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Archive for the ‘Social concerns’ Category

Sustainability science at a glance, borrowed from the journal

Returning to the issue of alternative energy sources, a few noteworthy facts about ethanol and AAAS’s endorsement of it remain unaddressed. Consider ethanol in the context of another lucrative avenue for profit- generation touted by corporate tycoons as our culture’s salvation from oil- dependency; it has no realistic potential for providing a sustainable solution to our energy crisis. Whatever observable short-term gains we may acquire from its pursuit and achievement, we can be confident that the crisis will resurface. It is disheartening to observe that the traditional American approach to problem solving, “solution-via-consumption”, has been selected to rescue the natural world from peril. If this is the only model we’ve got, then perhaps we should cannibalize it. We must appreciate all that is at stake and proceed thoughtfully. Central to the issue of alternative energy is, as with any issue, the inherent interconnectedness and codependency of progressive causes.

Eradicating world poverty, ensuring universal access to quality health care, establishing peace and stability in conflict-ridden regions of the world, implementing social/political/economic models that protecting equality and fundamental human rights; these sorts of humanitarian endeavors do not succeed or fail in isolation, rather they influence one another intensely. This is why our commitment to these causes must be socially conscious and mutually intertwined on multiple fronts. Growing corn on unprecedented scales for the sole purpose of extracting its energy content is a self-defeating solution inasmuch as it is obscenely indifferent to the prevalence of persistent hunger in developing countries and the Third World, and in the arena of sustainable energy, this incontrovertible truth is significant.

Maybe you feel that allocating agricultural resources in this manner is acceptable, that thousands of children dying each day of starvation are making reasonable sacrifices for a new method of powering your car. If these egregious imbalances in human rights don’t bother you, then pursuing further discussion on the subject is pointless.

What ought to bother you, in any case, is the evidence that images such as corn escaping a gas pump on the wall of AAAS passively avoid but render painfully clear: that this direction, this technological azimuth if you will, is the one that our society shall take and that its support shall be generated through advertising.

These two precedents, though deep beneath the surface of the energy crisis, must be addressed openly in dialogue; people must be informed and conscious. While the aforementioned social issue, that of world hunger, may only concern one side of the debate, the greater issue of environmental preservation concerns all creatures universally. Environmental issues are not merely the poster subjects of far-left hippies that suffer as subjects of barroom jokes; they are the interest of all who have parented children and would like to see those kids someday raise a healthy brood of their own. They should concern all people who depend, daily, on the availability of clean drinking water, breathable air, and sufficient crop yields to sustain their existence.

Those individuals to whom these criteria do not apply may reasonably argue on the opposing side. It’s really just that simple; there can be no less partisan issue. Global sustainability is essentially the campaign to continue our species’ presence in our world’s ecological communities for all generations to come; it is the scientific equivalent to hope. Those who oppose it -whether for economic ideological disparity, corporate loyalty, deregulatory “free-market” interest, political affiliation, or the general liberal-bashing that lately seems to be in vogue- should be recognized for what they are: obstacles to the very preservation of our kind. What political camp advocates causes more important or urgent than the continuance of humanity?

– -Daniel Black

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For all the reasons to de-prioritize ethanol as an alternative source of energy (see An Unusual Sight, an Unexpected Choice), there is one solid truth that would explain why it might be pursued over the others in scientific research, the last disconcerting truth that piques my skepticism,

…ethanol, which already accounts for two percent of what’s mixed into our transportation fuels, promises growth for agribusiness that any stakeholder of any industry would die for, that is, if it becomes the alternative fuel of choice to replace oil.

This may be the deciduous factor between ethanol and all the others: a powerful lobby behind it. (Keep your eye on Presidential Candidate Barack Obama; Illinois stands to gain or lose a fortune on this issue).

Wealthy constituencies (and their handsomely-paid congressional representation) proceeding with their agendas independent of public health or environmental preservation concerns is commonplace, but to observe symptoms of such behavior in the American Association for the Advancement of Science is alarming. The organization is the largest society dedicated to the public advancement of science understanding in the world. It is not-for-profit, autonomous from government, and in addition to advancing science, it is (by self-report) dedicated to serving international society. From the minutes of its first ever meeting, now nearly 160 years ago, the organization committed its endeavor “not exclusively for the benefit of any nation or age.”

Within this large organization are numerous initiatives that reflect their commitment. Progressive programs to further the causes of human rights and social justice account for a great deal of what AAAS does. Specifically focusing on developing the public understanding and appreciation of science, especially among the world’s poorest, AAAS charters projects that ensure all people of the international community, independent of ethic or racial origin, geographic location, or political/ideological background, will be prepared for changes that accompany advances in technology and civilization. With an eye to our natural habitat, other projects focus on “sustainability“, and AAAS provides abundant scholarly resources, an international forum on sustainability science, research and project opportunities, and encouragement for widespread education and pro-environmental action.

