'/> Uncommon Hours: February 2009
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Will-ful Deceit at the Washington Post

RAW, uncooked truth, beyond belief
Issue #2756
Feb 27, 2009

By Josh Dorner

After years of soft-pedaling the science around global warming and actively abetting the Bush administration's strategy of sowing doubt about the problem, it seemed like the media had more or less gotten its act together when it comes to reporting on climate change. This past couple weeks, however, we got an unfortunate reminder that denialism is alive and well on the editorial pages of some of America's most prominent newspapers.

Two weeks ago George Will, occasional bow-tie wearer and one of the media elite's favorite conservative blowhards, penned a column (based at the Washington Post but syndicated nationally) attacking the so-called alarmist doomsaying (read: reality) around global warming.

Conservatives ranting about global warming alarmism is of course nothing new, but this column struck a nerve because it blatantly misstated (read: lied about) some basic scientific facts around sea ice and global temperatures.

Others have done an excellent take-down of the distortions, so I won't waste time there. The real story is the ridiculously cack-handed response from Will and the Post.

First, the brand-spanking new ombudsman, Andy Alexander, dug the hole deeper by defending the Post's "fact-checking" and editing process. He pointed out that an astonishing FIVE editors at the Post had looked over the column. He then not only refused to concede the column's obvious and glaring errors, but doubled down on them in Will's defense. No correction has been issued.

This stands in marked contrast to the New York Times, which offered repeated corrections to arch-conservative Bill Kristol’s notoriously shoddy columns during his brief tenure on their opinion page. It's somewhat ironic that after being kicked to the curb by the Times, Kristol is now going to start writing a column for the Post.

(It should be of additional embarrassment to the Washington Post that the Center for American Progress discovered that Will has essentially recycled this same column approximately ten times over the years -- stretching all the way back to 1992.)

The blogosphere was already seething and the Post's non-response response was so troubling that Sierra Club and other groups wrote a letter of protest to Alexander (noting, in part, that Will was entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts), but things really kicked up a notch when Andy Revkin of the Times took on Will. (Revkin also misguidedly attacked Al Gore by equating his supposed overplaying of warming to Will's lying, which then caused its own separate flap in the blogosphere.)

And its not just bloggers, enviros, and media watchdogs who are upset. The Oregonian had refused to run Will's column and Galen Burnett, the paper's commentary editor, had this to say of the Post's response: "I was a little troubled by the response from the Washington Post editors which was basically dismissive of people's challenge of the column. That's the more troubling aspect to me. I would expect more of the Post."

And then it just got totally nuts. Speaking to the Columbia Journalism Review, the Post's opinion page editor, Fred Hiatt, not only defended Will, but then bizarrely asserted that those demanding accuracy and truth when it comes to science were in some way advocating censorship.

It gets better.

Hiatt then defended Will's right to interpret science as he sees fit and even said that Will has no obligation to even mention that the scientists he is citing vehemently disagree with his characterization of their research.

The escalation has only continued today, with Will writing a new column attacking his naysayers (including Andy Revkin) and doubling down on his original lies. Revkin then hit back, citing scientists discussing science (what a novelty).

Our friends at Media Matters and bloggers continue to pile on. Should be interesting to see if Andy Alexander actually does some ombudsman-ing in his column this Sunday or just continues to defend the nonsense being spewed by Hiatt and Will?

At this rate, I'm guessing the hole under Fred Hiatt's desk may reach China before Will makes the rounds on this Sunday's talk shows.

Lee Judge's Friday cartoon: Merrill Lynch steps in it

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exxon's influence and information wars continue today, building on lessons they learned from Valdez disaster

Image courtesy AZRainman

This is the fourth article in a series addressing the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Click here for part 1, here for part 2 and here for part 3.

Coming to the end of this series, I'm struck by how much Exxon learned -- and how little the rest of us did -- from the worst spill in our nation's history.

Yesterday I noted that one reason the Exxon Valdez story is still important 20 years later is that the disaster itself could easily happen again. However, another reason for the ongoing relevance of the lessons learned in Prince William Sound over the past two decades is that Exxon can convince the media and politicians that black is white. They did in Alaska, and they continue to do so all over the world.

The tamping down of information began immediately after the spill on March 24, 1989. Fishermen such as John Platt were paid by Exxon to help in the clean up efforts, but before they were hired they had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

"I could not say or do anything that would be detrimental to Exxon," Platt recalled. "In other words, it was hush money."

Platt said he didn't talk to anyone at the time about the clean up process, for fear of losing the only job he could be sure of in that moment. He said he knew one man who did lose his temporary clean up job because he talked to the press.

The story of the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a complex and unprecedented one, and reporters who flocked to Alaska to cover the story for far away national outlets were easily confused. Riki Ott, an Alaskan marine biologist and fisherwoman, was called in at the scene and saw firsthand how Exxon whitewashed the story for the media and the American public. She documents in her 2008 book the lies Exxon told about everything from the amount of oil spilled to the success of clean up efforts.

But the lies didn't stop in 1989. Exxon continually brought its own scientists to conduct studies on Prince William Sound, with their most recent, undated "report" appearing to be from 2005. The company's scientists repeatedly reported no long-term damage, despite the fact that everyone else -- from government to private to nonprofit experts -- disagreed with their assertions.

The company caused untold death and destruction, and denied responsibility at every turn. Even their failed clean up efforts ended in misery. Clean up workers are still sick from the dangerous chemicals Exxon used to burnish its image (the efforts failed to actually restore Prince William Sound, but succeeded in forcing the oil and toxic materials underground, where the public couldn't see it). Some workers are suffering from respiratory and neurological disorders to this day. Others have died from restoration-related illnesses.

