Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back To The Overarching Crisis

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a new report which one author has termed its "strongest report yet."

There's not a helluva lot of good news in it, I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean action can't be taken immediately:
Among the report's top-line conclusions are that climate change is "unequivocal", that humankind's emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90% likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost.

The synthesis summary finalised late on Friday strengthens the language of those earlier reports with a warning that climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts.

Such impacts could include the fast melting of glaciers and species extinctions.
Or the forced evacuation of a city of millions and its environs.
"Approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5C (relative to the 1980-1999 average)," the summary concludes.

Other potential impacts highlighted in the text include:

- between 75m and 250m people projected to have scarcer fresh water supplies than at present
- yields from rain-fed agriculture could be halved
- food security likely to be further compromised in Africa
- widespread impacts on coral reefs
Please note the clause I highlighted: if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5C (relative to the 1980-1999 average). That means the IPCC has dumbed down the assessment targets for warming, basically tossing out the first hundred years of formal meteorological recorded history to focus on the era that was already far warmer than it ever had been since the last Ice Age.

Things are bad enough that the Norwegian government has decided to open a "Doomsday Vault" to store seeds to survive the coming crisis:
Engineers have begun the two-month process of cooling down a "doomsday vault", which will house seeds from all known varieties of key food crops.

The temperature inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will drop to -18C (0F) in order to preserve the seeds.

Built deep inside a mountain, it aims to safeguard the world's crops from future disasters, such as nuclear wars, asteroids or dangerous climate change.

The first seeds are scheduled to arrive at the Arctic site in mid-February.

The Norwegian government is paying the $9m (£4.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to house 4.5 million seed samples.
In the Hollywood version of this, the vault survives global climate change only to get hit by an asteroid, or worse, a fungus, but I digress.

It can't be helping any that carbon dioxide emissions have grown 35% faster than predicted since 2000....gee...who's been President this whole time, I wonder?

We're going to start seeing many more stories like this one, "US wants freeze on tuna fishing," in the near future. And yes, the United States comes off as a petulant little boy in that story, for a reason!

Yes, the presenting cause has been overfishing, but the backdrop to the story is that bluefin tuna are as reliant on zooplankton as every other fish in its food chain, and global warming is decimating the entire oceanic life cycle.

Atlantic cod is a good example of how this plays out: cod fishing was banned in the Grand Banks off the American coast in 1992.

Cod are still there, but their numbers have not increased since the ban went into effect, meaning they are barely breeding at replacement rates and not growing a population, which you'd expect for an apex fish.

So is there any good news out of this summary report of the IPCC's previous three reports this year? Sure. A little.
The growth in greenhouse gas emissions can be curbed at reasonable cost, experts at a major UN climate change conference in Bangkok have agreed.

Boosting renewable energy, reducing deforestation and improving energy efficiency can all help, they said. [...]

The sharpest cuts, keeping greenhouse gas concentrations to levels equivalent to between 445 and 535 parts per million of carbon dioxide, might cost anything up to 3% of global GDP by 2030, while milder curbs could even enhance growth.
Basically, signing onto and keeping to the Kyoto Protocols, for less than $400 billion per year, or roughly what we spend in Iraq in one year, including the "hidden costs."

Hmmm....which leading economic power has refused to endorse that, I wonder?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

In honor of this:

cash advance

I post this:

Fascist Alice Cooper - School's Out

Boy forgot from whence he came...

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Help feed the hungry. For free!

2) Wow! Go check out this set of Falsies! You can even vote for your favorite!

3) I'm going to take the rest of this week's "Nobody" and vent out some stress.

My father died five months ago, and in that five months, the world has hammered me left and right: daughter graduates high school and moves onto college, I'm in a car accident, work piled high on my desk...much stress.

I managed to shed a lot of it in the past month with some closure. We had a private memorial for my father in October, which seemed to immediately lift my veil. But, typical Finn that I am, I figured there was another shoe waiting to drop, and there it came.

My mom injured herself trying to get some exercise in (she bought a treadmill, and tried walking on it). Five weeks later, and she's demanding to see a doctor immediately.

Nothing too serious, despite the fact that we all thought she had broken a bone or shattered a joint. Turns out it was just bursitis. I figure things are going to be fine.