For all these accomplishments, the AAAS has my admiration, but for endorsing ethanol, they cause me bewilderment. What of the billions of people in the developing world –cited on the AAAS website– that live in abject poverty? Shall we grow staple crops for their potential to power cars, not for their potential to feed the world’s poor? Are sustainable sources of energy less appealing than those that are profitable? Are these two issues, the issue of poverty and the issue of the environment, unrelated?

– -Daniel Black

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This spring break (in the snow), I discovered Mosaic. This Peabody Award winnig show is only available on LinkTV or via a free video podcast; its relative anonymity, however, should not detract astute news consumers. Mosaic presents a collage of video clips from various Middle Eastern news sources and offers a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events. Mosaic also publishes a weekly intelligence report. The document, itself a collection of opinion pieces and news stories relating to the Middle East, is available free of charge and by email subscription on the show’s website.

Since American media systematically excludes the opinions of Middle Easterners, Mosaic offers Americans a rare glimpse into regional Middle Eastern politics and an opportunity to witness the effects of American foreign policy on Middle Easterners. Relying on alternative news sources, the intelligence report and the TV show broaden the spectrum of news sources and opinion. This week’s edition of the intelligence report, for instance, included a story about a new University of Maryland/Zogby International 2006 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey which found that most Middle Easterners “do not see Iran as a major threat to the region.”

When asked to identify two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, 85 percent of respondents said Israel and 72 percent said the United States. In contrast, only 11 percent identified Iran. Furthermore, a majority of respondents were supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, even though more than half also believe that Iran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. According to the survey, 61 percent believe that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, with only 24 percent agreeing that Tehran should be pressured to stop it.

Interestingly, two-thirds of those surveyed in the UAE and just over half in Saudi Arabia agree that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, despite the issue’s sensitivity among Gulf Arab monarchies. While broadly approving of Iran’s nuclear program, just over half — 51 percent — of those surveyed believe Iran has ambitions to achieve weapons capability, with only 27 percent believing that Iran is intent on using its program for civilian purposes.Of the world leaders admired most by respondents, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was first, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in third, despite the fact both are Shia Muslims and the latter is not Arab. French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came in second and fourth respectively.

Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush, former and current Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were identified as the four most disliked world leaders. Respondents also view Hezbollah more favorably since the July-August 2006 war against Israel. More than two-thirds — or 68 percent — of those surveyed said they had a more positive attitude toward Hezbollah after last year’s war; including 58 percent and 50 percent respectively in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As much as the dire situation in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the political standoff in Lebanon, have opened up fissures between Arab Sunnis and Shias across the region, the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll shows that fundamental attitudes towards the role of the United States in the region are overwhelmingly negative. Furthermore, Sunni Arab regimes’ fears of an Iranian ascendancy are not shared by those they rule.

“The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shiite divide,” Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy who conducted the poll, told Inter Press Service. “They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy. Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.”Indeed the Bush administration has a job ahead of it to win over hearts and minds in the region. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed stated they had unfavorable attitudes — 57 very unfavorable and 21 percent unfavorable — towards the United States. More than two-thirds of those surveyed, or 70 percent, said their attitudes towards America were based on U.S. policy, while only 11 percent said they was based on American values.

Despite the fact that Middle East democracy promotion forms the core of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe democracy is a real U.S. objective in the region. In fact when asked what they considered to be motivating U.S. policy in the Middle East, “controlling oil” (83 percent), “protecting Israel” (75 percent), “weakening the Muslim world” (69 percent), and “desire to dominate the region” (68 percent) were identified as extremely important factors.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as “extremely important.” When asked to identify their biggest concern about the consequences of the Iraq War, just under half (49 percent) feared that Iraq may be divided, 42 percent feared Iraq remaining a destabilizing factor for the region, while 42 percent cited a continued U.S. dominance of the country as their biggest concern. Only 15 percent highlighted Iran becoming a more powerful state as a major concern. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration expected that cultivating a Shiite-led pro-Western democracy in Baghdad would weaken Iran’s theocratic republic and erode Hezbollah’s influence. A new and powerful Iraqi ally would also enable the United States to ease its strategic dependence on Saudi Arabia, an ally which became less trusted after 9/11, the administration’s thinking went.

But Iran has been able to exercise influence in Iraq and Iraq’s Shiites have cooperated with the United States on their own terms, dashing hopes of politically overhauling the Middle East through empowering Shiites. Last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war compelled the Bush administration to reverse this position and return to seeking an alliance with pro-Western Sunni regimes in an effort to contain Iran. While this latest strategy brings the Bush administration closer to the political leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the Sunni Arab populace in these countries does not see things the same way as their leaders.

