Friday, August 20, 2010

How climate change is burning Russia and flooding Pakistan

This will not be a happy post, but it is nonetheless important, and thanks for taking the time to read it. As I stated here, I am no longer debating whether or not climate change is happening or if humanity has an effect on the climate. Like with evolution and the theory of biological reproduction, an overwhelming consensus of scientists with expertise on the subject have reached the conclusion that yes, the planet is warming, and yes, we are adversely affecting the atmosphere. And we need to move the discussion forward.

I welcome all comments, and understand that in science, new evidence can always overturn old evidence. But just like with climatologists around the Earth, the theory of anthropogenic global warming is established, and findings to that conclusion have been around since 1896. Instead of, "My oil company-funded think tanks disagree with your scientists," the discussion now needs to be, "how can we help?"

Awareness is the first step, and I like to think that's where this post comes in. Hopefully with awareness, comes action. And with action comes solutions.

August's Deadly Heat

"These are the most bitter days of my life."
-Iltaz Begum, 15 year-old Pakistani orphan

In August of 2003, 52,000 people died after a brutal heat wave that spread across Europe. In France alone, 15,000 people died, most of them elderly. Because of a usually temperate climate there, Summers are mild, and even in August, the nights are cool, so air conditioning wasn't seen as a necessity there. But combine 104-degree fahrenheit temperatures with metal and tin roofs on Parisian homes with no air condtioning, and the inside of the home becomes an oven. Bodies cooked and rotted in the August sun, some of them not collected until almost a month after the heatwave, as many government employees were on their August vacation.

In August of 2010, a brutal heat wave has left large swaths of Russia charred from unprecedented wildfires. It's been three weeks, and fires are still raging across the country. Approximately 10% of Russia's land mass was on fire at one point, and 500 conflagrations still blaze through the country's forests. So far, the wildfires have killed 50 people and torched 2,000 homes. A third of the country's wheat crop is gone, which has raised grain prices sky-high across the globe as the Russian government has temporarily banned exports.

But what is being called the worst environmental disaster to date also happened in August of 2010. While Russia burns to the north, 6 million of their neighbors in Pakistan are without a stable water supply after massive flooding destroyed homes and crippled an already unstable infrastructure. Children are without parents, left to fend for themselves in government refugee camps, while rushing waters and a continuous downpour leave 1/5th of the country underwater. 20 million Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding. It's estimated that $460 million is needed for flood relief, but only $93 million has been gathered. Pakistan is in desperate need. These floods are worse than the Haiti earthquake, worse than the 2004 tsunamis, and worse than the 2005 earthquake in the same country.

So why is all of this happening?

Climate Change Comes Home to Roost

"Life was always so difficult, but now we're doomed."
-Abdul Ghani, 14 year-old Pakistani orphan, oldest of seven siblings

Extreme weather patterns are becoming the norm. Heat waves are capable of killing tens of thousands of people used to temperate climates. And in the wintertime, 49 US states all had seen snowfall at one point. Even in Texas. Even in Florida. Even in Mississippi. Some climate change deniers said this was proof that global warming wasn't real, which as Bill Maher pointed out, is kind of like saying the sun doesn't exist at night because it's dark outside.

The millions in Pakistan are the latest of a group we'll be hearing a lot more of- environmental refugees. U.N. figures estimate there to be close to 25 million worldwide displaced because of ecological disasters. And with events like the 2004 tsunamis, flooding in Mozambique, the recent quake in Haiti, and the millions now homeless and wandering Pakistan, that number is on track and is expected to swell past 150 million in the next 40 years. And in 10 years, an ice sheet in Greenland could break off into the Arctic ocean if the temperature rises between 2C and 7C, which could happen under current rates of consumption, fossil fuel use and overpopulation. This would cause sea levels to rise by 23 feet, and that 150 million number could very well double or even triple in size should coastal cities see similar floods.

So, again, how is all of this causing the floods and the fires?

