Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anti War a World Wide Task

There are times as a small town anti-war activist of sorts that I wonder if things could be more difficult given media marginalization, nationalism, and ignorance. Then I see these guys protesting the ongoing Russian wars in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia that never make the news in America.Needless to say I think my problems are of a lesser magnitude. The above are photos from a weekly protest in Moscow which interestingly questions among other things the issue of the mysterious bombings as well as murders and prosecutions which are used to justify the second Chechen war and authoritarianism that started shortly after Putin's election. Opposing war is truly a world-wide task and needs to be seen as such if peace can ever be a universal goal. Please check out voinenet.ru site and the fascinating video there. It reminds me of similar places in small town USA.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happy (Belated) Constitution Day

Somehow I seemed to have missed the parades and nationally televised festivities that mark each September 18th of the year as America observes Constitution Day. Unfortunately there are those who would rather that the the document behind all these celebrations only be brought out, let alone acted upon on, on ceremonial occasions only. Such party-poopers might include the current executive branch of government as well as more than a few members of the legislative branch who find parts of the constitution inconvenient or even at odds with their career plans. There are a few salient features that are worth revisiting which I will list, though not necessarily in order:

Duties of congress include the right

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;


The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: and no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.

Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.

Pardon my hack job on the U.S. Constitution though I believe others have done worse.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Words of Wisdom and Fear

"No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

James Madison

"Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation has fought a global war against violent extremists who use terrorism as their weapon of choice, and who seek to destroy our free way of life. Our enemies seek weapons of mass destruction and, if they are successful, will likely attempt to use them in their conflict with free people everywhere. Currently, the struggle is centered in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we will need to be prepared and arranged to successfully defend our nation and its interests around the globe for years to come."

U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, 2006

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Harbingers of Doom or Another Week in the Life of Bush's America

"The most merciful thing in the world...is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." H.P. Lovecraft

I think Lovecraft may have had in mind a week such as the one just past when he uttered those words. Certainly correlating seemingly unrelated events would leave one with a distinct feeling of unease regarding the United States and its continued headlong surge into moral and financial bankruptcy courtesy of the Bush administration. Tear yourself away from the latest O.J. spectacle and consider the following:

The failure of the U.S. congress to restore habeas corpus by a 56-43 vote in the senate that fell just short of invoking cloture.
A similar debacle regarding the "Webb Amendment" to allow troops in combat equal amounts of time off to attempt to recover. Once again failure to invoke cloture, which raises some uncomfortable questions as noted at the Daily Kos:

"But why would anyone agree to allow Republicans, who are already on pace to shatter all previous filibuster records, to stop an amendment this important and this sensible without even lifting a finger? And the question here is not just why anyone would allow it, but why everyone did. A single Senator could have put a stop to this simply by saying, "I object" when the unanimous consent request was made. Just one Senator.

Yet none did.

Not Harry Reid. Not Russ Feingold. Not Bernie Sanders.


And so the Webb amendment died quietly yesterday, allowing Republicans to enjoy all the obstructionist benefits of a filibuster, without having to stand up and tell Americans and their fighting men and women in the military exactly what they were doing. And not a moment was "wasted" on the "extended debate" that's supposed to make up a filibuster.

Everyone just politely agreed that 56-44 would be a losing vote for America's sons and daughters wearing the uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. And they did it on national television. And America yawned, hit the snooze button, and slept in."

Even more unsettling questions and observations are raised at Tomdispatch.com which makes one wonder if the American political process offers any solutions at all.

"The great debate about Iraq is not, and never really was, about what we should do in Iraq. No matter how many Iraqis have died or become refugees thanks to the Bush intervention, they remain largely ignored bit players in our central drama, which is, and always was, about what we will make of America. Now, the outcome of that debate is coming more clearly into view and it's not a pretty picture. The compromise the two parties are hammering out on Iraq policy reflects a deeper compromise the public seems to be groping toward on national identity -- between who we are in reality (pragmatic, if sidelined, civilians who know a war is badly lost and want to end it) and who we are in our imaginations (heroic soldiers proving our character in the theater of war).

All theater, all storytelling, rests on the power of illusion and the willing suspension of disbelief. Bush and the Republicans have repeatedly given millions of doubters a chance to suspend their post-Vietnam disbelief in traditional tales of American character; the Democrats have given millions of doubters a chance to suspend their disbelief that the will of the people can make any difference whatsoever. The two parties join together to give the whole nation a chance to believe that a fierce debate still rages about whether or not to end the war. That political show we can expect to go on at least until Election Day 2008.

And we can expect both parties, and the media who keep the show going, to abide by an unspoken agreement that one kind of question will never be asked, because the tension it raises might be unbearable: Is it moral for our troops to occupy another country for years, bomb its cities and villages, and kill untold numbers of people halfway across the planet? If the script ever makes room for that question, we'll be able to watch -- and participate in -- a far more profound debate about the war."