In fact the Maryland/Zogby poll reveals that skepticism of the United States’ role in the region, resentment at lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and affinity for regional figures who are seen to be standing up to America and/or Israel are still widespread. And despite the sectarian conflict in Iraq and simmering tensions in Lebanon, Iran is not seen as the bogeyman of the region. Perhaps the Islamic Republic is more popular in the broader Middle East than it is within its own borders.

America’s policy in the Middle East cannot ignore Arab history, perception and opinion. If we wish to reduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ or Islamic religious extremism, we must pursue a symbtiotic relationship; American policy cannot undermine the needs and desires of Middle Easterners—such an approach generates resistance and terrorism. If we want to reduce so-called anti-Americanism then we must secede, in some respects, to the demands of the region. We must pull out of Iraq, abandon our blind support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians (not the state of Israel), allow Iraqis to control their own natural resources, and negotiate with the regional powers.

Our current policy (to extend American hegemony and influence across the Middle East and allow American corporations to control the region’s natural resources) undermines Middle Eastern sovereignty and democracy. In crafting a new approach, we must consider the needs and viewpoints of Middle Easterners– and that’s what Mosaic is all about.

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This morning, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney introduced columnist Ann Coulter by pronouncing, “I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. Oh yeah!” After her speech Coulter, with a smug and knowing smile, admitted, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”

Conservative talkers will undoubtedly claim that Coulter’s comments were a joke and blame the mainstream media for not giving Coulter the benefit of the doubt, as they had done for Kerry; if the media rationalized Kerry’s embarrassing comments about our troops as a joke gone awry, why then, are they taking Coulter’s comments so seriously?

Well, for three reasons, really. First, Coulter has a history and a penchant for making erroneous, sensationalist, and attention grabbing comments orchestrated to manufacture controversy and promote the Coulter brand of political discourse to narrow minded Conservatives. Second, as Think Progress has reported, previously, Coulter has put “even money” on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) “[c]oming out of the closet,” said Bill Clinton shows “some level of latent homosexuality,” and called Vice President Al Gore a “total fag.” And third, the term ‘fag’ is associated with gay-bashing, nasty homophobia, and even murderous hate crimes. According to one source, “it is often claimed that the derivation is associated directly with faggot meaning “bundle of sticks for burning”, since homosexuals were supposedly burnt at the stake in medieval England. This, however, was never an established punishment for homosexuality in England, although, according to one source, those accused of homosexual acts were sometimes doused in fuel and used in place of sticks for the burning of supposed witches.”

If the Republican Party establishment does not condemn such language, the very history of which promotes violence against a minority population, their silence should be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of hate speech. If this party wishes to advance their agenda and rally its base by promoting hateful commentary, they are no better than the homophobes who kill homosexuals; Coulter’s rhetorical slur is a white collar version of a violent gay-bashing.

— Igor Volsky

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The environment has become a hot topic in politics lately, seemingly everyone on all sides of the political debate acknowledging that we have a serious problem.  About half asserting that global climate change threatens the survival of life as we know it, the other half asserting the problem is the first half itself.

The story appearing “in the spotlight” of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ homepage today, under the title “Global Warming Obscured by Politics,” offers some indication of the current debate’s substance and quality.  Because the scholarly inquiry into global climate change has been so seriously defiled by the biases that invariably accompany environmentally crass political agendas, the scientific community has been forced to pursue authentic inquiry through their own independent means.  Government supported inquiry has proven valueless because the ends it seeks always have an eye to corporate profit, a reality that effectively compromise its utility.  The issue of whether our home planet can sustain our current lifestyle -or even sustain our continued presence as a species at all- is, it would appear, unworthy of anything beyond the deceitful and subversive political tactics that typify most other social concerns.

The environment, it is important to realize, differs sharply from other political issues; this is one topic of political debate wherein contempt for the perspective of science is more than just foolish, it is suicidal.  The stratagem of the leading skeptics is hopelessly misguided, and quite shameless, I believe.  Few people, I think, are able to acknowledge reality for what it is, with all its discomforting implications, and continue to believe as they wish against all evidence suggesting that they shouldn’t.

When the United Nations’ experts appeal to our national conscience, asking that we open our minds to the possibility that grotesque over-consumption could be responsible for impending ecological catastrophe, the United Nations itself is baselessly discredited as threatening our “American way of life” or attempting to attack our global economic sovereignty.  When scientists publish a report exposing the urgency of environmental crises, corporate lobbyists offer other scientists cash incentives to dispute the reports, or they simply attack the credibility of the scientists that have the audacity to suggest something contrary to the corporate agenda, no matter how grounded in objectivity the report might actually be.  These practices, though common among large environment-wrecking corporations, are well-known but somehow escape public scrutiny.  When measured in terms of its likely consequences, the truly criminal nature of this corporate behavior cannot be overstated; it is conceptually reducible to murder for profit.  In that its aim is to threaten the survival of humanity as an undivided collective, solely for the purpose of self-interest, intervention of this sort is more serious a crime than is genocide.

