Saturday, May 27, 2006

Global Warming/ CO2 Emmissions Worsen Allergies

Allergies seem to worsen every year and many people every year join the millions that suffer from seasonal allergies. Some argue that it is our modern antiseptic lifestyle that accounts for the allergies. The "hygene hypothesis" contends that our immune systems are left with little else to do than attack allergens and that our lack of consistent exposure to allergens worsens the symptoms. This may be a contributing factor, but the solution is not to add diseases to the environment or to increase exposure to allergens.

In fact, the increase in allergens in recent years is documented and allergies have worsened rather than subsided as the hypothesis would lead one to predict. One variable corresponds highly with the increase in allergy sufferers; the increase in CO2 pollution.

Studies have found that not only does pollution in general lessen natural resistance to allergens, but CO2 emmisions specifically lead to higher pollen yields. Record levels of pollen are being observed and they have exponentially increased the percentage of the population impacted by allergies.

According to ABC news;

"this year really is a horrible year for allergies. In fact, this is perhaps the worst allergy season in 40 to 50 years!"


Link


Doctors are reporting significant increases in allergy patients:

"many people who never have had an episode of asthma, even a mild one, are experiencing them this spring."


Link


According to the Boston Globe, there is a link between global warming and the rise in allergies:

"both the increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and rising temperatures associated with global warming may increase the amount of pollen that ragweed and other plants produce."


Link


" As carbon dioxide rises, so does the amount of pollen that ragweed produces. It could double over the next century if carbon dioxide levels increase as predicted."


Link


The New York Times notes that many recent studies have demonstrated the link between CO2 emmisions and pollen production:

"A laboratory study done by USDA in 1998 and 1999 found that ragweed pollen counts went from 5.5 grams per plant at carbon-dioxide levels that existed in 1900 to 10 grams at current levels. At predicted CO2 levels in the year 2100, the pollen count would reach 20 grams per plant."
(Linked in the Title)

The link between CO2 emmisions and allergies is yet another reason to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Not only do allergies decrease the quality of life for millions of Americans, but they also reduce economic productivity. Perhaps there is some common ground to be shared with the business community on this issue. Afterall, they are not immune to allergies either and if the number of allergy sufferers doubles as predicted, it will substantially impact their bottom lines.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Logic of Withdrawal

Howard Zinn’s book "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal", though it appeared five years before the United States eventually abandoned that war, argued with remarkable foresight that getting out was the only realistic option. Now, nearly forty years later, the United States is once again involved in a seemingly intractable foreign conflict. And, following in the footsteps of Zinn, Anthony Arnove (his co-editor on the widely acclaimed Voices of a People’s History of the United States) has written a book that will likely prove equally prescient.

In "Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal" (Amazon link above), Arnove sets out a compelling case for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Countering widespread arguments made in support of the occupation by conservatives and liberals alike, Arnove insists that the U.S. presence is the major source of instability and suffering for the Iraqi people. He challenges the idea that George W. Bush has ever been interested in bringing democracy to the country and explores the real reasons behind the invasion, which centrally involve control over strategic Middle Eastern energy resources. And he sets out a constructive vision for the antiwar movement, one that involves soldiers, military families, and the many communities affected by the occupation, who together can build a coalition to bring the troops home.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Leave the Spying to US

The Bush administration has drawn the lines more clearly than ever regarding executive authority. If "national security" is involved- its within the authority of the executive branch to do WHATEVER they deem is necessary to preserve security.

In other words, there is a zero-sum relationship between civil liberties and national security- and national security will win every time under this interpretation of executive power.

A Bush administration official wrote, "courts are ill-equipped as an institution to judge harm to national security." (linked above)

Unfortunately, the executive branch is ill-equipped to judge harm to civil liberties. When national security is prized above fundamental rights- dangerous policies come into being. The detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the Illegal surveillance of civil rights organizations and anti-war groups under the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program are but two examples of the extremes the executive will go to under the guise of protecting national security.