Still, the story never seems to stick. Exxon is still the world's largest publicly-traded international oil company and continues to make record profits year after year. Platt calls Exxon "the Teflon corporation," and is frustrated by the amount of influence the company exudes.

"It's a sad, sad comment" on society, Platt said. "[Exxon is] basically setting policy, molding our judicial system -- I don‘t know. It‘s almost gotten to the point -- it makes me scratch my head -- they as a corporation have more rights than that of the individual."

There are many reasons for the ascendance of Exxon in the American political sphere: money, corruption, the doctrine of corporate personhood.

But also, Exxon has mastered the art of playing people off of each other. They did that in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez disaster, handing out jobs to select Alaskans to help clean up. Alyeska, the alliance of oil corporations -- including Exxon -- that was formed to push the building of the Alaska pipeline in the early 1970s, co-opted community leaders and organizations that were once advocates for North Slope Alaskans, ostensibly paying these groups to study the disaster and restore the Sound.

One tactic that seems carbon copied from Big Oil's experience in Prince William Sound is the latest push for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and for offshore drilling. When Alyeska ran into opposition to the pipeline from fishermen, Native Americans and environmental groups, they relied on current events and public opinion to get what they wanted.

The courts had rejected both the flimsy Environmental Impact Statement the U.S. Interior Department wrote for the pipeline and the fact that Alyeska's leases weren't in order, so the pipeline's only hope was an act of Congress. The panic of the 1973-1974 gas shortage made it easier for lawmakers to justify voting to overturn appellate court rulings, the Mineral Leasing Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, just so Alyeska could get its way and Americans could have access to cheap gas. Even so, the vote came to a tie in the Senate, requiring then-Vice President Spiro Agnew's vote to get the bill onto President Richard Nixon's desk.

For those who lived through this contentious fight against the pipeline, current events have a deja vu feel. Platt went so far as to suspect market manipulation of gas prices last summer when politicians lobbied to open up more areas to oil drilling and create a gas tax holiday.

"The same tactic was employed in putting the Alyeska terminus in," he said. "They shirked their responsibility when it comes to what they did to us, and who's to say they‘re not going to do it again?"

The fact of the matter is oil companies such as Exxon don't need fuel emergencies or price manipulation to get lawmakers on their side. Their clout is plenty healthy with or without disaster on the horizon.

Oil companies have had close ties with Alaska ever since it became the 49th state. Take, for example, the VECO Corporation, an oil pipeline construction and service company based in Alaska that was chiefly in charge of orchestrating the clean up of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Though VECO is no longer based in Alaska after being sold to a Colorado-based company in 2007, the extent of its impact on the affairs of the state becomes clearer with each new corruption charge.

In the Anchorage Daily News' round-up of investigations into corruption in Alaska, of the 14 people listed as "tried and convicted," "pleaded guilty," "charged and awaiting trial" and "connected with the investigations," 11 are directly connected with VECO. The company has been called "a player" and "a mucky force" in Alaska politics.

In the Exxon spill, Alaskans affected by the disaster soon lost their trust in state government. The state quickly settled with Exxon for environmental damages, after which the company tried to claim that they had paid enough to the state to fulfill any further damage claims by residents.

"The state basically took off any pressure Exxon had for negotiating on a deal with us," Platt said as a fisherman still awaiting his settlement.

Exxon's strategy, according to Ott, was to get the claims into federal court, where the company felt they had a better chance of winning. But with the pro-business appointments to the Supreme Court from President George W. Bush, Exxon was set. Platt's disgust extends to the federal government and judiciary as well.

"Exxon was able to drag it out long enough to the point where the composition of the Supreme Court" changed in their favor, Platt said.

The 32,000 plaintiffs in the class action against Exxon, including Platt, have had their collective punitive damages cut from $5 billion to $507 million. They are expecting to hear from the Supreme Court soon on whether Exxon will be forced to add interest to the plaintiffs' payment.

Exxon's ties to our former President Oilman are well known, but some of the sneakier stuff the company got away with during the Bush Administration is collected here by Robert Kennedy.

To be fair, Exxon has its tentacles in all three branches of the federal government.

SourceWatch.org notes that Exxon is one of the largest energy company contributors to Congressional campaigns (You can see how much oil money your representatives have gotten using Oil Change International's Follow the Oil Money Web site).

Exxon found that the disinformation campaign worked so well in the Prince William Sound that there was no reason not to launch others. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a study in 2007 that found Exxon had spent almost $16 million over a seven-year period funding pseudo-scientific groups to disseminate false information challenging the existence and cause of global warming.

"When one looks closely, Exxon Mobil's underhanded strategy is as clear and indisputable as the scientific research it's meant to discredit," said Seth Shulman, an investigative journalist who wrote the report. "The paper trail shows that, to serve its corporate interests, Exxon Mobil has built a vast echo chamber of seemingly independent groups with the express purpose of spreading disinformation about global warming."

To be fair, European think tanks that denounce global warming have also received Exxon funding. And why not? Oil is a global business, and Exxon learned way back in 1989 that foreign scientists sound more credible to the American public. That was why they trucked in paid scientists from Great Britain to assuage American fears after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Exxon's funding of "trinket tanks" and pseudo scientists goes full-circle when the information they generate is used by politicians to defend policies that favor oil companies. Ever wonder where Sarah Palin got that junk science about polar bears? You guessed it: Exxon. And what is a major barrier to expanding Arctic oil exploration? Endangered species such as the polar bear.

