INDEX (full text of stories follow Democracy Now headlines)
Progressives and leftists who protested Bush’s policies stopped complaining after Obama took office. Now they’re being urged to fight for his reelection–even though his policies are similar.
The US is too broke to maintain a manned space program, yet countless billions to waste on bombs and drone planes.
Kind of a ridiculous idea from the start. After all, capitalism is, by definition, neither kind nor gentle. Not even the most ardent capitalist would deny that.
But The Nation takes an absurd pretext and ruins it from there. The result is perhaps the best evidence that reform is a joke I’ve ever seen.
- U.S., Afghan Officials Discuss Extending Military Presence for Decades
- CIA to Intensify Covert Killing Campaign in Yemen, Modeled After Pakistan Drone Program
- Syrian Military Forces Expand Operations, Thousands of Refugees Flood Turkey Border
- Jordan Protesters Reportedly Attack Motorcade of King Abdullah II
- Republicans Attack President Obama in First Major Debate of 2012 Presidential Race
- Obama Reaches Out to Wall Street Executives Ahead of 2012 Election
- President Obama Makes First Presidential Trip to Puerto Rico in 50 Years
- EPA Postpones Release of Rules to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Italy Votes in Overwhelming Numbers to Block Nuclear Power Revival
- Japan Poll Finds Three-Quarters of Respondents Favor Nuclear Energy Phase-Out
- Grand Jury Investigates CIA over Death of Abu Ghraib Prisoner
- Families of Dead Guantánamo Prisoners Appeal to Revive Lawsuit Against Donald Rumsfeld
- Ousted Tunisia President to be Tried in Absentia
- Mexico: Majority of Guns Come from U.S., Hearing Begins on U.S. Efforts to Sell Weapons to Cartels
- Thousands of New York Macy’s Workers Prepare for Strike
I used to work for Democratic candidates. I was a campus activist. I marched in protests.
But, in the 1980s, I quit politics. I was fed up. The Left was impotent and inept. They didn’t want to change things. They were content with theater. Bad theater at that: dorks on stilts, boring speakers, stupid slogans, the same old chants. “The people, united, will never be defeated!”
Except—we were defeated. We didn’t even fight.
Our protests were poorly attended. The media ignored us. And we always lost. Even the Democrats didn’t care about us or our opinions. By the time Bill Clinton won in 1992, the progressive wing of the party was good for one thing: voting Democratic.
Along with millions of others, I drifted away.
Now, finally, for the first time in decades, I am excited.
We can change everything. Here. In America. Now.
People are rising up in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Patriotic Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis are fighting puppet dictators propped by U.S. military occupation. They demand an end to violent, corrupt governments that serve themselves but not their citizens. People in the Middle East and European countries such as Greece refuse to accept systemic poverty and unemployment so that a tiny slice of corrupt, well-connected elites can continue to amass wealth.
Why just in other countries? Why not here?
Why can’t we have a Tahrir Square?
Lord knows we need one.
Here in the United States, corrupt politicians and their corporate overlords have raped the wealthiest nation in the history of civilization, reducing one out of five Americans to unemployment as the income of the rich skyrockets. They tell us our schoolchildren must do with less, that we cannot afford to see doctors when we are ill; meanwhile they start prolonged, seemingly endless wars of aggression against nations that posed no threat whatsoever: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen.
Did you know that Egypt and Tunisia had lower unemployment and disparity of income than the United States?
Organizers are calling a demonstration planned for October 6, 2011 in Washington’s Freedom Square “the biggest story on the progressive sphere of the Internet tomorrow.” October 6th marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
This, they say, will not be the usual sad protest demonstration in which people show up, chant slogans, march around, then pack up their signs and go home.
[Full disclosure: I have endorsed October 6th and will attend.]
The idea behind October 6th is simple: to recreate Tahrir Square two blocks away from the White House.
“We are not packing up and leaving this time,” says Tarak Kauff, one of the October 6th organizers. “We are preparing to stay as long as we possibly can or until some basic demands are met. If we are driven out, we will return.”
In other words, clear your calendar for the 6th, the 7th, the 8th…however long it takes for the Obama Administration to yield to key demands, including immediate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and the other wars. Participants are being asked to sign a pledge to attend at http://october2011.org.
“Previous demonstrations were one-day events which were simple for the Administration and Congress to ignore,” Margaret Flowers, another organizer, told me. “The large demonstrations usually happened on weekends when there was little going on in Washington. “This is different because it is an occupation that begins on a Thursday, a day of business, and will continue.”
They will keep the heat on. “We intend to stay and to have waves of nonviolent civil resistance. The time for symbolic actions has ended. Too many people are suffering and dying here and around the world because of the policies of this nation. The planet is suffering because of the policies of this nation. This government has demonstrated that it is incapable of acting in the best interests of the people and planet. We say that this is unacceptable and we will stay and resist until this changes,” Flowers said.
All the participating groups have pledged to remain nonviolent. However, it is not hard to imagine the Washington police or other state security apparatus reacting brutally to the occupation of part of downtown Washington by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. Hoover crushed the Bonus Army. Antiwar demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention were beaten. Chinese authorities refused to tolerate the occupation of Tiananmen Square. We have seen dissent crushed in Iran, Bahrain and Syria.
A real demand for real change? The system will view that as a threat.
Flowers: “If the police respond violently, we will do our best to maintain a nonviolent response. If we responded with violence, it would reinforce the police violence and they have weapons, so more people would be hurt. We do not want that. It will be very unfortunate if the police and others working for the security state choose violence. But that is a possibility as we are seeing in this country and around the world. Empires have a history of violence. We want a different kind of society—one that is peaceful, just and sustainable. That is the kind of society we intend to model during our occupation.”
Unlike previous demonstrations, which tended to center around one issue like globalization or gay rights, October 6th is an attempt to unify the American Left into a holistic attack upon the main cause of most of the problems we face: the hegemony of big business that is the inevitable culmination of late-stage capitalism.