As sea levels rise with things like 100-mile ice sheets breaking off, that causes changes in the jetstream, thus changing the way winds blow. Take a look at the picture below.

On the left, you see wind patterns in the Russia/Pakistan area under normal jetstream conditions. From 1968 to 1996, these conditions remained largely the same. There's a polar jetstream on the Northern side, and a tropical jetstream on the Southern side. But in the 2010 graph, we see a very oddly strong polar wind blowing North of Russia around Moscow, going directly South into Pakistan. So how do these jetstreams affect weather patterns?

The Northern polar jetstream usually brings extratropical lows and cyclones that make up the bulk of the precipitation in that geographical region of the world, and serves as the boundary between cold Northern air and hot Southern air. When it goes suddenly Northward like this past July, that leaves those exposed areas unusally hot and dry and prevented necessary rain, making the area ripe for conditions like the wildfires currently raging in the forests near Moscow.

So where did those rain patterns go? Follow the graphic, and you see that after blowing far Northward, they dove suddenly Southward toward Pakistan, causing heavy rainfall and widespread flooding, in the midst of their already rainy monsoon season.


"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
-Marshall McLuhan

Does anybody see a pattern here? I'll lay it out very simply.

-Excessive amounts of CO2, emitted largely by industrialized countries who burn fossil fuels, are becoming mired in our atmosphere, channeling the sun's heat on the North pole.
-Warming of the arctic causes ice to melt, which causes oceans to become warmer and saltier, which leads to more ice melting.
-Ice melting leads to changes in sea level.
-Changes in sea level lead to changes in the jetstream.
-Changes in the jetstream lead to drastic ecological crises like the fires in Russia and the floods in Pakistan.

If, for some reason, you still doubt the theory of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming, even after reading this post and perusing the links I cited to back up my claims, can we at least agree that our environment is worth preserving for future generations?

Can we agree to bike more, and drive less?
To turn off and unplug unused appliances?
To swear off plastic bottles?
To shut off the A/C when we leave home?
To grow our own food, or buy locally-grown food? Or to eat out less?
To buy cars that get good gas mileage, so we pump less gas?
To call our senators and congressmen and tell them that you, their constituent, support legislation to mitigate the effects of climate change?

True change starts with ourselves and our communities. What are you doing to help?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Former Marine: "I am sorry for the monster I once was."

An Unwinnable War on Terror

"This man was innocent. I don't know his name...He was walking back to his house, and I shot him in front of his friend and father."
-Jon Michael Turner

Picture this, if you can-

It's 3:00 AM in a neighborhood just outside of Baghdad, and you're a 12 year-old Iraqi child fast asleep in your home. Perhaps you're the oldest, and you're sleeping in the same room as your siblings. All of you huddled together to share whatever blankets and pillows you may have.

Then without warning, the wooden door of your home shatters, splinters of wood exploding outward into the living room while giant, hulking men wearing alien clothing and wielding fearsome-looking automatic rifles stomp into your home in combat boots, shouting in a foreign tongue. They look American, but they aren't wearing flags on their shoulders, but instead the emblem of a private corporation that answers to no government.

They force you and your terrified younger brothers and sisters against the wall with your mother. Your father rushes up to the men to stop them, and they grab him by the throat until he can no longer breathe. Or maybe they slam his head into the wall and he falls to the ground, limp, while the armed men ransack your home, accusing you of terrorism. They leave just as quickly as they had entered, without apology, without explanation. Do you try and go back to sleep after such an experience? Do you stay awake, telling your little brothers and sisters that the men are gone, to stop crying? Do you rush to check on your father's wounds?

What would happen the next day, if you were approached by a man who asked if you wanted to get back at the Americans? That you could join a growing movement to push out the imperialists by force if they chose not to leave? What would you do? Would you go back home, powerless and afraid, always fearful of another late-night invasion? Or would you grit your teeth, nod somberly and ask the man what you could do to help?