The most urgent arguments regarding global climate change are rarely even addressed in our culture’s narrow spectrum of public debate.  The conventional lines of even the most liberal solutions offer little hope in saving the human race from self-destruction.  Constructive solutions such as “E85” (an alternative fuel source attained through mixing ethanol and gasoline at a ratio of 17:3) are patchwork solutions whose hope of restoring our environment’s health and stability are nil.  It is as though we cannot face the inescapable truth that meaningful environmental improvement demands significant lifestyle change.  Efforts toward other objectives are tantamount to attempting improvement of one’s health by switching cigarette brands or transitioning to smokeless tobacco.

Unless our attitudes change, it is reasonable to assume that the fate of the earth’s people will ultimately be decided by a scant 4% of its population, an influential few who thrive on poorly presented lies which survive not for their logical viability but merely for the fact that they are more attractive than the plain, undeniable, simple truth.  Science matters; the consensus of leading international scientific enterprises are more discussion-worthy than some unaccountable gargantuan corporation’s ability to hire some hack with a PhD to lie.  These are facts we must accept, or we shall die with our denial.

— Daniel Black

 

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Most Americans consider the argument that the Bush administration invaded Iraq to control its oil and exert influence over the greater Middle East conspiratorial; but in Iraq, “in one of the first studies of Iraqi public opinion after the US-led invasion of March 2003, the polling firm Gallup asked Iraqis their thoughts on the Bush administration’s motives for going to war. One percent of Iraqis said they believed the motive was to establish democracy. Slightly more – five percent – said to assist the Iraqi people. But far in the lead was the answer that got 43 percent – “to rob Iraq’s oil.”

Here at Writings by the Hudson we’ve syndicated Democracy Now! stories about America’s attempts to gain control over the second largest oil reserves in the world. On today’s program, Raed Jarrar, Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange and Antonia Juhasz, author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time” discussed a draft copy of a proposed Iraqi oil law which gives American (or other foreign) corporations a great deal of control over Iraq’s most profitable natural resource. Here are the basics:

The proposed legislation legalizes long term contracts between foreign companies and the Iraqi National Oil Company and will allow vast profits to leave the country.

The law establishes the Federal Oil and Gas Council. The Council will include representitives from the Iraqi National Oil Company as well as representatives from foreign oil companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. This board will be responsible for approving Iraqi oil contracts but will treat Iraq’s national company as “just another oil company among lots of other companies, including US oil companies. And this council, the new oil and gas council, is going to be the decision making body to determine what kind of contract the Iraqis can sign.”

The law allows regional provinces to sign oil contracts, without the approval of the federal government (which could only veto a contract). This provision “may open the doors for splitting Iraq into three regions or even maybe three states in the very near future.”

The new foreign-controlled council is the product of the Baker-Hamilton Commission (in fact, this may be the only recommendation the Bush administration adopted). But most Americans will never hear of it; the mainstream media will never report it. The Iraqis, on the other hand, given their history, will most certainly resent the intrusion. Greater violence and instability may ensue but the Bush administration will be able to convince Americans that the insurgency is trying to stifle Iraqi democracy. Maybe he will choke on the irony, maybe not. Either way, he’ll be willing to spill more blood for oil.

— Igor Volsky

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Conservative radio and TV talk show host Sean Hannity has been asking viewers/listeners to send in pictures of Al Gore boarding private planes. To hear Sean Hannity tell it, if Gore flies or drives or burns a fire in a fireplace then he is a hypocrite and An Inconvenient Truth is worthless or dishonest. But Gore’s travel habits, regardless of how lavish they are, don’t negate the dangers of global warming. And to suggest that Gore should cease flying or driving is simply ridiculous; an advocate must spread his message and Hannity’s attacks are thinly veiled political attempts at discrediting the message, by attacking the messenger. (What good would Al Gore do sitting in a cave somewhere worrying about melting glaciers in Greenland?)

I’m hesitant to accept Al Gore as a radical environmentalist. During the Clinton administration Al Gore hit the sheets with the biggest polluters in the industry. Today he seems genuinely dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of global climate change, and this is admirable. People can certainly change and if Al Gore now supports green policy, more power to him.

The campaign season has inspired Fox News to pick up where Sean Hannity left off. Gore may be considering a 2008 Presidential bid and the well-oiled conservative smear machine is working over time to distract voters from the issues and portray or frame Democrats in an unflattering manner. It’s cheap politics and I hate that.

— Igor Volsky

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