An important point for lawmakers to realize here is the strong possibility of guilt by association.

As Dune Lankard, a fisherman, Alaska Native and conservationist from Prince William Sound put it after the Exxon settlement was further reduced last year: "From here on out we will never ever trust the oil industry, government or the courts."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adults in the House: Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress

By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

Former-president Bill Clinton noted in the build-up to President Barack Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress last evening that he was looking for the new president’s message of hope.

One only needed to see the enthusiasm in the chamber as the president entered to feel that hope. From the entrance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, rallying back from her bout with cancer, to Obama stepping over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s introduction in his eagerness to get started, Congress was filled with the sense that change was underway, that the work had begun, that once more, after eight years in the wilderness, reasonable, smart people could begin to figure out how to solve the plethora of immense problems that have descended upon us. And they had brought American citizens back into the dialogue.

Even the stock market seemed hopeful yesterday, rallying over 230 points on the day.

Obama gave an amazing performance—direct, clear, focused, and largely free of imagery except in his opening and closing. This was more than his “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” speech. It was a vision of the future based on a re-envisioning of how we live now—that we can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results.

What a contrast it was to the short-sighted national leadership with which we’ve lived for so long. And as if to emphasize that point, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s patronizing and backward-looking response dragged out most of the bogeymen of Republican campaigns from the last several elections. Patronizing in so many ways: opening with a reminder that this was the first such speech by a president of African-American heritage; reciting the tired litany of strawman arguments about Democrats raising taxes and funding social programs. Surely the best evidence of racial progress had been, up until that moment, that nearly everyone was focused on the leadership and message of Barack Obama—and not on his heritage.

You had to wonder if Jindal had mistakenly been given one of Lyndon Johnson’s old speeches and asked to respond. Even his rhetoric was empty, full of stage-directed chuckles and recited in a tone that wouldn’t get a high school kid a berth on the debate team. Without doubt, however, Jindal and those who subscribe to his backward-looking message seemed largely irrelevant.

The vision and confidence Obama demonstrated last evening drew strength from the recognition by most Americans that he was saying what needed to be said—and that, indeed, responsibility for the current problems we face, from climate change to the recession, lies in some measure with everyone, and that the issue now is how to rebuild and renew ourselves.

Please share your thoughts on the speech by hitting the comment button below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Damn that Lincoln. Abe's to blame for Jindal

By Greg Palast

Damn that Abe Lincoln. When Louisiana and Mississippi seceded from the Union, a sensible president would have sent them a box of chocolates with a note, "Goodbye and good riddance."

Tonight, following Barack Obama's budget presentation to Congress, effectively the president's first State of the Union Address, the Republicans have chosen to give their party's response, the governor of the state that wanted to leave the Union, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal.

Jindal's going to tell us that Barack Obama is a terrible President because Obama wants to require states such as Louisiana to extend unemployment insurance to -- get this -- the unemployed! (Technically, the federal government would pay 100% of the cost of reforming Louisiana's and Mississippi's Scrooge-sized benefit requirements.)

Read the rest of the article here.

Request a Special Prosecutor for Bush and Cheney

Posted now at AfterDowningStreet.org -- a listing of groups and petitions to "urge Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a non-partisan independent Special Counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes of former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the attorneys formerly employed by the Department of Justice whose memos sought to justify torture, and other former top officials of the Bush Administration."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Santelli's rant heard round YouTube

By Bob Sommer

I discovered years ago that the best way to listen to CNBC in the morning is not to listen at all. Most mornings, our kitchen radio is tuned to NPR while the blue and white bands of CNBC’s crawlers tell me more about the world of finances than any of the simpletons at the anchor desk.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve never heard what they’re saying on CNBC, only that I’ve heard enough to know that I don’t need to hear it.

So Rick Santelli’s rant last week week—his “Chicago Tea Party,” as CNBC has now proudly dubbed it (oh, the ratings!)—came as no surprise at all. It was just a longer and only slightly more elevated version of his daily rants.

Santelli, for those who have the good sense to stick to local weather and traffic reports on morning TV, or those with the even better sense not to turn on the TV at all, is a former commodities trader turned reporter who offers updates on economic news from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. Most days, his more benign faux-populist commentary consists of a series of convoluted, serpentine, indecipherable observations about fractional movements in the Treasurys market punctuated by the chorus-like refrain, which he manages to use several times for every minute he’s on the air, “at the end of the day,” which at the end of the day usually segueways into more faux-populist gibberish.

Almost the entire crew of CNBC anchors and reporters shares Santelli’s belief that all things money are good and all things not are either bad or just don’t matter. And they share the fantasy that they’re all just regular people, banging out a living, punching the clock at CNBC and the CBOT. Santelli went so far as to invoke that glorious Nixon-era image of the “silent majority.” Some of us remember those good people, who opposed civil rights and wanted to nuke Vietnam. Things are just so simple for the “silent majority,” so much clearer.

Anchor Joe Kernan hosts the show without his jacket but fully garbed in an off-handed manner, laced with sarcastic disdain for any idea that’s deeper than a cliché or a wise-crack. He sounds off throughout the morning like a regular on the corner stool of your neighborhood bar. Becky Quick, his co-anchor, reads her teleprompter with the urgency of a football play-by-play announcer and comes up with fresh insights like asking, as she did last week, what President Obama’s mortgage plan will mean to her since she pays her bills and mortgage on time. She actually beat Santelli to his rant with this question, but she didn’t incite a riot among commodities traders so she didn’t make YouTube.