Meanwhile other chickens came home to roost, the dollar slowly drifted downward against the Canadian loonie and the Russian ruble among others. The real measure of value is now energy rather than the currency of a country unable to come up with a coherent national energy policy that doesn't involve military domination of petroleum production in distant parts of the world. Which brings up the latest record setting price of oil and its inconvenient implications for the future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Impending Helium Famine

Just when you thought there wasn't anything else to possibly worry about along comes the great impending ......helium shortage. Physics Today fills us in on the implications of a shortage of the universe's second most abundant element:

"Drained budgets and postponed projects are widespread these days among the physics labs, manufacturers, and other businesses that depend on helium for their work, direct consequences of a worldwide shortage of the element, which ironically is one of the most abundant on Earth.

For the last 10 years, groups around the US, including the American Physical Society, have been predicting that a severe shortage of the gas—which has many more valuable applications than filling party balloons—would emerge early in the 21st century. Pointing to a 1996 federal law that mandates sale of the federal helium reserve by 2015, they've warned that once the reserve—which supplies some 40% of domestic needs and 35% of worldwide requirements—is sold off, it can never be replaced.

The prophecies are already coming true, but for a different reason. The supply crimp that arose last year is the result of production glitches around the world that gas industry experts say underscore the need to develop new helium sources. If supply is tight now, they say, it's likely to be far more constricted once the reserve is depleted.

A byproduct of radioactive decay within Earth, helium is often a component of natural gas. Helium refiners extract natural gas from gas fields—in the US, the fields are mostly in Texas and Kansas—and cool it to below 90 K. At that point, everything except helium liquefies; the helium is distilled and compressed or further cooled to liquid form. In addition to the federal reserve, which is in a gas field near Amarillo, Texas, several sources worldwide supply helium: a handful of other US gas fields, and plants in other countries including Algeria, Qatar, Poland, and Russia....

The situation is likely to become even more dire in the near future. Kornbluth and Leslie Theiss, field office manager at the US Bureau of Land Management's helium operations in Amarillo, say the worldwide demand for helium is growing, fueled at least in part by the growth of high-tech manufacturing in China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. Companies in those countries use helium in the production of semiconductors, flat-panel displays, and optical fibers."

So it appears that would be Donald Duck imitators and lawnchair pilots will be in for rough times ahead as we further deplete the Earth of its valuables.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fighting Bob Fest 2007

Fighting Bob Fest 2007 took place Saturday, Sept. 8th on a bright sunny day at the Sauk county fairgrounds in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Upwards of 6,500 people attended Wisconsin's largest political gathering which is now in its 6th year.
Speakers included noted anti-war activist and contender for Nancy Pelosi's seat in congress, Cindy Sheehan, Texas populist, Jim Hightower, and impeachment proponent and "The Nation"s Washington correspondent, John Nichols.
The mood among attendees was definitely pro-impeachment, anti-war, and anti- corporate statism. While the state Democratic party was well represented, there was clearly a feeling of disgust with what many view as the invertebrate leadership of the national party including the front runners for the presidential nomination.
Jeremy Scahill gave a scathing indictment of both parties as well as a chilling look at the growth of corporate paramilitaries as exemplified by the Blackwater corporation. His talk was, in my opinion, one the highlights of an outstanding opportunity for progressives in the spirit of "Fighting Bob" Lafollette to continue a grand and vital legacy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just Another Soccer Game in Russia

Novaya Gazetta has an article highlighting the growing neo-nazi presence at Russian soccer matches. Ilya Yashin goes on to make the point that sporting events are occasions not under state control :

" Football fans· movement is one of few organized forces in the country that is out of state control. It·s more and more often that fans stage political actions at the stadiums. Actually, the stands have become long ago the rostrum for giving utterance to radical political slogans. The groups inside fans· movement consolidate not only on the basis of clubs interests, but also political principles. And most of the fans· groups share nationalist ideology."

To a point this is true however the pro-Putin youth movement Nashi (Ours) gets more than a few recruits from the local Moscow followers of Spartak as noted here and here:

"From its very beginning, stories about Nashi have been heavy with references to brawny soccer hooligans, and activists at competing organizations have been more than willing to name names. Sergei Shagrunov, head of the Motherland party's youth group ,and Vladimir Abel, a top official with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), both identified Roman Verbitskii, the head of Spartak Moscow's Gladiator fan club, as the head of Nashi's regional-development department in articles in "Kommersant-Daily," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Vedomosti." "Ekspert" reported on 5 September that Verbitskii and another leader of the Gladiators, Vasilii Stepanov, aka Vasya the Killer, have attended meetings at the Kremlin with other Nashi members. However, Nashi press secretary Ivan Mostovich told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that he does not know any Roman Verbitskii.