Tarak Kauff: “October 6 is…a call for people to stand up to, and resist the root cause not only of our global war-making for profit, but of near catastrophic ecological disaster, pollution, an austerity budget cuts that will devastate the poor and working class, lack of adequate health care and just about every social ill you can think of. What’s the root cause? You got it before I can say it. That’s right, the corporate state.”
October 6th has lit up the leftie blogosphere. If things come together, it could be The Big One: the major event that marks the beginning of the end of the two-party trap and a political system that extracts wealth from the poor and middle-class for the benefit of the wealthy.
Organizer Kevin Zeese adds: “I expect that we will be staying, and not just for the 7th and 8th. We will be working through various scenarios on what will happen depending on how the government responds. In similar events around the world there have been a range of actions and protesters have had to adjust depending on them. Our intent is to stay until we are satisfied with the response.”
“History is not a fairy tale you read to your children at night,” reads the mission statement. “It is not something someone else did in another place. History is right here and right now, in front of you.”
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Ask a Briton to describe “American-style” healthcare, and you’ll hear a catalog of horrors that include grossly expensive and unnecessary medical procedures and a privatized system that favors the rich. For a people accustomed to free healthcare for all, regardless of income, the fact that millions of their cousins across the Atlantic have no insurance and can’t afford decent treatment is a farce as well as a tragedy.
So frightening is the Yankee example that any British politician who values his job has to explicitly disavow it as a possible outcome. Twice.
“We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system,” Prime Minister David Cameron emphatically told a group of healthcare workers in a nationally televised address last week.
In case they didn’t hear it the first time, Cameron repeated the dreaded “A”-word in a list of five guarantees he offered the British people at the end of his speech.
Krugman links to an earlier Giuliani comment about how if Democrats won the 2008 presidential election, American health care might become like France!
We can only wish.
In France, visits to the emergency room cost around 27 euros a pop (around 40 bucks), whereas in the US the average ER visit costs $1000. Doctor visits in France are set at around 22 or 23 euros ($32 or $33). My chest x-ray a few years back, which I was warned was going to be “really expensive,” was around 45 euros or $65. And expensive surgery, like my retinal detachment surgery, which would have cost $20,000+ in the US, came to a whopping 1600 euros ($2300) in France. But, you’re wondering, are there long waits? Not for the emergency room – I waited between 20 minutes and 3 hours, just like in the US. For my retina surgery I had to wait 3 days because my doctor was busy doing other surgeries until then. For the chest x-ray, I just called them and walked right over – I waited a whopping 1 minute in the office, got the x-ray, and within 20 minutes the doc had already consulted with me about my results and I was done.
But the quality of care? Our medical system is better right? Well, my American specialist was so impressed by the job the French did on my eye, he asked, “who did your surgery, this is amazing!” – not knowing I had it done in France.
We’re number one.
White House advisors are reportedly considering relieving employers from their obligation to contribute to Social Security. This proposal, if enacted, would eliminate billions of dollars of revenue dedicated to Social Security at a time when some members of Congress argue that Social Security’s benefits should be cut because the program may have insufficient revenue after 2036.
Nancy Altman, Co-Director of Social Security Works issued the following statement on the Administration’s idea:
“That the White House would even consider cutting Social Security’s funding is enormously alarming. It indicates that the White House does not take seriously the dedicated nature of worker and employer contributions to Social Security. Those contributions belong to American workers and their families. Social Security should not be treated as a piggybank or raided by politicians in Washington.”
For news on that White House plan, check here. The description is accurate.
This will be Obama’s second run at weakening Social Security. His first was during the Lame Duck Cave-In, when he successfully added a poison pill to the already odious Bush Tax Cut “deal” by reducing payroll taxes as well, thus transferring part of Social Security funding to the general treasury. (The problem with that? The less Social Security is self-funding, the more it’s like welfare. And we know where welfare can go, don’t we — back to the Loser Bin with the losers who need it.)
Every once in a while a politician comes up with an idea that’s so bad, so wrongheaded, that you’re almost grateful. For really bad ideas can help illustrate the extent to which policy discourse has gone off the rails.
And so it was with Senator Joseph Lieberman’s proposal, released last week, to raise the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67.
Like Republicans who want to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with (grossly inadequate) insurance vouchers, Mr. Lieberman describes his proposal as a way to save Medicare. … And here’s what you need to know: Medicare actually saves money — a lot of money — compared with relying on private insurance companies. And this in turn means that pushing people out of Medicare, in addition to depriving many Americans of needed care, would almost surely end up increasing total health care costs.
Krugman focuses on the last point bolded above, that Medicare actually saves money over private insurance. That’s true, and he expands that point in this blog post.
But let’s focus on the messenger, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Is he a kind of closet Obama surrogate? Isn’t he the guy whom Obama supported in 2006 over the actual (and betrayed) Democratic Party candidate, Ned Lamont?
The point, however, is that privatizing health insurance for seniors, which is what Mr. Lieberman is in effect proposing — and which is the essence of the G.O.P. plan — hurts rather than helps the cause of cost control.
I think someone needs to nail this down. Does Obama support Lieberman here as well? The President surehasn’t been that strong on Medicare lately.
A few weeks before announcing his re-election campaign, President Obama convened two dozen Wall Street executives, many of them longtime donors, in the White House’s Blue Room.
The guests were asked for their thoughts on how to speed the economic recovery, then the president opened the floor for over an hour on hot issues like hedge fund regulation and the deficit.
Mr. Obama, who enraged many financial industry executives a year and a half ago by labeling them “fat cats” and criticizing their bonuses, followed up the meeting with phone calls to those who could not attend.
To be completely fair to Obama, the reality may actually be that he needs to suck up to the business crowd for their campaign contributions but it’s not going to help him much with voters. It’s a tough time to have a conscience and be in politics but if you’re not up the task, maybe it’s better to stay away. Building hope and then under-delivering by a mile doesn’t cut it. Reheating GOP lines, really doesn’t cut it. Bloomberg:
President Barack Obama said the private sector must take the lead in creating jobs as the as the economy recovers, with the government assisting by making sure workers have the necessary skills.
