British scientist blames hurricane intensity on global warming

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and portions of the Gulf coast, and as Rita reached category 5 strength, a “leading British scientist” criticised those in the United States government who dismiss the science on global warming, calling them “loonies,” and comparing them to those “who denied that smoking causes lung cancer.”

“The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming,” [Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which advises the [British] government] told the [Independent] newspaper in an interview.

“If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we’ve got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation,” said Lawton.

The story in the Independent cites “[a] paper by US researchers, last week in the US journal Science, [which] showed that storms of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina have become almost twice as common in the past 35 years,” and quotes Lawton saying, “”Increasingly it looks like a smoking gun. It’s a fair conclusion to draw that global warming, caused to a substantial extent by people, is driving increased sea surface temperatures and increasing the violence of hurricanes.”

Not so great expectations

Garrison Keillor writes in the Chicago Tribune:

[George W. Bush’s] career was based on creating low expectations and then meeting them, but Hurricane Katrina was a blast of reality. The famous headline said, “Bush: One of the worst disasters to hit the U.S.” and many people took that literally. Poor black people huddled together in New Orleans’ Superdome were seen on national TV, people stretched out asleep between the goal lines, and a 911 operator broke into sobs telling what it was like to talk to little kids in flooded houses and two weeks later the president had become a New Deal liberal and was calling for a major anti-poverty program in the Gulf and hang the expense. The annual deficit is running around $300 billion, but the president says we can afford a few hundred billion in hurricane repair without a tax increase, even if we call it a “hurricane impact fee.”

FBI focuses on pornography

Doug Thompson, in his Rant in Capitol Hill Blue, says the FBI, under direction from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is ratcheting up a crackdown on pornography, to the dismay of numerous agents who would prefer to focus on the “war on terror.” “Not child pornography mind you but the kind of titillation aimed at consenting adults who, the last time we checked, are supposed to be free to do what they want in the privacy of their homes.”

Dan Rather claims news rooms are intimidated

Long-time CBS News anchorperson Dan Rather spoke recently on the state of the media:

Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, [Dan Rather] said that in the intervening years, politicians “of every persuasion” had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a “new journalism order.”

He said this pressure — along with the “dumbed-down, tarted-up” coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics — has taken its toll on the news business. “All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms,” Rather said.

I can’t buy gas in Kuwait and The Fable of Unlimited Opportunity

Globalization has cost many Americans their jobs, and under the prevalent ideology, we are to celebrate the increase in corporate efficiency. As for the human costs of compelling American workers to compete with far lower standards and costs of living, this, it is said, is little different from American consumers shopping for the best price, going to another gas station a block further away to save a nickel. By analogy, then, the corporation’s behavior is little different from that of a stereotypical housewife.

But if I want cheap gas, I need to be in Kuwait. If I want cheaper clothing, I need to be in Southeast Asia. If I want cheaper electricity, I need to be in Iceland. If I want a job, I need to be in India. The housewife analogy is a false analogy. While a wealthy person can travel to all these places to obtain these goods, the cost of doing so frequently outweighs the savings incurred, unless one buys in bulk quantities, a behavior available only to multinational corporations. Globalization thus favors multinational corporations at the cost of everyone else, though the return on investment may outweigh that cost to stockholders. Thus globalization also favors large stockholders in multinational corporations.

Under the prevalent ideology, we are to believe that America is a land of unlimited opportunity, in a lesson John Roberts recounted from the “endless fields of Indiana, stretching to the horizon … with their promise of infinite possibilities” in his opening remarks at the Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And capitalism promises a reward for individual initiative.

But individual initiative is limited by a competition that rewards efficiency, the very efficiency that is a product of globalization, a globalization that, as illustrated, is not available to individuals. Globalization thus secures a place for the incumbent elite, and restrains those who would displace them. We are to celebrate competition, even when it is unfair, even when a nation’s people can only raise their own standards of living at the risk of losing their jobs to still other nations, with yet lower standards of living, just as we have lost those jobs here. This competition is the “race to the bottom” described by Floyd McKay, where “operations like Wal-Mart feed off the impoverishment of America.”

It is claimed that this “negative view of free trade ignores the wealth-creating nature of free trade. With freedom to trade, all workers in all countries are able to use their labor to create the most valuable output possible in their situation. Less efficient workers might have to change jobs, possibly accepting lower earnings. And those individuals might have to upgrade their labor skills to raise their earnings. But the need to improve holds true for businesses as well as individuals facing competition. They must offer better products and services at prices acceptable to consumers if they are to continue in business. That is the natural course of market change whether the competition comes from domestic or foreign sources.” And yet the off-shoring of a succession of jobs, first in manufacturing and textiles, more recently in high technology, gives the lie to this claim. For now, any “real” work can be exported someplace else. Any “real” skills are obsolete within 10-15 years.