I didn't take into account the fact that I am not the first actor in my family, however. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that I've not had much sleep the past couple of days, and both my work and my blogging has suffered greatly for it.

Today, I had a class scheduled at work, which naturally I shined at, but I have no clue how I did it. Muscle memory, I suppose: you do something enough times and you learn to let go and trust your instincts.

As I came down from the class, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't posted today, and ohmygod, how anal am I that I've invested this much emotion in my audience?

OK, that's not fair. I'm a performer, dammit, and that's my job, to invest in helping to make you enjoy your stay at my blog.

Anyway, all this is a form of apology for not posting earlier, and for skipping Friday Cat Kitten Blogging. I didn't plan today out well enough. I'm stressed to the point of nearly having my shoulder snap on me Wednesday night, despite actually having some quiet time to myself then.

I need a few hours in the gym. And a massage.

Maybe a vacation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Moron Rudy

Look, since it seems likely the Republican party is setting up Rudy to be the heir apparent to the current debacle administration, when the election goes live next September, keep these names in mind:

Patrick Dorismund

Bernard Kerik

Henry Stern (mind you, Stern is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, thus proving that anyone can fall prey to corruption and bigotry)

Russell Harding

FDNY Cadet Corps

Christine Lategano

...and then remind people of this name:

Michael Brown

Interesting Turn Of Phrase

Buried in the hoopla over last night's Congressional passage of the war funding bill (with the proviso that troops must return home by the end of 2008), came this little comment:
The measure angered the Bush administration. "This is for political posturing and to appease radical groups," chiefly and Code Pink, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.
"Radical groups"?

Is it a radical movement when, alongside, and Code Pink, you have "Gold Star Families For Peace"? Is Pat Buchanan now wearing tie-dye and flashing the peace sign? Ron Paul? Senator James Webb and Paul Craig Roberts are clearly subversives living in Chuck Hagel's basement, mixing up the "medicine"...

And is MoveOn truly anti-war? Many think not, given that they have backed off earlier demands of immediate troop withdrawals.

The attempt by the Bush administration to paint this issue as a fringe whine is specious to the point of ridiculous. 61% of Americans agree with the timetable as laid out in the bill. That 61% includes 63% of Republicans, further, the number of self-identifying Republicans in this country has plummeted since the 2004 election, so it's a bigger chunk of a closer-knit core of believers. After all, these numbnuts buy into Mitt Romney as the most conservative of all the GOP presidential candidates. Mitt. Romney. Of Massachussetts.

If only we had a press corps unafraid of this administration to hold its feet to the fire and fire back at Perky Dana Perino, but if we had that in the first place, maybe this ill-conceived, poorly executed bad idea would never have occured in the first place.

You might recall that Democrats had been itching for Republicans to bring on a filibuster. Probably not going to happen, now:
Senate Republican leaders said they will allow a vote on the House bill, but only if they can offer their own version: a $70 billion package with no strings attached. As of late yesterday, no agreement had been reached between Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and his GOP counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Senate aides on both sides said that the debate is likely to continue into December, although Republicans are expected to stand aside eventually to give Bush a chance to veto the bill.
You'll notice: $20 billion dollars more than the President requested and no strings attached. There's a bit of political theatre afoot, in that Bush can later criticize Democrats (should this bill pass) of overspending us into a deeper hole while getting more than enough money to fund the war for an additional month or so. Not very subtle. I'm surprised at McConnell, but maybe he's running out of tricks in the flea circus.

Given the likelihood of a veto, and that Reid doesn't have 60 votes to wrangle over a potential filibuster, what will happen? Will the war continue to be funded? Maybe not this time:
If Democrats hold together, they can simply refuse to approve any new funding for the war unless Bush and the Republicans agree to their terms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insists that that's how it's going to be this time, sort of: If Bush won't agree to funding tied to a timetable, Congress won't approve any new funding -- this year. But that doesn't mean that the war will end; it just means that the Pentagon will have to shuffle money from budget to budget until early next year, when the Democrats will surely cave once again lest they be accused -- and they'll be accused anyway -- of " pulling the rug out from under our troops."
OK, it's small potatoes to defund the war for a month and make the Pentagon scramble a little to shuffle money around, but it's a bit more than a symbolic gesture, should Reid follow through with it.

