (more)

Mr. Maverick Republican's True Colors

from Congressional Quarterly

In CQ’s calculation of party unity, which measures how often members vote with their party on bills where the parties split, McCain had the Senate’s highest presidential support score last year, 95 percent.  He  has averaged 89 percent since 2001.
Apparently Republicans are so doctrinaire that deviating 11% from the party gets you labeled a maverick. How pathetic.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

from Yahoo's Running on Empty group:

That leads me to the thought that if the U.S. administration had demanded the same degree of proof and certainty of Iraq's WMD that they are constantly demanding for Global Warming and Peak Oil then the U.S. invasion of Iraq would never have taken place.

Richard E

Thursday, June 12, 2008

As true now as when first spoken...

"They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people"

Eugene Debs

Monday, June 09, 2008

Corn surges to new record on rainy weather, dollar

More trouble on the food supply front....

from Forbes Magazine 

Corn futures shot up to a record for a second day Friday, driven higher by heavy rain in Midwestern states, a slumping dollar and skyrocketing crude oil prices.

Other commodities traded broadly higher, with crude oil soaring almost $10 and gold, silver, copper and other agriculture futures also rising sharply.

Heavy rains have flooded corn crops in Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska and other states, giving farmers their wettest spring since 1993 and severely delaying planting. Forecasts show the bad weather moving toward the western corn belt states of Minnesota and Wisconsin over the next several days.

"It's all about the weather. People have had to replant fields a third time and it's completely unknown how the flooding is going to affect yields," said Elaine Kub, analyst with DTN in Omaha.

Corn for July delivery surged to an all-time high of $6.6325 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade before easing back to $6.52, still up $8.75 cents. Corn prices have jumped 35 percent since the start of the year.  (more)

T. Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil Reached, Plans World’s Largest Wind Farm


When one of Texas’s richest oil men bets big on wind energy, it gets attention. Yesterday NPR’s Living on Earth broadcast an interview with Mr. Pickens, who shared the salient facts about his planned wind project:
  • It will be the largest in the world, he reckons, at 4,000 megawatts

  • It will provide enough power for 1,300,000 homes

  • It’s a $10 billion dollar project from which he plans a 15%-25% profit

Asked why he is investing in wind now, Pickens replied:

“For a number of years I’ve watched the wind turbines develop — and I feel like it’s time for it. I think that oil has peaked at 85 million barrels in the world. We’ve got to develop other forms of energy — wind, I think solar will be next, and I hope I’m still around to be in the solar deal.” (Pickens is 80 years old.

But what if Congress doesn’t vote to extend the wind Production Tax Credit?

“Well, I think they’ll vote on it. They’ll either do that or they’ll give some kind of carbon credit because, the wind has to be developed in the United States. We’re now importing 72 percent of the oil we use every day. I think everybody can see that we’re gonna break the country if we pay 700 billion dollars a year for, uh, imported oil……I’ve got a good team of people that are knowledgeable in wind energy, and I don’t worry about it. I think it’s a good project, and it’ll do well and we’ll make money. And it’ll help the country.”

Look at Pickens’s bio on Wikipedia. He grew up poor but worked hard. He became a geologist in the 50’s, which “were difficult times for the oil industry and petroleum geologists.” He stuck at it and obviously his bet on oil paid off; Pickens is worth $3 billion now. But he’s moving on — to wind. Find out more about this story in the current issue of Fast Company.