American then becomes an unskilled nation only for stockholders and Wal-Mart workers, people who either profit from the means of production in other countries, or are at the bottom of the economic ladder, providing services at low wages to the wealthy. It becomes a country where innovation is lost to a widening divide between gluttony and starvation. It becomes a country where people either need only to preserve their present position or must work multiple jobs to pay the rent. We will become a country that services only leeches.

Globalization can only widen the gap between rich and poor; it is an inescapable consequence of the tools that technological improvement has made available to capitalism. This ideology, like so many others, no longer serves Americans; yet so many of us cling to it. Our connection with reality is thus further diminished; and the only remaining question is how long it will be, before reality delivers a hard cold slap.

Discovering the Underclass: A view from Detroit … and elsewhere

Jack Lessenberry writes in the Detroit Metro Times, “Suddenly, we found out that, gee whiz, everybody in America doesn’t have a fancy car, a cell phone that takes pictures or even wireless Internet,” but Bush is at least pretending to have gotten the message. He had some prompting:

“Until we love enough to trade places with the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, even the minorities,” said the Rev. T.D. Jakes of Dallas, looking directly down at the president, “then the healing will not be real.”

The country must “not stop until we have raised them up to an acceptable standard of living,” Jakes said. “The Good Samaritan never said a word to the victim” he stopped to help, he said. “It is not important what we say. It is important what we do.”

So Bush said some fine things:

The task, Bush said, “will measure our unity as a people. Americans of every race and religion were touched by this storm, yet some of the greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle: the elderly, the vulnerable and the poor.

“And this poverty,” he said, “has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity.

“As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality. Let us deliver new hope to communities that were suffering before the storm. “As we rebuild homes and businesses,” Bush said, “we will renew our promise as a land of equality and decency.”

Bush has here acknowledged the fallacy of the fable of unlimited opportunity, the ideological claim that in America, anyone, through hard work, can succeed.

Richard Stevenson, wrote in The New York Times:

To those storm victims in need of immediate help and to those who face the continued upheaval of their lives for weeks or months or longer, [Bush] offered an expansive government safety net of specific programs, from paying the costs of reuniting families to a commitment to moving everyone out of shelters into housing by mid-October. Doing so marked a distinct shift for a president whose perceived hostility or indifference to government’s role in social welfare programs – manifested in budgets that have sought to cut such programs or curtail them – has long been a flash point in his relationship with poor and minority voters.

But if this was big government, it was at least in part on Mr. Bush’s ideological terms: federal reimbursement to allow displaced students to attend private and parochial schools, tax-free business zones, a call for charitable and religious groups to continue with relief work. Having no choice but to open the fiscal floodgates, he sought to reassure nervous conservatives that he would guard against fraud and waste.

Other Republicans clearly don’t get it:

One fiscal conservative, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said Thursday, “I don’t believe that everything that should happen in Louisiana should be paid for by the rest of the country. I believe there are certain responsibilities that are due the people of Louisiana.”

Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, called for restoring “sanity” to the federal recovery effort. Congress has approved $62 billion, mostly to cover costs already incurred, and the price tag is rising. The House and Senate approved tax relief Thursday at an estimated cost of more than $5 billion on top of $3.5 billion in housing vouchers approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

Some are comparing Bush’s proposals to the New Deal. Paul Krugman leads by writing, “Now it begins: America’s biggest relief and recovery program since the New Deal. And the omens aren’t good.” Where Franklin Delano Roosevelt “created a powerful ‘division of progress investigation’ to look into complaints of malfeasance in the W.P.A., Krugman points to “Bunnatine Greenhouse, a highly regarded auditor at the Army Corps of Engineers who suddenly got poor performance reviews after she raised questions about Halliburton’s contracts in Iraq. She was demoted late last month.” Krugman also points to “the realities of [Mississippi’s and Louisiana’s] political cultures. Last year the newsletter Corporate Crime Reporter ranked the states according to the number of federal public-corruption convictions per capita. Mississippi came in first, and Louisiana came in third.”

In the end, acknowledging the fallacy of the fable of unlimited opportunity may not translate to to real action to widen opportunity. Some of Bush’s proposals stink of “trickle down” economics. If Iraq has been a boon for Halliburton, who will benefit from Katrina?