“Government is not, and should not be, the main engine of job-creation in this country,” Obama said in his weekly address on the radio and Internet. “That’s the role of the private sector.”
Obama said the government can work as a partner with businesses to enhance training and education for the jobs that are available. With the nation’s unemployment rate at 9.1 percent in May, up 0.1 percent from the previous month, the administration is focusing on measures that can encourage hiring.
On the 40th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg is getting fresh attention, and using some of his face time to backing Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers. Greg Mitchell looks back at Ellsberg’s prescient warnings in January 2003 about the Iraq war.
President Obama suggested today that Anthony Weiner should resign from Congress, saying his “highly inappropriate” behavior is distracting lawmakers from efforts to rebuild the economy.
“I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign,” Obama told NBC’s Today show.
Obama also said: “When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to — at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages, and paying the bills — then you should probably step back.”
Posted without comment.
At the very least, the media should be asking Republican leaders why the double standard? They should be asking David Vitter himself.
President Obama recently reshuffled his top Washington warriors, sending CIA Director Leon Panetta, a man who knows Congress well, on to the Pentagon to replace retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In turn, the president is bringing in General David Petraeus, present Afghan War Commander, former Centcom commander, and former Iraq War commander (as well as “Bush’s general”), to run the Agency.
Whatever the local politics involved, and the Petraeus appointment ensures that the potentially popular general will be on the political sidelines for campaign year 2012, these moves catch the zeitgeist of our Washington moment. Since the bin Laden assassination, in which U.S. military special operations forces “commanded” by Panetta took out the al-Qaeda leader, a new face of American war, “where sovereignty is irrelevant, armies tangential, and decisions are secret,” has been emerging according to Foreign Policy in Focus analyst Conn Hallinan.
With the latest news (revealed last week by the New York Times) that the U.S. has launched a significant “intensification” of its secret air campaign against Yemeni tribesmen believed to be connected with al-Qaeda, the U.S. is now involved in no less than six wars. Count ‘em, if you don’t believe me: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and what used to be called the Global War on Terror.
In anyone’s book, that certainly qualifies as a working definition of “endless” war, but that doesn’t mean endlessly the same kind of war. Let’s look at this, war by war:
Iraq: Now largely the dregs of a counterinsurgency operation, this war will not end in 2011. At his confirmation hearings, for instance, Panetta cited the existence of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a reason for U.S. troops to remain beyond an agreed-upon year-end withdrawal date. Should those troops actually leave, however, the war will still go on, even if in quite a different form. A gargantuan, increasingly militarized State Department “mission” in that country, complete with its own “army” and “air force” of perhaps 5,100 mercenaries, will evidently keep the faith.
Afghanistan: This remains a full-scale U.S. Army-run counterinsurgency war, backed by a major special operations/CIA counterterror war.
Pakistan: A full-scale CIA-run drone war in the Pakistani borderlands is actuallyexpanding. In the post-9/11 era, this has been the first of Washington’s “covert” or “shadow” wars (which no longer means “secret” — it’s all over the news almost daily — but something closer to “off the books,” as in beyond the reach of any form of significant popular or congressional oversight or accountability). Panetta is calling for more emphasis on such off-the-books wars in which U.S. military operatives might, as in the bin Laden operation, temporarily find themselves under the command of the CIA.
Libya: Officially a NATO air war, this one is nonetheless partially run by the Pentagon with targeting assistance from various U.S. intelligence agencies. It involves both direct U.S. air strikes and support for strikes by various NATO and Arab allies fronting the operation. It is also, for Americans, a “war” in name only since, except in the case ofengine malfunction, there is essentially no way the Libyans can harm a U.S. pilot. It is also an example of another air war that, while destructive, has proven itself incapable of fulfilling its stated aims. Months later, Gaddafi remains alive and more or less in power, while NATO flags.
Yemen: Another of those “covert” air wars, being run, according to the Times, by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, closely coordinated with the CIA out of a secret office in the Yemeni capital.
The Global War on Terror: While the Obama administration officially discarded the Bush-era name, it expanded the war and the forces meant to fight it in places like Somalia. U.S. special operations forces now pursue war-on-terror tasks in at least 75 countries and who knows how many CIA and other intelligence agents are involved as well.
Think of all this as a kind of mix-and-match version of war that increasingly integrates civilian branches of the government like the State Department, an ever more warlike CIA (once known as “the president’s private army”), the regular Army, Marines, and Air Force, ever-growing drone air power (split between an officially civilian intelligence agency and the military), and a secret combined military force of perhaps 20,000 special operatives.
With the face of American war changing in striking ways and at least six wars, none going particularly well, on or off the books, no one should be surprised if, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore makes clear, Washington as a war capital increasingly looks like a new kind of town. Tom
Siamese Twins Sharing the Same Brain
How the Military and the Civilian Are Blurring in Washington
By William J. Astore
I have a fairy tale for you. Once upon a time, a representative democracy was established with a constitution that distilled the wisdom of the ages. Its foundational principles included civilian control of the military and a system of checks and balances that encouraged vigorous public debate as a basis for effective policy-making.
In this fabled land, the role of civilian leaders was, in part, to serve as a check on military ambition and endless wars. They were to prove cautious, too, in committing their citizen-soldiers to battle, and when they did, they would issue Congressional declarations of war so that everyone could grasp the nature of the national emergency at hand and the necessity of military action. In waging war, they would rely on shared sacrifice and even raise taxes. When necessary, it was their job to rein in or even remove military leaders who acted like Caesar (read: General Douglas MacArthur) rather thanCincinnatus (read: General George Washington).