It could be a calculated gamble to see if the anti-invasion sentiment of the 61% is as strong as the polls indicate it is, or if the American people are just tired of this nonsense and seek an easy way out. If by delaying funding for a month or so without actually pulling money away, the Republicans and their orc minions in the mainstream media can make the "Defeatocrats" label stick such that people switch positions away from ending the invasion, then Reid can capitulate, and deflect that charge with plenty of time left before the elections.

If, however, they fail, it may embolden Reid enough to take the bull by the horns and yank funding outright. Remember, he might not be able to survive a veto on positive change, but he sure as hell can make sure negative change doesn't get past his Senate.

Meanwhile, 100,000 plus American soldiers sit in harm's way waiting for someone to save them...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Dr. Hole Anal Odor Eaters

Posted Sep 01, 2007

Plug that awkward gas leak right up.


The Democrats seem to have grown a set, but not in the way we might have hoped:
Senate Democrats might force Republicans to wage a filibuster if the GOP wants to block the latest Iraq withdrawal bill, aides and senators said Tuesday.

That could set the stage for a dramatic end-of-the-year partisan showdown, which Democrats hope will help them turn voter frustration with Congress and the stalemate over Iraq into anger with the Republican Party.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the number two Democrat in the chamber, said a forced filibuster is “possible” and would “generate attention.”

“We want to go to the bill, and [Republicans] have to decide initially whether they want us to go to the bill,” Durbin said. “I wouldn’t call it theatrics.”
It takes real courage to force a vote or filibuster as a choice.

It takes even more courage to do it when it matters, when you first take office and when you have the people behind you, thinking you're going to effect the changes that you were elected for.

It's not courage to bait your opposition into making political grandstanding plays. That's gamesmanship and if we weren't talking about the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in harm's way, fighting a fight that we see as unnecessary, then I'm all for it.

That's not the case here. The case here is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have allowed the troops in Iraq to be played as pawns by the Republicans and by President Bush, and unwittingly, by the Democrats themselves.

That should never be the case. Democrats seemed to be afraid of taking a stand for peace, for troop withdrawal, because they'd appear to be playing with the lives of our troops, but that was a choice that was no choice: that appearance happens either way, and a good look in a mirror would have made that perfectly clear.

Maybe it's because Mrs. Pelosi doesn't have to shave every morning. Maybe that's why she didn't see that in her mirror. And in collapsing in the face of hints and allegations of "gamesmanship," she played our soldiers into the Liar's Poker hand that the Republicans had set up.

Too, Bush has shown no reluctance to carry the water for Republicans in Congress, and to start using his veto stamp regularly.

Democrats needed to be out in front of the curve here, and they weren't, for whatever reason of internal dissension. Where in the hell was Howard Dean in all this, twisting arms to get Congresscritters in line? I know if I was DNC chairman, I'd be threatening primary contests like I was handing out Halloween candy. It's clear that Pelosi and Reid don't have the ear of all of their colleagues (Reid might be slightly ahead in this department, but then he was more moderate than Pelosi heading in). Dean needs to step up and step in, or face his own issues going into the most important election year in this generation, particularly if Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket.

2008 is going to require message discipline, and given that the Democrats have been working to expand their appeal in red states, we're looking at a raucous caucus at the convention next year.

This is all the more reason why Democrats have to get it together, and start living up to the promises of 2006.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New U2 Video

Opportunity Costs. A Lot.

You are going to hear a lot about this story in the next few days:
The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing nearly double the amount previously thought, according to a report set to be released by Congress.

Democrats say the wars have cost $1.5 trillion - almost twice the requested $804bn (£402bn) - because of "hidden costs", the Washington Post reports.

That figure would amount to $20,000 for an average US family of four, it adds.

And some of the figures cited in the report were labelled speculative by funding experts, the Post says.

Among the indicators contributing to the higher cost of the conflicts are higher oil costs and payments to war veterans.
Those are the actual costs, mind you, hidden but real and not budgeted for. The Democrats who are issuing the report today estimate that, by the invasion's end, those will more than double.

But what's not talked about, the costs that aren't covered, are the opportunity costs.

When a business makes a decision regarding a major investment, one thing it takes into account is what else they could do with the resources they need to commit to that investment, how much money they have to subtract from other investments, and what those investments might yield instead.

These are called "opportunity costs." If the new investment produces a greater return, then the new investment is made. If it takes too much from other opportunities and doesn't produce enough, it is not made.