The country is divided on the current policy of illegal surveillance. After September 11th, it seems rational to allow the government more latitude in preventing future attacks. Some argue that the government must keep secrets and to even make this program public threatens security. Others view it simply as a price they are willing to pay for what they perceive as better security.

These arguments are flawed on several levels. To prevent terrorism, the answer is not to spy on and terrorize citizens. No one is arguing that spying of any kind should be illegal- just unwarranted surveillance of innocent Americans. Promoting freedom and civil liberties is one of our best weapons in countering fundamentalist ideologies. The argument that exposing "secrets" damages our national security is merely a way to leave executive authority unchecked.

Another Hurricane in New Orleans?

The forecast gives the city a nearly 30 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane and one in 10 chance the storm will be Category 3 or stronger, meaning sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour), said Chuck Watson of Kinetic Analysis Corp., a Savannah, Georgia, risk assessment firm.

``Given the state of the infrastructure down there and the levees, gosh, that's just not good news. But that's what the climate signals look like,'' Watson said.

Watson, worked in partnership with University of Central Florida statistics professor Mark Johnson. They base their forecast in part on the paths of storms over the past 155 years and expected global climate conditions this year.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Disappeared

The Night and Fog Decree was a set of directives issued by Hitler which authorized the "disappearing" of resisters to the Nazi State. The Nazis justified this tactic by arguing that the power to secretly kill people produced fear among the population and was a powerful means of social control.

The decree stated:

"An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender."

This method has since become a trademark of brutal dictatorships. Regimes that seek to control their populations and fear popular resistance often resort to "disappearing" their enemies. In response, the international community has strongly declared this practice to be a gross violation of human rights.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has grown fond of the practice as another weapon in their war on terror. The discovery of secret prisons, or "black sites", has exposed the United States as being at odds with the international consensus against secret detentions.

The public must never stand for secret executions and detentions. We have a sophisticated legal system which, despite its flaws, is capable of administering justice far more fairly than the CIA. Tacit consent of such a policy only serves to legitimate the concentration of authority in the hands of a select few, violating the basic precepts of our founding principles.

Leaving No Soldier Behind: The Militarization of Education

Since the September 11th attacks, the agenda of the Bush administration has become increasingly focused on foreign policy and domestic security, at the expense of pressing domestic issues. While large portions of the federal budget are allocated for funding the war in Iraq and a host of mismanaged homeland security operations, large tax cuts for the wealthy further strip the government's ability to fund domestic programs. President Bush isolated education as his top domestic issue, but has failed to fund his ill conceived No Child Left Behind legislation. In fact, the act is more intricately linked with the larger Bush foreign policy agenda than it may first appear and offers little hope to poor students beyond a chance to serve their country in the perpetual "war on terror."

Hidden within the funding benefits of the No Child Left Behind Act is Section 9528, which allows military recruiters access to directories with students names, telephone numbers and other personal information. Under the act, military recruiters are given the same access to student information as college recruiters, posing a substantial threat to student privacy. One prominent organization notes that, "the Pentagon has created an illegal database of 30 million 16-25 year-olds, including names, addresses, email addresses, cell phone numbers, ethnicities, social security numbers, extracurricular activities, and areas of study." Many parents and students are unaware that that this database exists, but likely wonder why they are receiving so many recruiting calls, letters, and visits.

Evidently, President Bush does not want to leave students behind in bad schools, but would rather they join up for military service. Instead of improving the schools themselves and offering better educational opportunities to the students, under-performing schools are targeted as fertile ground for military recruitment of our most vulnerable children.

Many parents have called for schools to resist releasing personal student information to military recruiters on grounds that it constitutes a violation of privacy, but schools have a strong incentive to provide the information. If a school withholds such information it can risk losing the bulk of its federal assistance. This is money that many schools can ill-afford to sacrifice. While there are ways for parents to opt out of the information sharing process, they are often unknown to parents and students and are under-publicized by schools.