Despite these denials, media stories alleging a connection between soccer hooligans and Nashi continue to proliferate. Verbitskii's name in particular has featured in recent stories about a 29 August incident in central Moscow. About 30-40 masked men armed with baseball bats and some wearing symbols of the Nashi youth organization attacked members of the NBP, Avant-Garde Red Youth, and youth organizations from the Motherland and Communist parties. Aleksandr Averin, an NBP activist who was a victim in the incident, said he saw Verbitskii among the attackers. NBP official Abel told "Kommersant-Daily" on 31 August that this is not the first attack on the NBP in which Verbitskii has played a part. "Criminal charges involving a certain Roman Verbitskii have been filed in connection with three previous incidents," he said. The daily also cited an anonymous police source that Verbitskii was present at the attack.

So far, neither Verbitskii nor anyone else has been charged in this attack. Also, reports in gazeta.ru and "Novaya gazeta" this week suggested that they are not likely to be. Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 68, Yabloko youth-branch head Ilya Yashin, citing an anonymous police source, reported that presidential-administration official Nikita Ivanov visited the police station where the group of men suspected of taking part in the attack were being held and arranged for them to be quickly released without following regular police procedures. According to Yashin, Ivanov, 31, is nominally the deputy head of the administration for interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries at the presidential administration, but his department is in fact primarily concerned with youth policy and preventing an Orange Revolution. So far, only gazeta.ru has echoed Yashin's claims about Ivanov's activities that day, and Ivanov's office has declined to comment."

“It’s an open secret that Nashi security, at least at its Moscow events, is provided by Spartak football hooligans with ties to racist skinheads.” I’m also told that United Russia (Putin’s political party and practically the only party in the country) in Vladivostok openly collaborates with neo-Nazis to defend its interests on the streets. Putin is a shrewd politician, preaching anti-fascism on one hand (indeed the Nashi outfit is sold to the public as an antifascist one) while simultaneously employing xenophobic rhetoric himself. Rudnitsky concludes his piece on skinheads, “If anything, they’re [Kremlin operatives] interested in co-opting the fascists and turning them into a politically useful tool in case of a threat from an Orange -- or a National-Bolsheviks -- revolution.” But there is no real threat, not now anyway. And further study is needed on just how closely Nashists and Nazis (to the extent that there’s a difference) are indeed colluding."

BTW I don't think there is a well established Sponge Bob Square Pants KKK wannabe connection as the photo above might suggest.

Adios Arctic Ice

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced earlier this week that the northern polar sea ice level is at the lowest coverage seen since monitoring began.

"The low ice extent for August 2007 stands out sharply compared to all previous Augusts. The August 2007 monthly average extent was 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles), falling well below August 2005 extent, which was 6.30 million square kilometers (2.42 million square miles). Additionally, August 2007 ice extent is 31% below the long-term average of 7.67 million square kilometers (2.95 million square miles).

Even more stunning is that the August 2007 monthly average is the lowest extent in the satellite record for any month, including any previous September, which is typically the lowest month each year. September 2005, the previous record, had a monthly mean extent of 5.56 million square kilometers (2.14 million square miles).

August 2007 sea ice extent was lower than September 2005 extent by 240,000 square kilometers (92,000 square miles)."

By the way the legendary Northwest Passage is now open:

"Of particular note is imminent opening of the fabled Northwest Passage through the channels of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was first navigated by Roald Amundsen in the early 1900s. It took his group over two years of arduous and dangerous navigation through narrow lanes of open water amongst thick, compact ice. Analysts at the Canadian Ice Service and the U.S. National Ice Center confirm that the passage is almost completely clear and that the region is more open than it has ever been since the advent of routine monitoring in 1972. The Northwest Passage traces from Baffin Bay in the South toward M'Clure Strait."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Quote of the Weekend

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."
---George Orwell

(Photo of Edmund O'Brien as Winston Smith in "1984" circa 1955.)

The Wisdom of Henry Wallace

A couple of weeks ago I quoted Herbert Hoover regarding economics. Mr. Hoover is remembered as being the only Iowan elected to the presidency and ushering in the Great Depression. A lesser known man, Henry A. Wallace, was Iowa's contribution to the vice-presidency under FDR. A recovering republican he eventually ran for the presidency in 1948 as the Progressive Party candidate after being castigated as too radical by the Democratic establishment of the day (sounds familiar) and was smeared as being pro-communist in the pre-swift-boating era. Naturally I was intrigued by his take on American fascism which continues to have, if anything, increased relevancy these days, here's a sample from 1944:

"The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy....They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."