Think about the Iraq invasion in this regard: how many National Guardsmen would have been available for Katrina, or the recent rash of California wildfires? Would the I-35 bridge have collapsed and killed as many if the NTSB had been fully funded to even their 2000 levels? How many people have lost vital services because of budget cutbacks to pay for this debacle?

$750 billion, the actual direct costs attributed to Iraq and Afghanistan, buys a whole lot, but wait, there's more! Money makes money, so that $750 billion dollars isn't just $750 billion, it's $750 billion plus whatever return that money would have gotten. Let's say that $10,000 of that money went to help someone who was let go from work in 2002. That person finally lands a job (thanks to the fact that the government is spending domestically and not lining Halliburton's pockets), and makes $30,000 a year, paying about $14000 a year in taxes (including payroll taxes).

Money earned back in the first year = $4,000, or 40% return on that investment. Now multiply that by the 20 million or so who were out of work at that time and you begin to grasp the magnitude of what was lost, as people rolled off the unemployment lists and still couldn't find work, yet weren't paying taxes (but still using other services, like say that bridge on I-35).

And so on. Science funding, medical research, renewable energy development, education...hell, even the value of the dollar, have all been severly handicapped by the Bush administrations ill-advised...OK, idiotic venture into Iraq.

In 2004, The Center For American Progress published a report detailing the opportunity costs of the Iraq invasion to that point. As of the date of that report, CAP estimated that the $144 billion pledged could have financed at least 16 projects that could have secured the American homeland far more effectively than this lunacy.

Well, here's what it would be now:
Cost of the War in Iraq
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(h/t John P., who does a masterful job of detailing precisely how to fit all this into perspective, so give him so love and go read his blog for that...I'll wait...)

Mind you, that's still just the actual recorded figures of monies laid out (or budgeted) for the invasion. Double that for the hidden costs today's report will detail.

Now triple that figure and you can get a clear picture of what this invasion is taking out of America: $5 trillion dollars, roughly.

The current nation debt is "only" $10 trillion. If you ever thought this invasion was a good idea, and if someone had presented that number to you...half our current national debt, which means we'll be paying just for the invasion alone into the 22nd Century, would you have thought it was worth it?

I didn't, and still wouldn't.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Back Door Privatization Plan

On the one hand...
Like Bush's plan, [Senator Fred] Thompson's would include investments in the stock market. But he said his proposal was different because it would be strictly voluntary and would be added to the Social Security system rather than carved out of it.
Sounds pretty good. You bolster American's savings for retirement, take some of the strain off the trust fund by adding money voluntarily, and even allow people to pick and choose their additional investments.

On the other hand...
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, a senator from Illinois, said Thompson's plan would undermine Social Security and "if we simply ask higher income Americans to contribute a little more, we can shore up Social Security for generations to come."
Social Security contributions cut out at roughly $98,000 of wage and other earned income, but none on other types of income, like rents, royalties, and capital gains and dividends.

Too, Obama misses an obvious point of Thompson's proposal: nowhere in it does he guarantee that this additional investment option would not be phased in to replace the current mandatory taxation plan.

There is a fine balance to be drawn in discussing Social Security, of course: it was never intended to be anything near a primary income source for retirement: instead, it was intended to be a safety net to take the poorest class of citizens in the 30s and 40s, the elderly, the ones most hurt by the Great Depression, and help them survive.

Not survive in style, survive. And considering the average American lived to about 70 (males far shorter), it was not intended as a long-term annuity.

As private pensions blossomed in the 50s and 60s, Social Security was seen as a fill-in to a longer retirement period. As health insurance started to promise longer lived Americans, suddenly Social Security more widely became a necessary stop-gap to pensions with defined benefits for far longer lived Americans (those pension benefits were not always adjusted for inflation).

And so here we are, as the baby boomers officially start to hit benefits drawdown ages.

Is there a crisis, tho? Most estimates show that we can pay out of the trust fund (which are really just IOUs from the Federal government's operating budget) plus current deposits until the 2040s, other things being equal.

Ah, but there's the rub. By law, Federal budgeting cannot assume a worst case scenario when projecting out funds available.

For one thing, the budgeting process has to assume that the US government can pay all its obligations without printing up gobs of money, and driving inflation (and by extension, COLA-adjusted SSI benefits) skyward.