Yes, you’ve guessed it: it’s not a fairy tale, or at least not completely. It’s the United States — an older America that, despite a decidedly checkered and often imperial past, was nevertheless proud of its reluctance to fight, but steadfast in its commitment to win once it decided that battle was the course of action. Even then, this America remained resolute in its reluctance to embrace a military ethos or bow down before military gods, committed as it was to civilian primacy and the avoidance of a large standing army.
Paradoxically, the last vestiges of this America could still be seen some 50 years ago under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a retired five-star general, who tried with varying degrees of success to limit defense spending, and who famously warned in his farewell address in 1961 of the dangers of a surging “military-industrial complex.”
And leaping forward almost four decades, here’s another paradox for you: prior to September 11, 2001, what many leading pundits and commentators fretted most about was an alleged widening gap between American civilians and their now all-volunteer military. In 1997, Wall Street Journal Pentagon correspondent Tom Ricks typically worried about an all-volunteer military that saw civilians as privileged and flabby, increasingly considered itself a breed apart, and held the public it served in contempt.
Concerned as well was Richard Kohn, former chief historian of the U.S. Air Force. In a special lecture to Air Force Academy cadets in 1999 on “the erosion of civilian control of the military in the United States today,” Kohn worried about a military that openly disrespected President Bill Clinton, its commander-in-chief, even as it meddled in areas like policy-making for which it was not suited and from which it had been excluded by the Constitution.
How times have changed. In the post-9/11 world, a far more insidious problem confronts us. That gap, if it ever existed, is no more. Instead, at the highest levels, what’s civilian and what’s military are increasingly difficult to tell apart as the two spheres blur and blend. Today, civilian control of the military is largely a principle without a meaning, while inside Washington’s Beltway, even with a scorecard it’s hard to tell the players apart.
In the process, the military has gained a kind of unspoken and distinctly un-American primacy. Put another way, after a decade-long budgetary feeding frenzy, the Pentagon has soared, while an eclipsed Department of State, all those civilian diplomats, has been left to eke out a living onbudgetary scraps or, as in Iraq today, arm and militarize itself. State, in other words, has become a remora clinging to the predatory shark that is the Department of Defense.
Large and small, symbolic or otherwise, signs of this civil-military blending (with the military significantly running the show) can be found almost anywhere you look. Civilian presidents regularly appear in military flight gear or jackets, as George W. Bush famously did before his “Mission Accomplished” speech on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in 2003 and as President Obama did on a visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2010. Military leaders are now regularly put in charge of previously civilian intelligence agencies, as in the case of General David Petraeus, nownominated to leave the Afghan battlefield and become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Civilian agencies now militarize themselves and wage war (as the CIA has done or is doing in various drone wars in the Greater Middle East, often in conjunction with the military). America’s part-time citizen-soldiers havemorphed into full-time warriors and warfighters, if not the equivalent offoreign legionnaires. America’s civilian embassies continue to morph into so many militarized fortresses protected by armed mercenaries. And above all, among policy arguments in Washington, whether you’re a civilian official or a military one, the choices are increasingly between militarized alternatives — say, counterinsurgency versus counterterror — with that most civilian of all options, peace, not even on that “table” where officials eternally claim that all options are placed.
At the same time, a new civic religion at whose heart is military-worship implores us to “support our troops” (without any concomitant call to uphold our laws and our Constitution). And even as ordinary Americans express serious doubts about the wisdom and cost of an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan — 64% of Americans don’t believe the Afghan war is worth fighting, and 73% would prefer sizable withdrawals of U.S. troops this summer, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll — the Pentagon continues to prepare for a future of “two, three, many Afghanistans,” as Michael Klare, defense correspondent for the Nationmagazine, noted in April 2010.
Clearly, if we’re not careful, the civilian and military will become the Washington equivalent of Siamese twins, co-joined at the head and, however bitter their internecine arguments, sharing the same underlying militarized thought processes.
Militarism Run Rampant
To separate such twins is a dicey thing, medically speaking, and no less so politically when the lines between civilian and military authority are being so rapidly erased. Make no mistake, as President Obama is wont to say, the impact of this erasure has been devastating.
It’s both sensible and logical to argue that our president and elected representatives must serve as a check on the military establishment, rather than issuing blank checks to them. It’s both sensible and logical to argue that all wars, as required by the Constitution, must have a Congressional declaration before American troops and treasure are committed. It’s both sensible and logical to argue that, as good as our military is, it ultimately can’t win someone else’s civil war (Iraq) or nation-build in a place where the concept of “nation” is little more than notional (Afghanistan).
Sensible and logical, yes, but such arguments have been made — and roundly ignored. They aren’t given the time of day among serious policy types in Washington, where to question the efficacy and legitimacy of the forces and tactics being used is simply not acceptable. Sharing one brain and one ethos means being incapable of grasping one’s own militarized rigidity or truly recognizing the perils that have been unleashed on this nation.
There’s a word for this disease, even if after all these years it remains remarkably foreign to American ears: militarism. When Americans think of that word, they tend to conjure up images of fanatical jackbooted Nazis or suicidal Japanese kamikazes, and so the concept seems eminently dismissible. But militarism also describes a situation in which a country’s civil society and political culture are permeated to the point of dominance by military attitudes and values — an undeniable fact of life, I would argue, in America today.
Militarists see war as productive, as offering solutions rather than posing problems. They see it as heroic. (President Bush famously waxed poeticabout the “exciting” and “romantic” nature of fighting in Afghanistan.) When wars are romanticized as action-packed tests of a nation’s warriors, cuts to war spending are naturally seen as perfidiously unpatriotic — as kneecapping those same heroes. Hence our ever-growing “defense” budgets, even as a sledgehammer of a national debt hobbles America’s economic vitality and social security.
The end result of this militaristic mindset is a garrison state, constantly girding itself for national security crises, real or perceived, as in the last decade’sopen-ended and frantic “war on terror.”