The war we are waging against terrorism is unwinnable, because the method in which it is waged fosters more terrorism. The only goal this war is meant to accomplish is to continue feeding our addiction to cheap oil, and the military-industrial complex's addiction to money. The "surge" never worked, it just exacerbated already deplorable conditions. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are dead. 4 million more are wandering refugees. Tens of thousands are jailed without trial and tortured. Women's rights are even more at risk in Iraq than ever before. Health care and education for the Iraqis are still in shambles. Trade unions are banned. Baghdad is now divided by 1,500 blast walls and checkpoints. Utility infrastructure is in complete disrepair. The streets are more unsafe than ever. The U.S. embassy in Iraq is now larger than Vatican City. And as we phase out American enlisted soldiers, we phase in private mercenaries; killing machines paid with U.S. tax dollars who answer to no flag.

This war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be sustained.

Daily Atrocities for Corporate Cash

"We were all congratulated after we had our first company commander personally congratulated me as he did everyone else in our company. This is the same individual who had stated that whoever gets their first kill by stabbing them to death gets a four-day pass when we get back from Iraq."
-Jon Michael Turner, former Marine

To accomplish the military-industrial complex's goal of sustained warfare, they need a constant supply of fresh, warm-blooded men and women to guard Iraqi oilfields. These young men and women are trained daily to turn off their morality and conscience so they can become effective killers, and continue to kill in spite of no clear end objective and under growing resistance from the local population. While the president states that we're winding troops down, and while that may be true, our permanent occupation of Iraq has just begun.

Last year, a dozen foreign companies won 20-year contracts to control Iraqi oil fields. According to the above article, 60% of Iraq's oil reserves are now under foreign control, and the market can be manipulated to slash global oil prices to the point of breaking OPEC state's control on Middle Eastern oil. We're keeping 50,000 troops there for now for "advising" and "providing security" although most of them are stationed near oil fields, or "protecting U.S. interests," as the Pentagon would prefer us to say.

While the Iraqi government told us that U.S. troops had to be gone by 2011, our occupation will continue through a coming surge of private contractors. When you wage endless wars where an average of 6 die every month with no draft, eventually someone needs to be there to do the dying so oil companies can continue exporting Iraqi crude. So who does the dying right now?

I linked above to a video of Jon Michael Turner, a former Marine who became disgusted with the war and how it transformed him into someone else. He continues, his voice audibly choking up during certain parts.

"A lot of raids and patrols we did at night around 3:00 in the morning...And what we would do is just kick in the doors and terrorize the families...If the men of the household were giving us problems, we'd go ahead and take care of them anyway we felt necessary, whether it was choking them or slamming their head against the walls."

When describing his first confirmed kill, Turner talked about shooting an innocent unknown person he called "the fat man" in the neck, in front of the man's father and friend. He described the man's screams after being shot, looking at his buddy and saying, "Well, we can't have that," and finishing the job with one more shot.

Turner's third confirmed kill was an innocent man riding a bicycle. The entire video is basically him admitting to wanton murder of innocents, but this is particularly chilling.

"We were excited about the firefight we had just gotten into, and we didn't have a cameraman with us...Anytime we had embedded reporters with us, our actions would change drastically...the man on the bicycle was in the street for about ten minutes before we realized we needed to leave where we were...his body was thrown behind a rock wall, and his bicycle was thrown on top of him."

I think it's telling that these enlisted men admit to acting differently when they're being videotaped, and how much differently they must act when there's no media around to videotape any potential war crimes. And it makes me wonder how different the coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are compared to the coverage of the Vietnam war, which spurred massive street demonstrations. When the blood and guts are whitewashed from your TV screen and when corporate media outlets can dictate what can and can't be shown, it's no wonder the media hardly ever does any stories about war crimes that don't come from a wikileaks post.