This jabber goes on all morning—the financial version of The View.

Their favorite piñadas—they make no pretense to political objectivity—are, in no order of importance since they openly despise them all: Al Gore, Howard Dean, Jesse Jackson, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Al Sharpton, and Al Gore (yes, he gets two mentions—they hate him that much).

There was nothing new in Santelli’s rant the other day. It just had enough juice added to what goes on every day to catch the YouTube crowd.

For now, I prefer to get the actual numbers for the day’s market horrors from CNBC’s crawlers while I listen to NPR. But with the worst financial crisis in the country’s history descending on us with the ferocity of the alien invaders in Independence Day, it sure would be helpful if these so-called “reporters” brought the same gravity to the financial news as Walter Cronkite once brought to the news news.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Afghanistan, the Next US Quagmire?

By Thalif Deen

The United States is planning to send an additional 17,000 troops to one of the world's most battle-scarred nations – Afghanistan – long described as "a graveyard of empires."

First, it was the British Empire, and then the Soviet Union. So, will the United States be far behind?

"With his new order on Afghanistan, President (Barack) Obama has given substantial ground to what Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967 called 'the madness of militarism,'" Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS.

"That madness should be opposed in 2009," said Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gen. McKiernan: 60,000 troops needed in Aghanistan for 3-4 years!

According to today’s Washington Post, Gen. David D. McKiernan warned that President Obama’s announcement of 17,000 troops heading for Afghanistan this spring comes up about 10,000 short due to increased violence in that country. McKiernan believes 2009 will be “a tough year,” and the U.S. will have to sustain about 60,000 troops in-country.

The questions are: What is the mission? And what is the endgame?

We have yet to extricate ourselves from Iraq, and now this build-up is underway. What is our purpose in Afghanistan, and what does a 3- to 4-year time frame really mean? Where do estimates like that even originate? It has the clank of a can being kicked down the road.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming: Scientists

Published on Monday, February 16, 2009 by Agence France Presse

CHICAGO - When it comes to global warming, hamburgers are the Hummers of food, scientists say.

A giant hamburger is assembled at a Virginia restaurant. (AFP photo)Simply switching from steak to salad could cut as much carbon as leaving the car at home a couple days a week.

That's because beef is such an incredibly inefficient food to produce and cows release so much harmful methane into the atmosphere, said Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Canada.

Pelletier is one of a growing number of scientists studying the environmental costs of food from field to plate.

By looking at everything from how much grain a cow eats before it is ready for slaughter to the emissions released by manure, they are getting a clearer idea of the true costs of food.

The livestock sector is estimated to account for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and beef is the biggest culprit.

Even though beef only accounts for 30 percent of meat consumption in the developed world it's responsible for 78 percent of the emissions, Pelletier said Sunday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That's because a single kilogram of beef produces 16 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalent emissions: four times higher than pork and more than ten times as much as a kilogram of poultry, Pelletier said.

If people were to simply switch from beef to chicken, emissions would be cut by 70 percent, Pelletier said.

Another part of the problem is people are eating far more meat than they need to.

"Meat once was a luxury in our diet," Pelletier said. "We used to eat it once a week. Now we eat it every day."

If meat consumption in the developed world was cut from the current level of about 90 kilograms a year to the recommended level of 53 kilograms a year, livestock related emissions would fall by 44 percent.

"Given the projected doubling of (global) meat production by 2050, we're going to have to cut our emissions by half just to maintain current levels," Pelletier said. "Technical improvements are not going to get us there."

That's why changing the kinds of food people eat is so important, said Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

Food is the third largest contributor to the average US household's carbon footprint after driving and utilities, and in Europe - where people drive less and have smaller homes - it has an even greater impact.

"Food is of particular importance to a consumer's impact because it's a daily choice that is, at least in theory, easy to change," Weber said.

"You make your choice every day about what to eat, but once you have a house and a car you're locked into that for a while."

The average US household contributes about five tons of carbon dioxide a year by driving and about 3.5 tons of equivalent emissions with what they eat, he said.

"Switching to no red meat and no dairy products is the equivalent of (cutting out) 8,100 miles driven in a car ... that gets 25 miles to the gallon," Weber said in an interview following the symposium.

Buying local meat and produce will not have nearly the same effect, he cautioned.

That's because only five percent of the emissions related to food come from transporting food to market.

"You can have a much bigger impact by shifting just one day a week from meat and dairy to anything else than going local every day of the year," Weber said.

For more information on how to eat a low carbon diet, visit http://www.eatlowcarbon.org./

James Hansen: "Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet."

The Sword of Damocles

By Dr. James Hansen

Over a year ago I wrote to Prime Minister Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other world leaders. The reason is this – coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.

Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible – if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades.

Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As tundra melts, methane a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

The public, buffeted by day-to-day weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time or training to analyze decadal changes. How can they be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from special economic interests? How can they distinguish top-notch science and pseudoscience – the words sound the same?

Leaders have no excuse – they are elected to lead and to protect the public and its best interests. Leaders have at their disposal the best scientific organizations in the world, such as the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and the United States National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallize, revealing the urgency – our planet really is in peril. If we do not change course soon, we will hand our children a situation that is out of their control, as amplifying feedbacks drive the dynamics of the global system.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The preindustrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas have increased carbon dioxide to 385 ppm, and it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

Earth, with its four kilometer deep ocean, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So more climate change will occur, even if we make maximum effort to slow carbon dioxide growth. Arctic sea ice will disappear in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear – practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years, if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harboring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened, if carbon dioxide continues to rise.