A singular danger of such a mindset, as pointed out by Laurence Radway in a telling article on “militarism” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, is that militarists, unable to select means appropriate to true defense needs, end up jeopardizing the very national security they say they’re seeking to safeguard. By exaggerating threats, defining all responses to those threats in military terms, dismissing dissenters as weak and deluded (even when they prove right), and being incapable of questioning their principles, they repeat the same mistakes again and again.
Until Americans turn away from militarism and learn again how to “support our Constitution” more than our troops (and don’t worry: those troops swear an oath to that very Constitution), until we return to a broader vision of national security that deemphasizes a garrison mentality, we will continue to wound, perhaps mortally, a once great republic.
And that’s no fairy tale, it’s a fact.
Copyright 2011 William J. Astore
© 2011 TomDispatch. All rights reserved.
The draconian legal mechanisms that condemn Muslim Americans who speak out publicly about the outrages we commit in the Middle East have left many wasting away in supermax prisons.
- June 12, 2011 Gridlocking the Lives of the Jobless
- June 12, 2011 Wrong Track
- June 12, 2011 Obama Second Term
- June 10, 2011 ‘Left, Right & Center’: Afghanistan, ‘Newtiny’ and the Weiner Effect
- June 10, 2011 Three Banks Spanked for Subpar Mortgage Practices
FBI to Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers as Details Emerge of Its Spy Campaign Targeting Activists
A judge for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 10 overturned the release of Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainee Hussein Salem Mohammed Almerfedi. After his capture in 2001 and detention at Guantánamo Bay, Almerfedi filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was granted by a lower court. The government had argued that Almerfedi was a supporter of al-Qaeda because of his travels to Pakistan that indicated strong ties to the group. However, the court concluded that the government had not met its burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Almerfedi was part of al Qaeda. The appeals court, however, found that the government had met its burden of proof by a preponderance of evidence that Almerfedi was, in fact, part of al-Qaeda:
Ooops, a golden oldie from 2009 thrown up by mistake.
Tom Ridge appears to be alleging in a new book that the Bush administration put political pressure on him to raise the terrorism threat level in fall of 2004 so as to help George W. Bush’s chances of reelection.
It seemed pretty obvious to me as a close observer that games were being played with such terrorism announcements during the presidential campaign. Pakistani sources spoke of being encouraged to release terrorism-related stories during the Democratic Party convention in summer, 2004, so as to upstage John Kerry. They did so, leading to a fiasco when a Pakistani double agent, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was outed, derailing an ongoing sting against militants in the UK.
Ridge may have felt bad about that SNAFU, and so resisted similar pressures in October. The book is not out yet, so precise details are not yet available.
Frances Townsend, Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration figures are denying the charge. But, of course, they are seasoned liars and so their denials don’t count for much.
By DAVID W. BLIGHT
MOST Americans know that Memorial Day is about honoring the nation’s war dead. It is also a holiday devoted to department store sales, half-marathons, picnics, baseball and auto racing. But where did it begin, who created it, and why?
At the end of the Civil War, Americans faced a formidable challenge: how to memorialize 625,000 dead soldiers, Northern and Southern. As Walt Whitman mused, it was “the dead, the dead, the dead — our dead — or South or North, ours all” that preoccupied the country. After all, if the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, four million names would be on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, instead of 58,000.
Officially, in the North, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, called on communities to conduct grave-decorating ceremonies. On May 30, funereal events attracted thousands of people at hundreds of cemeteries in countless towns, cities and mere crossroads. By the 1870s, one could not live in an American town, North or South, and be unaware of the spring ritual.
But the practice of decorating graves — which gave rise to an alternative name, Decoration Day — didn’t start with the 1868 events, nor was it an exclusively Northern practice. In 1866 the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Ga., chose April 26, the anniversary of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to Gen. William T. Sherman, to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers. Later, both May 10, the anniversary of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death, and June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, were designated Confederate Memorial Day in different states.
Memorial Days were initially occasions of sacred bereavement, and from the war’s end to the early 20th century they helped forge national reconciliation around soldierly sacrifice, regardless of cause. In North and South, orators and participants frequently called Memorial Day an “American All Saints Day,” likening it to the European Catholic tradition of whole towns marching to churchyards to honor dead loved ones.
But the ritual quickly became the tool of partisan memory as well, at least through the violent Reconstruction years. In the South, Memorial Day was a means of confronting the Confederacy’s defeat but without repudiating its cause. Some Southern orators stressed Christian notions of noble sacrifice. Others, however, used the ritual for Confederate vindication and renewed assertions of white supremacy. Blacks had a place in this Confederate narrative, but only as time-warped loyal slaves who were supposed to remain frozen in the past.
The Lost Cause tradition thrived in Confederate Memorial Day rhetoric; the Southern dead were honored as the true “patriots,” defenders of their homeland, sovereign rights, a natural racial order and a “cause” that had been overwhelmed by “numbers and resources” but never defeated on battlefields.
Yankee Memorial Day orations often righteously claimed the high ground of blood sacrifice to save the Union and destroy slavery. It was not uncommon for a speaker to honor the fallen of both sides, but still lay the war guilt on the “rebel dead.” Many a lonely widow or mother at these observances painfully endured expressions of joyous death on the altars of national survival.
Some events even stressed the Union dead as the source of a new egalitarian America, and a civic rather than a racial or ethnic definition of citizenship. In Wilmington, Del., in 1869, Memorial Day included a procession of Methodists, Baptists, Unitarians and Catholics; white Grand Army of the Republic posts in parade with a black post; and the “Mount Vernon Cornet Band (colored)” keeping step with the “Irish Nationalists with the harp and the sunburst flag of Erin.”
But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.
Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.
The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.
After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”
The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.
After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite.
The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.
Despite the size and some newspaper coverage of the event, its memory was suppressed by white Charlestonians in favor of their own version of the day. From 1876 on, after white Democrats took back control of South Carolina politics and the Lost Cause defined public memory and race relations, the day’s racecourse origin vanished.