Late in the video, Turner talks about how after being attacked by insurgents and one of their own suffering wounds, they take their aggression out by shooting up the minaret of a mosque. It's illegal to shoot at a mosque unless you're sure that you're being fired upon from the inside. 6 minutes into the video, Turner shows footage of a minaret being completely decimated by bullets and artillery due to sheer hate and bottled-up aggression, not out of any fear for their own safety. The ex-Marine ended his testimony with tears in his eyes and emotion thick in his voice.

"I am sorry for the hate and destruction that I have inflicted on innocent people...I am no longer the monster I once was."

What Must Follow

"we went to the market where all the hadji shop,
pulled out our machetes and we began to chop,

"we went to the playground where all the hadji play,
pulled out our machine guns and we began to spray,

"we went to the mosque where all the hadji pray,
threw in a hand grenade and blew them all away."

-Marine Ethan McCord, reciting a marching cadence

In a truly free society where Democratic principles were upheld, there would be accountability for sending young men and women off to die in a war that was never meant to end. There would be accountability for stripping these human beings of their humanity, sending them thousands of miles away from their families and reducing them to beasts who kill innocents without remorse. In a free society, anyone who was caught lying or manipulating evidence to justify invading a sovereign nation would be tried in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A free society would call that imperialism, or colonial occupation. They certainly wouldn't call it freedom.

In a free society and a just world, at least one person would be rotting in jail for putting corporate profit margins above life, culture, family and religion.

And one group of Iraq Veterans is calling for the indictment and prosecution of the Bush administration for doing what they did. From the article above:

"The growing body of evidence, including testimony from British officials in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry, indicates that Bush officials could be charged with criminal offenses against the United States and violations of international law for making false claims to national self-defense.

"Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution vests the power to authorize use of military force in the Legislative Branch, not the Executive. In order to do so responsibly the Congress must be provided with accurate and objective intelligence. Bush officials' alleged distortion of the intelligence picture created a climate of fear and uncertainty in which the constitutional power of Congress was subverted."

IVAW also comes out swinging against the Bush regime for violating international law in drafting a new Iraqi constitution that favors U.S. corporations, and also through violating Geneva Convention rights given to prisoners. These are all very serious war crimes, and there is more than enough evidence to at least indict top Bush officials, if not convict them.

IVAW further alleges that the Bush administration's alterations to Iraqi laws were made for the intended benefit of U.S. multinational corporations and are illegal under international law. Efforts to pressure Iraqi officials to open up the country's oil industry to foreign investment exacerbated the insurgency and undermined the U.S. military's ostensible mission there.

IVAW finally asserts that senior Bush officials are responsible for the illegal treatment of Iraqi and Afghan officials in U.S. custody and that this treatment was detrimental to the security of American citizens.

If we are to truly repair our international reputation, if we strive to be the free society our founders intended us to be, if we as a people truly value freedom, then we must all collectively demand our leaders be held accountable for their actions. And we must stop deluding ourselves into thinking that oppressing people thousands of miles away somehow makes our country safer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

GOP: More For Me, Less For You

More for Me, Less For You

"This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country."
-Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Andrea Orcel is one of the guys who Republicans are fighting for. He's a millionaire banker who worked for Merrill Lynch for a few days before it was bought out by Bank of America. To reward his few days of work, Orcel was given a $25M golden parachute. He's used that to buy a $37M apartment on Park Avenue in New York City. He made $558M in 2008 alone. Republicans in the House and Senate want to extend Bush's tax cuts, which only really cut taxes for guys like him. And it costs the rest of us hundreds of billions in tax dollars per year to give a cushy tax break for the wealthiest two percent.

Know who the Republicans aren't fighting for? You.

House Republicans unanimously voted down the compromise jobs bill, which included $282B in tax cuts for middle-class and upper middle-class families. Working people with jobs, homes, kids, 401Ks and car payments. It was the largest middle-class tax cut in history, and the money folks like us could have saved from taxes would have gone to local businesses and restaurants, instead of offshore tax havens in Switzerland. Every single roll call vote on the measure was rejected by Republicans in the House. Senate Republicans will likely follow suit after the recess.