Does anyone here think, with all the meltdowns in mortgage and banking industries, that the Fed isn't about to prop up the current government by lowering interest rates further, driving the dollar even further down on world markets and raising the prices of just about everything?

Second, the projections assume a growing, thriving economy, usually about 2-3% real growth. See the last paragraph. We're careening towards not just recession, but a depression, at least in the consumer arena if not the entire economy, despite what numbnuts like Bernanke say. Fuel prices have jumped 20% since last year, despite inflation's nominal increases. Food prices have jumped on the order of 5% in total, but note that staples have jumped even higher as corn, corn syrup and some other grains are swapped into biofuel projects.

Yuck! And it's not going to get better in 2008 OR 2009, I think.

So while the immediate problems of Social Security are nominal, all this occurs against a backdrop that could show a long-term handcuffing of the income elements and a freeing-up of the factors that will explode disbursements made from the trust fund.

In short, there's a very real chance that the SSI fund will be bankrupt in very short order, while you and I are drawing down benefits.

Neither Thompson's nor Obama's solutions, prima facie, provide enough relief, particularly given the little back door that Thompson left for a shift of the entire program to a voluntary system. We need to radically rethink the entire system, in my opinion, and further, a combination of both of these proposals is a good place to start.

A national dialogue on just what Social Security is and what it should be is the first step off these proposals.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ron Paul?

I get the appeal of Ron Paul. It seems to transcend party lines....hell, in my liberal bastion of New York, it seems you can't spit for hitting a Ron Paul sign.

I admit, I am intrigued with some of his positions: For example, he's long been an advocate of repealing the income tax since, in his opinion, it's illegal (the 16th Amendment did not bestow upon Congress any new taxing abilities, according the the US Supreme Court, and the Constitution specifically forbids the direct know what? It's Sunday. You don't need a policy wonk. If you want, read it here), and he favors the abolition of the Federal Reserve with a return to the gold standard, arguing that only the government should have the power to issue currency.

The Federal Reserve, true, is a quasi-private corporation.

He did vote against the invasion of Iraq, too.

The libertarian in me likes much of what he talks about. The liberal in me thinks the guy is a straw away from a broken camel. He's anti-choice, anti-UN, anti-NATO, anti-immigration, anti-gun control.

In other words, a libertarian of the Ayn Rand school, which makes him basically a nutcase.

I mean, the guy's chief of staff in Congress for a while, Lew Rockwell, argued AGAINST US participation in World War II...sixty years after the war ended!

What also makes me very leery of Paul's honesty is that, in his 1996 campaign for Congress, he raised the third highest amount of funds, behind Newt Gingrich and Bob Dornan, neither of whom had second thoughts about the ethics of selling themselves out for public office.

And it's pretty clear from some of the comments in his past newsletters that Ron Paul endorses racism. Given American's attention span, I'd be willing to bet that an awful lot of people who are fervently, full-throated Paul supporters might not remember these issues.

But here's the telling point:
How much the Paul campaign had snowballed on the Internet became evident last week when supporters independent of the campaign raised $4 million online and an additional $200,000 over the phone in a single day, a record among this year’s Republican candidates. There is even talk that Mr. Paul could influence the primary in New Hampshire, where he could draw votes from Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is trying to revive the independent persona that helped him win the state’s primary in 2000.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Paul, 72, a retired physician and a grandfather, acknowledged that the influence of the Internet had surprised even him.

“We always knew it was supposed to be important,” he said of the Internet. “My idea was you had to have someone who was a super expert, who knew how to find people. But they found us.”

As for the record one-day fund-raising, he said, “I had nothing to do with it,” adding that he had so far neglected to thank the people responsible. (James Sugra, 28, of Huntington Beach, Calif., acting on his own, posted an online video proposing one big day of fund-raising; Trevor Lyman, 37, of Miami Beach, then independently created a site,, that featured the video.)

Mr. Paul estimated that the one-day haul had brought “$10 million worth of free publicity.”

Ron Paul is about Ron Paul. He won't be Republican party candidate. While he could be a Libertarian candidate, and has not ruled out an independent run, this all appears to be an ego-grab. Granted, in the course of that ego-boost, he's promoting a dialogue this country needs to have, one about our Constitution and our power structure.

But make no mistake about it: Ron Paul is not the answer to those problems.