Indeed, 51 years later, the president of the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Charleston received an inquiry from a United Daughters of the Confederacy official in New Orleans asking if it was true that blacks had engaged in such a burial rite in 1865; the story had apparently migrated westward in community memory. Mrs. S. C. Beckwith, leader of the association, responded tersely, “I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this.”
Beckwith may or may not have known about the 1865 event; her own “official” story had become quite different and had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse. In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream recognition.
AS we mark the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, we might reflect on Frederick Douglass’s words in an 1878 Memorial Day speech in New York City, in which he unwittingly gave voice to the forgotten Charleston marchers.
He said the war was not a struggle of mere “sectional character,” but a “war of ideas, a battle of principles.” It was “a war between the old and the new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization … and in dead earnest for something beyond the battlefield.” With or against Douglass, we still debate the “something” that the Civil War dead represent.
The old racetrack is gone, but an oval roadway survives on the site in Hampton Park, named for Wade Hampton, former Confederate general and the governor of South Carolina after the end of Reconstruction. The old gravesite of the Martyrs of the Race Course is gone too; they were reinterred in the 1880s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.
But the event is no longer forgotten. Last year I had the great honor of helping a coalition of Charlestonians, including the mayor, Joseph P. Riley, dedicate a marker to this first Memorial Day by a reflecting pool in Hampton Park.
By their labor, their words, their songs and their solemn parade on their former owners’ racecourse, black Charlestonians created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.
David W. Blight, a professor of history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale, is the author of the forthcoming “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era.”
Former Miss USA, Ralph Nader, Privacy Advocates Fight Full Body Airport Scanners and Invasive Patdowns
Today the President met with business leaders on his “jobs and competitiveness council,” who suggested more public-private partnerships to train workers, less government red-tape in obtaining permits, and more jobs in travel and tourism, among other things. The President then toured a manufacturing plant in North Carolina, and made an eloquent speech about the need for more jobs.
Doesn’t the White House get it? The President has to have a bold jobs plan, with specifics. Why not exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next year? Why not a new WPA for the long-term unemployed, and a Civilian Conservation Corps for the legions of young jobless Americans? Why not allow people to declare bankruptcy on their primary residences, and thereby reorganize their mortgage debt?
Or a hundred other ways to boost demand.
Fluff won’t get us anywhere. In fact, it creates a policy vacuum that will be filled by Republicans intent on convincing Americans that cutting federal spending and reducing taxes on the rich will create jobs.
Most Americans are smart enough to see through this. But if the Republican snake oil is the only remedy being offered, some people will buy it. And if the President and Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to obsess about reaching an agreement to raise the debt limit, they risk making the snake oil seem like a legitimate cure.
The puff balls being offered by the CEOs on the President’s jobs and competitiveness council are hardly a substitute. These CEOs won’t suggest hard-ball ideas to boost demand. Why should they? Their companies rely less and less on consumers in the United States – and, for that matter, on American workers. For several years now, these companies’ foreign sales have been growing faster than their US sales and they’ve been creating more jobs abroad than here.
Consider GE, whose Chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, is also the chairman of the President’s jobs council. By the end of last year, 54 percent of GE’s 287,000 employees worked outside the United States. That’s a turnaround from as recently as 2005, when a majority of the firm’s workers were still located in the United States.
GE and the other companies represented on the President’s jobs council will continue to do fine regardless of shriveled demand in the United States. But unless demand is boosted here, American workers will continue to be hard hit.
If the choice is between Republican snake oil and the puff balls of the President’s job’s council, America will be in deeper and deeper trouble. So will the President.
Washington was built on a swamp. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees — as they did over the last few days when I made the rounds of Washington Democrats, repeatedly asking why no bold jobs plan is emerging.
Here’s a sample of their responses:
“Dead in the water. We’ll be lucky if we get votes to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts this year and next.”
“Are you kidding? It’s all budget deficit, budget deficit, budget deficit. Nobody’s thinking about anything else.”
“Republicans beat us up so bad over the first stimulus there’s no way we’re gonna try for a second.”
“We got them [Republicans] cornered on Medicare. Now they want to change the subject to jobs. Forget it.”
“No need. We’ll see job growth in the second half of the year.”
“The President doesn’t want to put anything on the table he can’t get through Congress.”
And so it went. Not a shred of urgency.
This morning I was on ABC’s “This Week,” debating jobs and the economy with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby restated the standard Republican playbook of spending cuts and tax cuts (except for one instant when he inadvertently conceded America emerged from the Great Depression only when government spent big time mobilizing the nation for World War II).
But what struck me most was the similarity between Shelby’s overall attitude and that of the Democrats I talked with — a kind of shrug of the shoulders, a sense that it’s really not all that bad out there, and that nothing can be done anyway. (In the green room, before going on, Shelby told me employment in northern Alabama was actually fairly good and the problem was near the coast.)
The recovery is stalling across the nation yet in the Washington swamp it’s business as usual.
Americans are scared, with reason. We’re in a vicious cycle in which lower wages and net job losses and high debt are causing consumers to cut their spending — which is causing businesses to cut back on hiring and reduce pay. There’s no way out of this morass without bold leadership from Washington to rekindle consumer demand.
If the Democrats remain silent, the vacuum will be filled by the Republican snake oil of federal spending cuts and cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. Democrats — starting with the President — must have the courage and conviction to tell the nation the recovery is stalling, and what must be done.
Unlike what happened here, German laws and regulators have also prevented the decimation of their labor unions. The clout of German unions, at individual companies and in the political system, is one reason the middle class there has fared decently in recent decades. In fact, middle-class pay has risen at roughly the same rate as top incomes.
The top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income, virtually unchanged relative to 1970, according to recent estimates. In the United States, the top 1 percent makes more than 20 percent of all income, up from 9 percent in 1970. That’s right: only 40 years ago, Germany was more unequal than this country.