However, the problem is gaining attention and schools are feeling the pressure to increase awareness about the process. Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan stated at a recent Board of Education meeting that, "We need to do a better job of getting the word out ... to help the parents, let them make an informed decision". Statements such as these are a positive sign but much more must be done. If schools, the media, organizations and individuals are able to publicize that parents do have the option to block access to their children's information, the threat to privacy will be greatly minimized.

Fortunately, several groups, including the War Resisters League (warresisters.org) and the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (militaryfreeschools.org) have made "opt-out" forms available on their web sites, which can be sent to the respective district offices. While it is mandatory for the school district to make parents aware of the "opt out clause" in No Child Left Behind, the standard is arbitrary and it is imperative that agents outside of the school system take action.
There is also hope in Washington, as The Student Privacy and Protection Act of 2005 has been proposed as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that, if passed, will give parents the option to opt-in rather than having to opt-out. Advocates of the amendment can express their support through a petition hosted on the web site of the organization Leave My Child Alone (leavemychildalone.org).

The crux of this argument against providing private student information to the military is that it does not further the education of the students and redefines the role of school, from a place of learning to a venue for targeting future soldiers. It is also important to note that the schools receiving the most attention from recruiters are those in inner-city districts, where students have fewer options and are more likely to opt for military service at the expense of furthering their education after high school. While this may make perfect sense from the perspective of those recruiting soldiers for the front-lines in Iraq, it makes little sense for those who strive to create a more equitable education system. Responsible citizens should oppose legislation making it easier to prey on students and families that are in an economically disadvantaged position, and thus most vulnerable.

The fundamental question is whether, as a society, we should tolerate fusing education with militarism in our poorest schools. How can we expect students at these schools to feel that they are respected as learners, critical thinkers and invaluable members of their communities when they are conditioned to be soldiers? How can we expect students to achieve academically when they are sold out by an administration that professes to value them as potential high achieving students, but in practice treats them as potential cannon fodder? President Bush argues that we must change the culture of failure in our under-performing schools, "the soft bigotry of low expectations" as he calls it. These low expectations become increasingly evident when a culture of militarism invades our schools.

The culture of failure in our schools can only be challenged when students and parents demand that they receive a quality education and recognize the threat that militarism poses to their futures. It is nothing new for the United States to short change education in favor of defense spending, but providing the military unprecedented access to our children for recruitment has made the nation's priorities all the more clear.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Protecting the Ignorant

I haven't read or seen the "Da Vinci Code" but I feel the need to weigh in on what borders on hysteria. Christian leaders are creating their own counter-Da Vinci Code films and have actively campaigned against the book and the film in the media. They say that people will loose faith or become confused by the story. What they really fear is that the reaction to this story exposes how tenuous most "Christian's" faith really is. It reveals that the vast majority of the American public is far less wedded to dogmatic religious beliefs than many Church spokespeople are.

If certain individuals decide that they no longer wish to practice Christianity because of Dan Brown's novel or Opie's movie- it's a good bet that they weren't devout followers in the first place. If I were a religious Christian I would just assume weed these people out. But for these Christian "leaders" the story is just too confusing and some may mistaken it as fact.

First of all, facts have little role in a theological debate. The historical merits of Dan Brown's claims are not as important as the ideas themselves. What if Jesus was married? This questions "Christ's morality" according to Jerry Falwell. Aren't the evangelicals the ones forcing the "sanctity of marriage" down everyone's throats? They are also upset that the story "questions the divinity of Christ" because it calls into question the exclusion of many early gospels and the purges of alternate Christian sects such as the Gnostics. This is one historical fact that no one can refute. There were alternate views of Christianity that have been suppressed  by the Catholic Church.

What they really fear is that people will question the authority of current Christian leaders. Perhaps some will interpret the Bible in their own way- instead of swallowing the force-fed interpretations of others. God forbid people actually think about their religious beliefs. They are really concerned because the impressionable people that organized religions pray on are now not engaging in critical thinking!

You shall reap what you sow as the Bible says.