Insurgency to outlast occupation

The Christian Science Monitor suggests the Iraqi insurgency will outlast the American occupation. In short, the American invasion will not have found weapons of mass destruction, will have increased the danger of terrorism, and failed to establish a stable democratic government in Iraq.

Part of the reason for the failure to plan for uncertainties came from the ideological insistence that almost all Iraqis would see Americans as liberators. Yet it also came from a political calculation that dismissed the lessons of the Clinton years. “There was a sense that there was nothing to learn from Somalia or Haiti or Bosnia,” says Dr. Jones.

Americans no longer have a goal in Iraq; all the bloodshed is for naught.

Administration officials have always insisted that events on the ground – and not artificial timelines – would dictate American actions in Iraq. Yet today, the finish line is no more certain than it was two years ago – and the threat that Iraqi forces will be facing when US troops leave is more dire than many military officials imagined.

So it may not be the Cheney’s “last throes” of the insurgency; we can only hope this will be the last gasp for the American ideology of manifest destiny.

“This isn’t the same weather I was forecasting 30 or 40 years ago.”

The Grist interviewed the Weather Channel’s “bright-eyed climate-change expert, Heidi Cullen,” whose job it is to tell Americans about the effect of global warming. She doesn’t endorse the view that global warming worsened Hurricane Katrina, but does speak of the “many human-made components to this story, especially population growth and coastal development combined with the incredible loss of wetlands, which act as a natural barrier and soak up the impact of hurricanes.” And she says, “[T]here’s plenty of compelling evidence — including a paper recently published in Nature by MIT professor Kerry Emanuel — that an increase in sea surface temperature accelerates the wind speed and precipitation levels of hurricanes. It could be that this added some fuel to the fire to help make Katrina so big and intense.”

Bush and responsibility

I’ve been trying to understand the significance of Bush’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the pathetic response to the catastrophe wrought by Hurricane Katrina. After all, what does responsibility mean? Does it mean he will personally make amends for what went wrong? Will he send Christmas Cards with $20 bills slid inside to the overwhelmingly poor, African-American population displaced by flooding? Will Bush go down to New Orleans and personally help with the clean up, you know, help bail out a few homes, scrub the mud and mold off the walls, clean some carpets? And will he replace the homes that have been so contaminated with toxics or so damaged, that they’ll have to be demolished? Will he even send in a supply of bleach desperately needed “both to kill the bacteria from raw sewage so [people] could safely take a bath, and also to stop the spread of black mold that was swallowing the walls of those fortunate enough to still have a home?”

Does it even mean he’ll admit the failure of a policy that emasculated the Federal Emergency Management Agency on an ideology that disaster relief is a local and state problem, but whose rules obstruct everything?

We never found a resident who had ever seen even one FEMA official. No one had been able to successfully complete “Registration Intake” via the toll-free number. Most people we met still didn’t have electricity or phone service. We finally heard of one man who got through to FEMA — at 2:30 a.m. But when asked for insurance information he didn’t have and didn’t know how he could get since he’d lost everything and had no place else to turn, he just broke down and cried. The bureaucracy was killing him.

But the press seems to think it significant that Bush has admitted blame. Doug Thompson, in his Rant on Capitol Hill Blue explains that “Bush doesn’t admit mistakes because, obviously, he never makes them. Just ask the babbling minions who follow his every word and sing praises about his non-existent accomplishments.” Ah, so it’s the arrogance.

Would this be the same arrogance that led us into an undeclared war that has “never accurately named the enemy or the danger?” The same arrogance that made Iraq into a terrorist recruiting center, while diverting resources from the search for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar? The same arrogance that insists upon the USA PATRIOT act because we don’t really need all those civil liberties anyway? The same arrogance that marginalizes dissent as treasonous? The same arrogance that dismisses empirical evidence in favor of ideology? The same arrogance that sends National Guard troops for multiple tours of duty in Iraq after using the Texas Air National Guard to avoid combat duty in Vietnam and not even fulfilling that obligation? The same arrogance, that, well, the list goes on and on.

Arrogance is an issue, now?

Colin Powell calls UN speech “painful”

An article in The New York Times begins:

The former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, says in a television interview to be broadcast Friday that his 2003 speech to the United Nations, in which he gave a detailed description of Iraqi weapons programs that turned out not to exist, was “painful” for him personally and would be a permanent “blot” on his record.

Powell also criticizes going to war with insufficient troop strength and blames people in the intelligence community who knew the information was unreliable for not speaking up:

“No, George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me, misleading me,” he said, referring to the week he spent at the Central Intelligence Agency reviewing the evidence on Iraq before making his presentation to the United Nations. “There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn’t be relied upon, and they didn’t speak up. That devastated me.”