Finally, there are taxes. Germany does not have a smaller budget deficit because it spends less. Germany, you’ll recall, is the original welfare state. It has a smaller deficit because it is more willing to match the benefits it wants with the needed taxes. The current deficit-reduction plan includes about 60 percent spending cuts and 40 percent tax increases, Mr. Hüfner says. It’s like trying to lose weight by both eating less and exercising more.
“I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we’re on is not producing jobs as fast as I want it to happen,” President Obama said Tuesday, amid the flood of bad economic news, including last Friday’s alarming jobs report.
Does this mean we’re about to see a bold package of ideas from the White House for spurring growth of jobs and wages? Sadly, it doesn’t seem so.
Obama says he’s interested in exploring with Republicans extending some of the measures that were part of last year’s tax-cut package “to make sure that we get this recovery up and running in a robust way.”
Accordingly, the White House is mulling a temporary cut in the payroll taxes businesses pay on wages. White House advisors figure this may appeal to Republican lawmakers who have been discussing the same idea. It would, in essence, match the 2 percent reduction in employee contributions to payroll taxes this year, enacted as part of the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Other ideas under consideration at the White House include a corporate tax cut, accompanied by the closing of some corporate tax loopholes.
Can we get real for a moment? Businesses don’t need more financial incentives. They’re already sitting on a vast cash hoard estimated to be upwards of $1.9 trillion. Besides, large and middle-sized companies are having no difficulty getting loans at bargain-basement rates, courtesy of the Fed.
In consequence, businesses are already spending as much as they can justify economically. Almost two-thirds of the measly growth in the economy so far this year has come from businesses rebuilding their inventories. But without more consumer spending, businesses won’t spend more. A robust economy can’t be built on inventory replacements.
The problem isn’t on the supply side. It’s on the demand side. Businesses are reluctant to spend more and create more jobs because there aren’t enough consumers out there able and willing to buy what businesses have to sell.
The reason consumers aren’t buying is consumers’ paychecks are dropping, adjusted for inflation. And job losses are mounting. The 83,000 new private-sector jobs created in May represent a net loss because 125,000 jobs are needed merely to keep up with an expanding labor force. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits edged higher last week.
At the same time, many Americans are falling behind in their mortgage payments. And housing prices continue to drop – making homeowners feel even poorer.
Close to 60 percent of the half-trillion drop in household debt since the depth of recession has been defaults rather than repayments. This makes it harder for people who’d like to enter the housing market to get new mortgage loans, or for anyone to refinance. Other consumer debt burdens are rising. On Tuesday the Fed reported consumer credit outstanding rose in April – mostly from record-high levels of student-loan debt and an up-tick in credit-card borrowing due to food and gas price increases outpacing wage gains.
All this translates into a continuing crisis on the demand side. Consumers can’t and won’t buy more. Between January and March, sales grew just .15 percent around the country – perilously close to no growth at all. May sales look even worse. Chain stores are reporting weaker sales. Consumer confidence has dropped sharply.
How to get jobs back, then? By reigniting demand. Put more money in consumers’ pockets and help them renegotiate their mortgage loans.
For example: Enlarge the payroll tax break for workers — not just for employers. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for a year. Create a WPA for the long-term unemployed. Allow distressed homeowners to declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, thereby giving them more clout with lenders to reorganize their mortgage loans. Lend federal money to (rather than bail out) states and cities that are now firing platoons of teachers, fire fighters, and other workers because state and local coffers are empty.
But we’re not hearing any of these sorts of demand-side solutions from the White House. In seeking Republican votes, Obama is putting forth Republican supply-side ideas – lowering the employer costs of hiring, cutting corporate taxes – that have nothing to do with this demand-side crisis. He may attract some Republican votes for these, but what’s the point if they’re irrelevant to the real problem?
The President’s putative embrace of the false notion that businesses need more financial incentives in order to hire also risks giving legitimacy to other Republican supply-side nostrums being pushed by House Republicans and GOP presidential aspirants. On Tuesday, Tim Pawlenty called for lower taxes on corporations (down to 15 percent from the current 35 percent), and lower taxes on the rich (to 25 percent from the current 35). Newt Gingirch wants to lower corperate income taxes to 12.5 percent and eliminate the estate tax altogether. And so on.
The President should advance ideas that work, and go to battle for them.
Supply-side economics doesn’t work. It’s been tried for thirty years, to no avail. And now, when our continuing economic crisis is so palpably being driven by inadequate demand, it’s more bogus than ever.
The last thing we need is for the President to go over to the supply side.
** Tune in to CNN at 8 p.m. ET for the first
GOP Primary Debate in New Hampshire **
CNN, Hearst Television’s WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader kick off the first debate in New Hampshire today at 8 p.m. ET at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. CNN anchor and chief national correspondent John King will moderate the debate with questions from WMUR-TV’s Jean Mackin, Josh McElveen and Jennifer Vaughn and New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStaso and Tom Fahey. The debate will also include questions from New Hampshire voters inside the debate hall and from three remote locations around the state.
The following Republican candidates are scheduled to participate: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
GOP’s favorite historian: Founding Fathers opposed Darwin, even though Darwin not born yet. (The FF used leeches too.)
A quite illuminating post from Mother Jones. Apparently, a good deal of the recent crazy talk from the far-right of the GOP (i.e., it’s leadership) is based in the teachings of an amateur historian from Texas (of course). He’s teaching them, among other things, that the Founding Fathers debated evolution vs. creationism, and ended up siding with creationism.
Funny, then, that Darwin wasn’t even born until 1809, and didn’t write the Origin of the Species until 1859. As MoJo notes, those Founding Fathers had to be pretty prescient to debate a theory in 1776 that wasn’t fully formed until they were all long dead.
Not to mention, who cares what the Founding Fathers thought about a particular aspect of science in 1776. Are Republicans honestly going to apply a constitutional test to science now? We’re only going to teach kids what was known, thought, in 1776? Check this out, from the GOP’s quack historian:
“As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!”
Well yeah, the scientific method of leeches.
Not to mention, as MoJo notes, Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born. So it’s not entirely clear how Thomas Paine debunked Darwin before Darwin even existed.