The greatest threats, hanging like the sword of Damocles over our children and grandchildren, are those that are irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine. If coastal ice shelves buttressing the West Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the ice sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea level by several meters in a century. Such rates of sea level change have occurred many times in Earth’s history in response to global warming rates no higher than that of the past thirty years. Almost half of the world’s great cities, and many historical sites, are located on coast lines.

The most threatening change, from my perspective, is extermination of species. Several times in Earth’s long history rapid global warming of several degrees occurred, apparently spurred by amplifying feedbacks. In each case more than half of plant and animal species went extinct. New species came into being over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. But these are time scales and generations that we cannot imagine. If we drive our fellow species to extinction we will leave a far more desolate planet for our descendants than the world that we inherited from our elders. We will leave a world haunted by the memories of what was.

Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 meters higher. Coastal disasters would occur continually. The only uncertainty is the time it would take for complete ice sheet disintegration. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilize the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. The changes would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water, and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.

Actions required to solve the problem are dictated by physical facts, especially fossil fuel reservoir sizes. About half of readily extracted oil has been burned already. Oil is used in vehicles, where it is impractical to capture the carbon dioxide. Oil and gas will drive carbon dioxide to at least 400 ppm. But if we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide, coal, it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm and still lower through improved agricultural and forestry practices that increase carbon storage in trees and soil.

Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world’s oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretense that they are working on “clean coal” or that they will build power plants that are “capture ready” in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.

The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death. When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for extermination of about 400 species – its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm. Of course, we cannot say which specific species should be blamed on Kingsnorth, but who are we to say that any species are worthless?

The German and Australian governments pretend to be green. When I show German officials that fossil fuel reservoir sizes imply that the coal source must be cut off, they say they will tighten the “carbon cap”. But a cap only slows the use of a fuel, it does not leave it in the ground. When I point out that their new coal plants require that they convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground, they are silent. The Australian government was elected on a platform of solving the climate problem, but then, with the help of industry, they set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young and the unborn. These governments are not green. They are black – coal black.

On a per capita basis, the three countries most responsible for fossil fuel carbon dioxide in the air today are the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany, in that order. Politicians in Britain have asked me: why am I speaking to them -- the United States must lead? But coal interests have great power in the United States – the essential moratorium and phase-out of coal likely requires a growing public demand and a political will yet to be demonstrated.

The Prime Minister should not underestimate his potential to initiate a transformative change of direction. And he must not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of continuing coal emission, or take refuge in a “carbon cap” or some “target” for future emission reductions. Young people are beginning to understand the situation. They want to know: will you join their side? Remember that history, and your children, will judge you.

Link to report.

Doctor James Hansen, an adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences. His website can be found at: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/

This article first appeared as an op-ed in The Observer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder

By Josh Dorner
RAW: Uncooked truth, beyond belief
Issue #274
Feb 13, 2009

America is suffering from many ills at the moment, but we can add a new one since January 20: Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder. It's the nagging suspicion that despite President Obama's truly amazing first few weeks in office, that the government is still somehow out to get us or will simply screw it all up. We've all been so beat down for the past eight years, it's like we simply can't let ourselves believe that President Obama is as amazing as he has now proven himself to be. Well, I think America's cure has arrived. It's called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

As regular RAW readers know, week after week your correspondent has never had trouble finding something utterly terrible to write about. There are still lots of terrible things happening, but just this once we're going to take a break from all that to celebrate something truly monumental: the passage of President Obama's economic recovery package. It should finally let us all allow ourselves to believe that change has come and Washington is once again in the business of getting things done for the American people.

The bill includes nearly $100 BILLION -- yes, billion with a capital B -- in green spending. President Obama has met a once-in-a-lifetime crisis with an effort to transform this country not seen since the greatest generation. The package includes more than $62 billion in direct spending on clean energy, energy efficiency, and the like and also throws in another $20 billion in tax incentives for clean energy. Other investments will help clean up past environmental wrongs, ensure that we have clean water, and fund research into the technologies of tomorrow. The scale of the investments -- more than $15 billion for energy efficiency and weatherization, $8 billion for public transit, $8 billion for high-speed rail, $500 million for green jobs training, $4.5 billion to green federal buildings -- is simply unprecedented.

Post-Traumatic Bush Disorder begone!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Most Americans believe the Bush administration should be investigated!

According to USA TODAY, "Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants."

And contrary to what Sen. Patrick Leahy believes, we don't need a "truth commission." We already have a Department of Justice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It’s so, A-Rod, and it doesn’t matter what you say

By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

I was eight years old when Roger Maris hit 61 homeruns. He wore the number nine, and I didn’t care how badly the little league uniform fit, that was the number I wanted on my back. My best friend wore number seven—Mickey Mantle’s number. He was for Mantle and I was for Maris. The M&M twins. We worshipped them.

Maris smoked. Mantle drank too much. They put a lot of crap in their bodies, and they still managed to bat themselves into the Hall of Fame. I’ve seen Maris’s bat there—and Ted Williams’. These guys hit with lumber. If Bo Jackson cracked one of their bats on his head, he’d spend the rest of his life a paralytic—and the bat wouldn’t break. The way those players abused their bodies should have held them back. In fact, it probably did. But every ball that went out of the park was a product of their skill at baseball—whatever their problems may have been off the field.