Bush demands that immigrants 'have a command of the English language'

...this one is just too easy

Friday, May 19, 2006

Book Review: David Blight/ Race and Reunion

David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War Era in
American Memory

The Civil War has imprinted itself on the collective memory of Americans. Even today, the bloodiest war in the nation's history captures popular imagination and is recalled as a watershed event in the young history of the United States. In Race and Reunion, David Blight seeks to investigate the Civil War in memory and attempts to demythologize the event and reveal the cultural trends that shaped, and continue to shape, its national remembrance. He argues that the reunion between white Northerners and white Southerners after reconstruction was realized at the expense of African-Americans. In essence, the hatchet was figuratively buried in the back of the former black slave, whom, according to Blight, had been at the epicenter of the real conflict.

To this end, Blight probes the first fifty years of Civil war memorabilia, ranging from graveside decorations to popular literature. He identifies three primary "visions of Civil War memory": "reconciliationist", "white supremacist", and "emancipationist". He argues that the original war was largely a clash of two competing paradigms. The Confederate worldview was primarily white supremacist and thus justified enslavement of other racial groups. The Union embraced a competing framework of emancipation and challenged the slavery of blacks. Both of these worldviews persist in Civil War memory, but the focus on emancipation, and specifically slavery as a central impetus for conflict, has greatly diminished since reconstruction.

Blight contends that the "emancipationist" vision was largely erased from popular culture as the price for reconciliation. In this way, his study of Civil War memory is as much a study of what people chose to forget. The "reconciliationist vision" paradoxically sought to compromise between white supremacy and emancipation. Reconciliationists wanted to "turn away from the legacy of slavery, and to suspend the judgment of those who defended it." The commonality that was embraced was that those doing the reconciling were white and the compromise was essentially to forget about slavery and move forward. Emaciptionists, "who remembered the war as the rebirth of the republic in the name of racial equality", were sacrificed.

The consequences of this compromise on the future of African-Americans, still fighting for full legal and political rights, were grave. The importance of the Northern victory on the battlefield was downplayed as Southerners gained victories on social, political and economic fronts. So long as African-Americans were not literally enslaved, under this vision, white supremacy was allowed to flourish. The prominence of the reconciliationist project is evident in the Jim Crow laws, which essentially unraveled emancipationist gains during reconstruction.

Indeed, the ability for the culture to selectively remember, and in turn forget, pervades the source material in this work. For example, by the 1890's, "The stock Confederate Memorial Day speech contained four obligatory tributes: to soldiers' valor, women's bravery, slave fidelity, and Southern innocence regarding slavery." According to this vision, all white soldiers of the Civil War were valiant, and the causes, especially on the Union side, were largely forgotten. Not only was the cause of African-American freedom forgotten, but racism was also being reinvented, as new and insidious forms of racial discrimination were institutionalized. According to Blight, "By 1913, racism in America had become a cultural industry, and twisted history a commodity".

While the Union cause was being lost to reunion induced amnesia, the Confederate cause was recalled and often distorted. Rather than a vision of white supremacy, the "Lost Cause" of the south was mythologized as virtuous. Popular books and films, such as Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation, and even influential historians of the day, glorified the south and further propagated this myth.
It is of no surprise that the purveyors of history at the time were primarily wealthy white men. However, Blight does a good job providing an African-American perspective to the narrative and emphasizes that the cause of emancipation was never completely lost. His treatment of the intellectual African-American history of the period is comprehensive, including extensive source material from Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. In these thinkers, the emancipationist vision persisted. Blight contends that it was the inability of white America to reconcile a national "imperative for healing" among former enemies with the "imperative of justice" that was so deeply felt by former slaves. To be sure, Blight feels that justice should have trumped national unity, and he argues that in failing to fulfill this obligation race relations were badly damaged. In opting for what was portrayed as healing and national unity, racial hostilities were further fueled and race continued to be a dividing factor in American life. The healing that was supposed to come between the races after the Civil War was short lived.