No, we wouldn’t want to disagree with the prevailing scientific theory of nearly two hundred and fifty years ago. So let’s explore some of those scientific beliefs the Republicans would have us teach our school children.
First off, no meteors. They don’t exist. After all, as the French Academy of Sciences famously proclaimed at the time, “Rocks do not fall from the sky.”
If you got sick in the 1700s, it was common for a doctor to bleed you with leeches. And there’s no sterilization of medical instruments or hands, because germs don’t exist.
No antibiotics in case you have an infection, because, as we just noted, germs don’t exist – so if you get sick, you get herbs.
In good news, you did have a few choices beyond herbs. Two in fact:
In Edinburgh the writer and lecturer John Brown expounded his view that there were only two diseases, sthenic (strong) and asthenic (weak), and two treatments, stimulant and sedative; his chief remedies were alcohol and opium.
So which should we be giving school kids, opium or alcohol? Maybe we should look at what Thomas Paine preferred.
Surgery was frowned upon. Then again, your surgeon was quite likely your barber as well, so it’s understandable why it wasn’t a welcome practice. (Fortunately, the barber-surgeon started getting phased out in the middle of the 1700s, but since germs didn’t exist, nor did sterilization, you were probably going to die anyway.)
And during the 1700s, people still believed that the touch of a king could heal you, like in The Lord of the Rings.
Yes, let’s do look to what the Founding Fathers believed about science.
Here’s the quack informing us of what the Founding Fathers decided 250 years ago about the theory of evolution, which didn’t fully even exist yet.
As ThinkProgress reported yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — one of the largest and most influential big business lobbying groups in the world — fired a letter off to Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, telling him to block the regulation of extremely toxic chemicals in consumer plastics. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the dangers of such chemicals, the chamber letter declares that that EPA “lacks the sound regulatory science needed to meet the statutory threshold for a restriction or ban of the targeted chemicals.”
A wide body of scientific research has linked these chemicals, including phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), to declining birth rates, stillbirths, and an increasing number of birth defects. Many of the chemicals under review for increased regulation have already been banned in Europe and Canada.
In fact, studies have shown that these plastic chemicals are directly linked to an alarming rate of male genital birth defects such as hypospadias, a condition in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside, rather than at the end, of the penis. A report by the Center for American Progress’ Reese Rushing details many other risks associated with the chemicals slated for regulation.
The Chamber letter to Sunstein is signed by chief lobbyist Bill Kovacs. Why is Kovacs fighting so aggressively to continue to allow birth defect and miscarriage-causing chemicals to be used in household items and food containers? Perhaps it is because the Chamber is heavily funded by some of the largest plastics manufacturers in America. According to investigations by the New York Times and ThinkProgress, Dow Chemical and Proctor & Gamble have contributed millions to the Chamber’s war chest in recent years.
1. Environmentalists and peace advocates are hoping that cooperation on solar energy projects can help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. What this article doesn’t say is that such cooperation might also allow the two sides to avoid future conflicts over resources. The gas fields off the coast of Israel and Gaza could become an object of competition. And there is a looming water crisis that could drive conflict, which might be averted by solar-powered water purification plants. Green energy can also possibly avert the worst impact on the Middle East of global climate change, which will hit Israelis and Palestinians disproprotionately.
2. Saudi Arabia plans to become, well, the Saudi Arabia of solar energy production. Plans are being made to stretch power cables to Egypt, where the population of 82 million is hungry for energy. While Egypt has great solar potential of its own, it is oil-rich Saudi Arabia that has the spare cash to invest at the moment in solar installations. And few places on earth have more sunlight and less flora and fauna than the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter. (Saudi and other plans for nuclear plants may have been muted by the Fukushima disaster).
3. The photovoltaic plant at Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates not only powers a major research facility in the city but exports extra power to the UAE grid. AME Info writes, “Masdar Power is currently constructing the 100MW Shams One, one of the largest concentrated solar power plants of its kind in the world and the largest in the Middle East. Located at Madinat Zayed, 120km southwest of Abu Dhabi city, the project, is on schedule for completion towards the end of 2012.”
4. In Turkey, GE is pioneering with a half-gigawatt hybrid power plant that combines wind, solar and natural gas.
5. There have been “ferocious” cost reductions in the price of solar energy. And, the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. The equivalent of 17 nuclear reactors’ worth of solar installations shipped in 2010.
6. State and federal tax policy has helped boost wind power over gas and coal in states with high wind potential.States that don’t encourage renewable energy by tax policy are essentially committing mass murder against future generations (present tax policy often favors hydrocarbons unfairly and, criminally).
7. Brazil is seeking to triple its renewable energy generation by 2020, with an emphasis on wind. The government is investing in the renewables much more than in hydrocarbons.
8. Google is increasing its research and development budget for its program to make solar energy cheaper than coal, and is working on grid issues, as well.
9. Global solar capacity grew 73% in 2010. Solar is still only about .5% of global electricity production, but that is an enormous increase over only half a decade ago, and the prospects are for big leaps forward over the next decade.
10. The largest wind farm in Europe has just begun production in Scotland. It will power 250,000 homes. Scotland has made it of the highest priority to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, among the most ambitious such plans in the world.
The reason these stories are so important, despite the so-far small contribution of wind and solar to world energy production, is that they point to a near future in which they generate a substantial proportion of the world’s electricity. We are in a race with disaster because of the ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and soot we a spewing into the atmosphere. We are at 393 parts per million of carbon now, up from 380 only a couple of years ago. 450 ppm of atmospheric carbon has been identified by scientists such as James Hansen as the point at which life on earth as we know it begins to look unsustainable. We’ll be there in short order if current trends continue.
These charts from the NOAA Mauna Loy Observatory may tell the striking story of a human species marching to a doom at its own hands, not only blithely unaware of the approaching calamity but actively denying it out of a tragic mixture of greed, shortsightedness and stupidity.