McGuire, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa, Pettitte, Bonds, and now Rodriguez (and these are only some of the biggest names) have all taken that away from today’s eight-year-olds. And they’ve taken something away from all us.

Consider the times in which we live—the real jeopardy people are feeling. Retirement savings have evaporated; homes have been lost; lifetimes of work flushed. These are the times baseball is most vital because baseball is truly a game of leisure. It’s an outing that takes you away from whatever oppresses you in your life. It’s an afternoon at the beach on a hot day; it unfolds before you slowly, with all its intricacies and sideshows, from the third base coach’s signals to the occasional action in the bull pen to the shortstop’s incredible catch. For a while it’s like watching a train pass, mesmerizing and compelling in its own way, and then suddenly a car appears with some item of extraordinary interest—maybe some industrial machinery that we wonder at as it passes. And then the train finds its rhythm again, and the wonder of what we’ve seen stays with us. It becomes part of the grammar of the game. A story unfolds—it has characters, a plot, subplots, a language of its own. It compels us to watch.

If I plagiarized someone else’s work in my writing, I’d be sued (and I’d sue someone who stole my work). Cheating isn’t allowed. If you steal from your clients or your company, you not only lose the account and your job, you may end up in prison.

Alex Rodriguez believes that saying he’s sorry means there’s no consequence. His sorrow is the consequence; bad press is the consequence; a few humiliating weeks of torment is the consequence. The checks will still clear. He was still talking about the Hall of Fame in the interview with Peter Gammons in which he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

If major league baseball was serious about getting rid of the drugs, here’s what would happen: Every title in every category would be stripped from any player who used performance-enhancing drugs. Their records would disappear—blotto, as if they had never played. The Hall of Fame would be out. They’d be out—banned from baseball for however long—say a year (no less than a year—without pay)—and when they returned, they would have no record. They would start with zeroes.

Next, the owners would go after the money. Get it back. Contracts were broken, agreements flouted. A-Rod would owe the Rangers $250 million—pretax. It wasn't really him playing. They hired A-Rod and got a zombie. A-Rod didn't earn the money—and the zombie didn't sign the contract. The next player who thought taking drugs would move his career along could ponder that.

A-Rod’s timing was a bit worse than some of his colleagues’. Chewing on gristle is easier for a lot of Americans right now than finding sympathy for his Oscar-worthy performance with Peter Gammons. (And if you think it wasn’t a performance, just compare it to the interview from two years ago in which he lied straight-faced to Katie Couric.)

None of what we saw for years was real—from Rodriguez and from who knows how many other players. We cheered for them. We believed we were watching competition, sport. But Rodriguez has no credibility, and neither does baseball. Frankly, after seeing Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, I’d just as soon tune in to watch the The Undertaker’s amazingly-staged pile drives on WWF wrestling than watch one more overbuilt baseball player with a toothpick for a bat try to do what Maris did at 170 pounds with a real piece of wood.

If I want to watch baseball, I’ll stroll up to the community college near my home, where a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds play the game for real.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Lancers of Shawnee Mission East H.S. receive this week's Wings of Justice award!

The progressive news site BuzzFlash.com has recognized the students of Shawnee Mission East High School with its Wings of Justice Award for their successful response to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church:

"American teens aren't necessarily known for their serenity and even-handedness. But when one of the most abrasive hate groups in the country showed up across the street from Shawnee Mission East High School, students there knew just what to counter with: peace and love."

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Further thoughts on the great response of Shawnee Mission East High School students to Fred Phelps

By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

The turnout and response to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church crew this week at Shawnee Mission East High School is without doubt the most effective of any reception he’s had. Unfortunately—and this is no reflection on their good will and intentions—the Patriot Guard’s presence at the funerals of soldiers is by its nature noisy and obtrusive. It's also both defensive and confrontational, and the roar of their motorcycle engines over the vile screeds of the church members has to be unsettling at best for afflicted and bereaved families.

But if the response to these vermin was always to greet them with good cheer and to raise money for AIDS research—as it was this week, with the counterprotesters raising over $5,000!—wouldn’t that be the greatest success of all, and the most discouraging to Phelps & co.?

The great thing about the counterprotest was its positive tone. It would have been so easy for the students to stand across the street from the Phelps crew and shout them down with obscenities, which would probably have led to a confrontation—which is exactly what Phelps wants. He’d be more than happy to press charges for assault—or see one of the children in his group injured so the child could be turned into a martyr.

A letter-writer in this morning’s Kansas City Star spoke out in support of the Shawnee Mission East students but seemed to miss this point when he concluded by inviting Phelps to lunch with his “former Marine friends.” He spoke up for tolerance on behalf of the kids, but his bottom line is that thrashing Phelps is the best solution.

The kids got it right, and the former Marine got it wrong—and that’s why they succeeded.

Mark Karlin: a modest proposal for states to lose funding if their senators vote against the stimulus bill

A Modest Proposal: States Lose "Main Street Job Creation Act" Funding if Senators Vote Against It

By Mark Karlin
Editor and Publisher, Buzzflash.com

I have a modest proposal: if a U.S. Senator votes against the "Main Street Job Creation Act" (BuzzFlash's name for the "stimulus" bill), their state should lose half the funding from the bill. If both U.S. Senators from one state vote against the bill, the state loses its entire allocation from the legislation.

This may sound Draconian, but it might induce the people out of work and with piles of bills to tar and feather the "economic kamikazee" Republican Senators who got America into this mess -- and to run them out of the country.