Blight characterizes this as a tragic development, but still recognizes the Civil War as a "second American Revolution", a fundamental reformulation of national values. He credits this to the fortitude of African-Americans and others who carried on the emancipationist vision. The civil rights movement was the culmination, and in part the realization, of this larger quest for African American freedom and racial equality in the United States.
Blight's narrative begins and ends an account of the Blue-Gray Reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. The event is referred to as "the triumph of segregation", as no black veterans were invited to attend. If fifty years after the civil war segregation is deemed triumphant, can it be truly justified? Was it worth the lives of millions of Americans to preserve segregation and inequality? Blight contends that it was. While the emancipationist vision may have been partially extinguished, replaced by a drive towards national reunion, the legitimacy of white supremacy was called into question and it set the stage for future civil rights gains.

Blight recognizes the role of the North in reversing the gains of reconstruction and embracing reunion at the expense of emancipation, but he often underestimates Northern racism. He too often dichotomizes white supremacy as a southern mindset that northerners accommodated in their efforts to reconcile for economic and political purposes. The fact that northern statesmen so quickly cast aside the rights of African-Americans in favor of reconciliation makes one question whether a larger emancipationist agenda was ever considered as a driving force behind the Union war effort. If freedom was so fundamental a motivating factor, than why is it so quickly sold out? Blight partially deals with this concern by emphasizing the role that slaves themselves had in prompting and winning the war, both through slave rebellions and through service in the Union Army, However, the emancipationist vision encompasses more than just the slaves themselves according to Blight. It is the central guiding principal behind the Union effort. While I agree that emancipation was the central accomplishment of the war and its most important legacy, the demonstrated roll-back of African-American rights following reconstruction suggests that perhaps the Northern agenda was more complex.

Regardless, Blight weaves a masterful narrative in this work and keenly illustrates the ways in which a national trend towards reunion came at the expense of the most important principles over which the Civil War was fought. In an age of weapons of mass destruction, it is worth noting that weapons of mass distraction can be just as destructive. Blight brilliantly reveals the power of popular culture and its agents to manipulate opinion, and in effect, memory. Such propaganda was so strong in this case that it purportedly made a nation forget what it had fought a long and bloody war over. In cases like these, the truth is a victim, and the rights of many were deeply impacted.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

2006 or 1984?

George Orwell on Doublethink:

"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. "

George Bush engaging in Doublethink (In response to a massive data-mining and wiretapping program being exposed):

"the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected." The administration is not "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans"

(Tapping millions of private citizens phone conversations can not take place in a government that "fiercely" protects privacy. Bush claims that the administration is not doing exactly what they have been exposed as doing when he refers to mining through personal conversations.)

"Today there are new claims about other ways we are tracking down al Qaeda to prevent attacks on America."

" The intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates, he said.
"Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval"

(If millions of American citizens are affiliated with al Qaeda we are really screwed. Bush's second point was refuted by the testimony of the major telecommunications companies that did not deny collaboration with the NSA to make millions of phone calls available for screening.)

So far, the President said, "we have been very successful in preventing another attack on our soil. As a general matter, every time sensitive intelligence is leaked, it hurts our ability to defeat this enemy. Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack, and we will do so within the laws of our country."

(This echoes Orwell's concept of perpetual war exactly. Peace justifies war. War=Peace and Peace=War)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Case for Open Borders

The immigration issue has been introduced, shortly before the midterm elections, seemingly as a way for Republicans to shore up their political base. The choice of this issue is odd, since it serves more as a "wedge issue" in favor of Democrats, dividing the nativist right wing from the big business Republican constituency. Bush has attempted to appeal to immigrant voters as a counter to the solid African American vote that the Democrats often take for granted. He, and others, also recognize that business interests rely on the low-wage labor of non-citizens and this had led him to propose a guest worker program to legalize such exploitation. Another element of the immigration issue, border security, relates to national security in a time when fears of terrorism are palpable. Immigration is a complex issue and the public response to the issue has been equally complex and polarizing.