Essentially, the party that talks about wanting to cut taxes and the importance of tax cuts will only cut them for the richest 2%, not for you.

Know who the Republicans fight for? Rich tax evaders.
Who aren't they fighting for? 9/11 heroes.

Citing the budget deficit and the potential for a tax increase on the pharmaceutical industries who stash away their holdings in Switzerland, House Republicans also voted down a bill that would provide $7B for health care to 9/11 responders. Despite a wide majority vote, Dems failed to get the 2/3rds needed to pass the bill using the procedure they opted for. While Anthony Weiner (D-NY) gave the GOP a good tongue-lashing over their preference for saving rich tax evaders over heroic firemen and police officers, those folks will be on their own when it comes to injuries they sustained while putting their lives at risk to save others.

Who are the Republicans fighting for? Oil companies and the military-industrial complex.
Who are they not fighting for? Senior citizens, teachers, firefighters, policemen and public employees all over the country.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to let Congress go home until they vote on $26B in state aid that was rejected in the compromise jobs bill that Republicans struck down. The bill would help save hundreds of thousands of jobs that would otherwise be cut due to strained state budgets. Most states are reeling from recession, and drastic budget cuts that put public employees like teachers and police out of work not only endanger our kids and our streets, but also strain local economies with nobody spending any of their money. This state aid bill will help regular working folks continue to do jobs they have been trained for, so they can clothe their children, put food on the table, and prop up local businesses.

House Republicans like minority leader John Boehner (R-OH), in the meantime, don't support that kind of spending, calling it a "special interest bailout." There are lots of teachers who would disagree with Rep. Boehner that they are "special interests" looking for "bailouts."

However, some special interests that Republicans are quite fond of include oil companies like BP. They've kept mum about the $35B in subsidies we collectively throw at Big Oil every year. And a study group representing 116 House Republicans criticized Obama for making BP pay for the disaster it helped create.

Republicans are NOT for helping seniors in retirement; in fact, Rep. Boehner has proposed raising the retirement age by 5 years and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a budget that would effectively gut Medicare and privatize social security, despite the latter having a $2T surplus and in no need of any reduction in benefits. Boehner has said that the rationing of health care for seniors and killing social security is necessary for fueling wars on two countries that didn't attack us and for giving tax cuts to millionaire bankers.

Oh, but Republicans just don't want to add to the deficit! Right?


More Republican Hypocrisy

"There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy."
-Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Mitch McConnell apparently feels he is entitled to his own facts, as well as his own misguided opinions. The CBO established five years ago that tax cuts have a much more adverse effect on the economy than any kind of domestic spending. The bi-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that tax cuts are even more costly than waging wars overseas. While Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us over a trillion dollars so far, the Joint Tax Committee estimated that tax cuts for the wealthy will have twice that much impact. To add to the absolute falsehood of Sen. McConnell's statement about the Bush tax cuts, the Brookings Institute has concluded that those tax cuts have deprived us of much-needed revenue and vastly increased the federal deficit.

Republicans like Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) have refused to say how they'll keep paying for the Bush tax cuts, especially when confronted with the fact that they refuse to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits for victims of the recession. And they staunchly agree that they will block any attempt to let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011. Tax cuts and wars are exponentially more costly and add much more to the deficit than any domestic stimulus programs that actually help working folks here in the states. Yet all manufactured concern over the deficit dissipates if it means Republicans can pander to Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and multinational corporations.

Republicans have made it very clear- they are NOT fighting for you, unless you're a multimillionaire banker or corporation. They are NOT fighting for the working poor, the unemployed, the middle class, working families, 9/11 heroes, or senior citizens. Republicans are only interested in carrying on the failed policies of George W. Bush, which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2006 and 2008.

So in November of 2010, if you'd like to throw the bums out who promise only to fight for the richest and give a middle finger to everyone else, then pull the lever in the vote box for Drive, not Reverse.