After all, most of the GOP Neo-Confederate opposition to the "Main Street Job Creation Act" comes from Senators who represent states that already receive more money from the federal government than they pay into the treasury. With the exception of Florida, most of the Old South is still poorer than most of the rest of the nation, and needs massive federal aid to survive economically.

Stepford Republican Senators who believe that you can stop a house from burning down with a tax cut for the rich -- like Chatty Kathy dolls who just repeat the same line over and over again -- should suffer the political consequences of being so profoundly treacherous to the nation. And nothing would get them off the nearly 30-year-old message point of tax cuts for the rich like a good tar and feathering.

So let Mitch McConnell and John McCain lead the Anti-job, Anti-economic recovery "Stonewall Jackson" brigade of GOP rebels who would do the Union harm. But let their states hold them responsible for not receiving any funds to help improve the employment and economic prospects that comes with the "Main Street Job Creation Act."

It's fair and just, because otherwise the Confederate holdouts and their co-horts in the GOP Senate caucus can claim that they are defending the legacy of Ronald Reagan (a cratered economy, in reality) without consequences.

Let's have some accountablity here.

After Note: As BuzzFlash has noted, we renamed the "stimulus" bill several days ago. We have called it the "Main Street Job Creation Act" on BuzzFlash. One of the reasons polling for the "Main Street Job Creation Act" has gone down is because Americans feel that they were taken for a ride with the Wall Street bailout and stimulus, and so the very word now has a bad connotation.

Besides which, the Obama White House needs to learn from the Republicans that you name bills so that opposing them sounds unpatriotic, Anti-American, or against working Americans. That is why we suggest the White House call the current "stimulus" legislation the "Main Street Job Creation Act." Let the Republicans vote against job creation for Main Street Americans. Once they do, you've already got a good set of campaign commercials for 2010.

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune -- who is a solid mainstream columnist -- must be reading BuzzFlash, because he picked up on our theme in his Sunday column.

Friday, February 6, 2009

“I’m just tired of hate”: The mother of a student at yesterday’s counterprotest against Fred Phelps

Students at Shawnee Mission East High School turn out
to counterprotest Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church
(Photo by Tammy Ljunblad, Kansas City Star)

By Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

Every so often a story comes along to lift your day, and today’s Kansas City Star brought one that just seemed to add a glow to the promise of some much-needed sunshine and warmth in the local forecast.

Many outside of the region may not be familiar with the homegrown cancer we have here in eastern Kansas in the form of the Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka. This pernicious demon and his cohorts have been regular fixtures on street corners and college campuses throughout the area for years, shouting vile screeds at traffic and passers-by about how pissed God is at America for condoning homosexuality.

Then came the invasion of Iraq.

Phelps & company metastasized, spreading their filth across the country by staging protests at the funerals of soldiers. They’ve attracted enough attention to generate legislation to keep them away from grieving families. A group of motorcyclists calling themselves “The Patriot Guard” shows up wherever these vermin are expected and revs their engines over the vile noise of Phelps & co. Even Michael Moore has spoken out against them.

How vile are these people? The photos from their website tell the story: they use their own children to spread their hate. (If you have the stomach, I’ve included the link here. The website has the colorful and benign moniker of “godhatesfags.”)

Here’s a sample (you have to see it to believe it):

Now comes the uplifting part, one of those wonderfully restorative spontaneous events that renews your faith in young people and in the community.

In 2007 students at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, Kansas, elected an openly gay student as homecoming king. Phelps and his band of hatemongers were a little slow to respond, but yesterday they set up shop across the street from the school.

To say the students made lemonade from lemons would demean their efforts with a cliché. They rallied. They came out; they got their friends and their parents(!) to come out. College students from across the state showed up. Thirty members of the Kansas chapter of the Human Rights Campaign came out. Hundreds upon hundreds filled the surrounding street corners. According to police, about 450 people showed up to support the cause.

And they turned the event into a fundraiser, with a goal of raising $250 for every minute the hatemongers were present, with the money to go toward AIDS research. This was a student-initiated event, pulled together quickly in response to the appearance of these lice across from the school. Talk about the change we need!

(Click here for The Kansas City Star’s photo gallery of the protest.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let's hope the "terrorists" aren't listening!

The local FOX FM station here in Kansas City is running an ad for radar-scramblers that’s targeted at drivers with a “leadfoot” (that’s the word they use). This so-called “cloaking” device will let you cruise around in warp drive like a Romulan star ship while you jam the gendarmes' radar guns. The ad is full of assurances that the device is legal, though a half dozen states have outlawed the thing, and it comes with a guarantee that (get this!) they'll pay your speeding ticket if it doesn't work.

So here’s FOX running an ad to encourage you to befuddle cops and break the law (disclaimers to the contrary). I couldn’t help wondering what their wingnut talking heads would say if Air America ran these ads.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

European Activists: Try Bush for Torture

Bush War Crimes: European Activists Call For Bush To Be Tried For Torture

BERLIN, Feb 2 (IPS) - Now that former U.S. president George W. Bush is an ordinary citizen again, many legal and human rights activists in Europe are demanding that he and high-ranking members of his government be brought before justice for crimes against humanity committed in the so-called war on terror.

"Judicial clarification of the crimes against international law the former U.S. government committed is one of the most delicate issues that the new U.S. president Barack Obama will have to deal with," Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Centre for Human and Constitutional Rights told IPS.

U.S. justice will have to "deal with the turpitudes committed by the Bush government," says Kaleck, who has already tried unsuccessfully to sue the former U.S. authorities in European courts. "And, furthermore, the U.S. government will have to pay compensation to the innocent people who were victims of these crimes."