The minutemen and other extralegal possees of citizens have risen up to lock down the border and round up noncitizens. Some in Congress have even suggested ammending the constitution to disallow citizenship for those born in the United States to illegal immigrants. At the same time, millions of noncitizens have taken to the streets in protest, demanding that they be recognized and treated as human beings. A series of threats and actions have emanated from both sides, creating an atmosphere of brinksmanship. Immigrants have threatened to go on strike and nativists have threatened to build a wall across the US/Mexico border. The immigrant protests have helped to humanize the issue, but many have responded to their presence with hostility.

The most common compromise has been to allow for a path to citizenship or guest worker status for those already here illegally, but not without first completely locking down the border and barring future illegal immigration. This course of action would only legitimize nativist, nationalist, and sometimes even racist, sentiments. The proposed guest worker program would merely create an underclass of laborers and continue to drive down wages. Essentially, this is only a compromise between right wingers and big business Republicans.

In this way, perhaps the immigration issue will end up serving to divide Democrats rather than Republicans. In a shrewd way, the immigration issue may act as a "wedge issue", dividing working class Democrats and middle-class progressives. Working-class Democrats often fear that a guest worker program would essentially bring the offshoring of jobs home. Once legally endorsed, businesses could recruit workers from other countries and pay them well less than the minimum wage mandated for citizens. Middle-class democrats do not often fear competition from immigrants and frequently favor humane treatment of undocumented immigrants and value cultural diversity. This split could be politically damaging.

Democrats need to reframe this debate. Nativism should be ridiculed as the value historically embraced by the most despicable political movements. The Ku Klux Klan, Nazi's, and the Boers of South African apartheid were all characterized by xenophobia and racist nationalism. These sentiments are fundamentally opposed to an ideal American ideology that values liberty, equality, the pursuit of hapiness and universal human rights. Instead of nativism, an ethic of cosmopolitanism (meaning citizenship of the world) should be further realized. Insofar as there is an "American culture", it should be defined not in terms of nationality, but instead as an abstract collection of values. If being American refers to being a part of a society that embraces freedom and social justice, then it becomes counter-intuitive to exclude anyone from taking part in the American project.

Our laws should apply to anyone working in this country. To allow for the exploitation of undocumented workers or to deny them access infringes on the inalienable rights of all human beings. Furthermore, closing the border denies fundamental rights as well. Why shouldn’t one be free to cross a "border" to escape oppression or in search of work to sustain one's life? Borders to a free society are oxymoronic (or just moronic) and they do more to stigmatize those who cross them than they do to restrict passage.

But what about the terrorists you ask? If the United States is to effectively discourage terrorism it will be through a comprehensive shift in policy. Our policies should be based on the fundamental values that shape and define our culture. This supposed "war on terrorism" is more a war of ideas than a conventional battle. If we are to challenge Islamic fundamentalism, our weapons should not not be violence and hatred but the Enlightenment principles of reason and universal rights. Our interventionist foreign policy is based on the same sentiment of nationalism that our immigration policy is based upon. These policies are what spawn terrorism and hatred of the United States. The only permanent solution to terrorism against the United States is to abandon these policies and reevaluate our fundamental values. Building a wall is akin to burying our heads in the sand. We must challenge terrorists with the superiority of our ideas and values, not shrink behind our borders and beg for our government to protect us through any means necessary.

Prior to and during World War II, U.S. government officials intentionally used immigration controls to prevent German Jews from seeking refuge from the horrors of the Nazi regime. Examples such as the infamous "voyage of the damned", which refered to the refusal of the U.S. officials to permit a ship full of Jewish refugees to port at Miami Harbor, are all too common in American history. I am under no illusion that the United States has lived up to its founding principles. History shows, however, that America is at its best when it moves towards the realization of these values. Emancipation, universal suffrage, the civil rights movement, the New Deal reforms- the United States has at times achieved great progress by appealing to fundamental rights and values. Reverting to nationalism and racism will only hinder this progression and set a dangerous precedent in a dangerous world. Open the borders and redefine American political culture!