Kaleck and other legal experts consider Bush and his highest-ranking officials responsible for crimes against humanity, such as torture.

Many agree that the evidence against the U.S. government is overwhelming. U.S. officials have admitted some crimes such as waterboarding, where a victim is tied up and water is poured into the air passages. Also, human rights activists have gathered testimonies by innocent victims of torture, especially some prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

In an interview with the German public television network ZDF, Austrian human rights lawyer Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture, said that numerous cases of torture ordered by U.S. officials and perpetrated by U.S. authorities are well documented.

"We possess all the evidence which proves that the torture methods used in interrogation by the U.S. government were explicitly ordered by former U.S. defence minister Donald Rumsfeld," Nowak told ZDF. "Obviously, these orders were given with the highest U.S. authorities' knowledge."

"George W. Bush is without doubt responsible for crimes such as torture," says Dietmar Herz, professor of political science at the university of Erfurt, 235 km southwest of Berlin.

"According to the U.S. constitution, the U.S. president is responsible for all actions carried out by the executive," Herz told IPS. "Therefore, George W. Bush is responsible for the torture methods used by U.S. authorities, such as waterboarding."

International justice against crimes against humanity began in 1945, with the Nuremberg trials against Nazi criminals, says Kaleck. Leading prosecutor Robert Jackson said at the opening of the trials in October 1945 that "we are able to do away with...tyranny and violence and aggression by those in power against the rights of (the) people...only when we make all men answerable to the law."

But since then this promise has been fulfilled only in exceptional cases, Kaleck said.

"Crimes against humanity have been repeatedly committed ever since, but very few people have been brought before international courts for these crimes," he said, adding that this impunity is particularly obvious for leaders of the Allied countries (such as the U.S., France and Britain), who had organised the Nuremberg trials.

Nobody was ever judged for crimes against humanity committed in Algeria by France, in Vietnam and Latin America by the U.S., in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and in Chechnya by Russia.

Only in the 1990s, after the Yugoslav wars of secession, the Rwanda genocide, and civil wars in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone were state criminals captured, judged and convicted.

"The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 in The Hague in the Netherlands marks a turning point in the prosecution of state officials accused of crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity or of war," Kaleck added.

But prosecution for crimes of war or for crimes against humanity continues to be highly selective. So far, only perpetrators from weak or failed states from south-eastern Europe, or from the south, especially Africa, have been brought to court. In a case such as that of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Britain acted as an accomplice to protect him.

Over the last couple of years, human rights activists and some national courts in Europe have been fighting these arbitrary ways. They are appealing for, and in some cases even applying, a universal jurisdiction of national courts.

The Spanish judiciary has opened cases against Latin American dictators such as Guatemalan general Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled the Central American country between 1982 and 1983, and Argentinean military officers involved in kidnapping and killing civilians.

Read more from Inter Press Service.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The REALLY Forgotten War: Saving the Whales in the South Seas

Sea Shepherd crew pursue Japanese factory whaling ship, the Nisshin Maru
(Photo by Stephen Roest/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

The Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru attacked protesters in the South Seas with water cannons, golf balls, chunks of metal, and deafening noise blasters, as the activists attempted to put themselves between the whaler's harpoons and their targets.

Here's the account from Sea Shepherd's website:

"A crewmember from the Steve Irwin was slightly injured after being struck by a high pressure water cannon fired from the Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru. One of the cameramen on one of the Steve Irwin's inflatable boats was cut and bruised above the eye when a high pressure blast of water knocked him off his feet while he was filming.

"A second crew member was also injured in the confrontation with the whalers. Laurens De Groot of the Netherlands was slightly injured when struck in the face by a metal ball thrown by whalers. Whalers onboard the Yushin Maru #3 threw solid brass and lead balls at crewmembers on one of the Steve Irwin's inflatable boats.

"The Sea Shepherd crew also discovered that the Japanese whaling fleet is deploying a new weapon in defence of their illegal whaling activities.

"The factory ship the Nisshin Maru and the two harpoon vessels in the fleet are equipped with Long Range Acoustical Devices (LRAD). This is a military grade weapon system that sends out mid to high frequency sound waves designed to disorient and possibly incapacitate personnel. It is basically an anti-personnel weapons system.

"The Steve Irwin has been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet for twenty-four hours at high speed through scattered ice fields and changing weather conditions for over three hundred miles westward across the top of the Ross Sea.

"At 0500 Hours (Sydney Time) the Steve Irwin deployed two fast inflatable boats and a helicopter to harass the fleet and to hurry them along. Sea Shepherd's strategy is to keep the whaling fleet on the move. If they are running they are not killing whales and no whales have been killed during the last 24 hours. In fact the Steve Irwin crew were excited to see Fin whales swimming alongside the ship as they pursued the whaling fleet.

"The Japanese harpoon vessels have been maneuvering very close to the Steve Irwin to intimidate and to try and lead the Sea Shepherd ship away from the Nisshin Maru. The confrontation that began in clear weather in dense ice and heavy swells became increasing treacherous as fog and blizzard conditions moved in around 0900 Hours.

"The Steve Irwin crew retreated when within range of the acoustic weapons. 'All we need to do is to keep them running and to keep them from whaling and that is exactly what we are doing. It is proving to be a very successful day,' said Captain Paul Watson.

"Weather conditions are becoming increasing worse with heavy snow, fog, increasing swells and denser ice conditions."