The Obama boost…

Amazing news on two key Obama social policies on healthcare and the environment…


US court upholds EPA’s greenhouse gas rules

A US appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever US-proposed rules governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, clearing a path for sweeping regulations affecting vehicles, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Handing a setback to industry and a victory to the Obama administration, the US court of appeals for the district of Columbia unanimously ruled theEnvironmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were “neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

“These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources,” said David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

It’s truly amazing the level of industry sponsored political opposition to the environmental movement and a huge series of legal hoops needed to just set pollution limits. Pollution… bad for your health, surely not!

Health care

A significant ruling by the Supreme Court on health care.

The US supreme court has upheld Barack Obama‘s landmark healthcare reform law, delivering the president a major victory going into November’s election campaign but also setting up a fresh political battle over the legislation’s future.

In an historic, and in some quarters unexpected, ruling, the supreme court upheld the legislation on the grounds that its central provision – the requirement for almost all Americans to buy health insurance known as the individual mandate – is legal because the measure amounts to a tax.

Obama is counting on Americans growing to like the reforms as they kick in and people benefit from a law that extends insurance coverage to 50 million Americans who were priced out of the market and ending a slew of immoral practices that led to people losing their homes to pay medical bills after their insurance was cut off.

There must have been a huge debate about the reasoning to impose the need to buy health care insurance on every citizen, but the result will be the same as in the UK, where essentially all medical care is covered without the need for extra payments. This may even add up to the same amount of outgoings if the UK’s higher tax is taken into account.

Things seem to finally be going in the right direction and it feels good to be able to write a post about these things!


The end of the occupation…?

Finally, we will see an end to the war in Iraq. One of the final moves in the ‘end game’ is for the Iraqi government to block the installation of permanent US bases in the country.

The Pentagon had wanted the bases to help counter growing Iranian influence in the Middle East. Just a few years ago, the US had plans for leaving behind four large bases but, in the face of Iraqi resistance, this plan had to be scaled down this year to a force of 10,000. But even this proved too much for the Iraqis.

Is this really surprising? What do you think almost every US citizen would say when presented with an occupying Russian force, who wanted to leave 10,000 permanent troops, housed within 4 huge bases?

This is not a major victory for Iran at all. This is a victory for the people of Iraq. How on earth do the Americans expect them to independently govern themselves with a continued military presence in the country?

One of the strongest arguments which I heard during the initial years of the conflict and the start of the terrorist/insurgent phase, was that the very presence of the American military occupation was actually causing the insurgency. The insurgency and lack of security was one of the main reasons for the continued military presence, but if this presence was itself causing the violence, should the American military not leave the country?

I lost track of the number of statements and interviews from Al-Qaeda representatives saying their targets were the American soldiers, or they hoped to cause enough carnage to force them out.

My one major concern is still the presence of the Taliban and their affect on the people, particularly on women’s rights and religious extremism. I’m not sure this is something which the US military can actually sort out, much like their ‘war on drugs’, or their ‘war on terror’. Violence breeds violence. Fighting fire with fire creates a larger fire.


USDA food plate…

The Obama Administration and the US Department of Agriculture, have produced a new, all singing, all dancing representation of what people should be eating, and in what proportions.

You could say it’s an overly simplistic representation of what is a very important subject, but it seems very effective, and to be honest, people are in desperate need of the message about nutrition being effectively communicated.

One important area of the graphic is the term ‘protein’, rather than ‘meat’. This is a big step forward and may help to get people to look at nutrition in a different way, without automatically associating protein with meat.

The proportion of food groups is also important, with fruit and vegetables forming 50% of the plate. Grains are another 55%, meaning protein isn’t that dominant. Studies have shown that even a level of 20% protein in the diet, particularly animal-based, has a direct connection with the development of many types of cancer.

The food subsidy issue is also important to consider, with a massive 63% of US food subsidies going to the meat and dairy industry. Fruit and veg get 3%, but are meant to make up 50% of the total plate – does this seem fair?


Bin Laden killing story change…

Politicians wonder why people don’t trust them?


Climate change vs capitalism…

I read an article on climate change and economic growth the other day which really struck a chord with me. It looks at the impossible link between tackling climate change and sustaining economic growth. It also tackles the issues of another impossibility… sustained economic growth.

It a proper essay but it’s well worth a read. Just to preserve the text (as links won’t always get back to the right place over time), i’ve copied the first half to this post! Enjoy…

‘Six weeks from now, in Cancun, Mexico, the world’s nations will gather under the auspices of the United Nations (the UNFCCC) to again discuss how to alleviate climate change. They’ll try to pick up the broken pieces from last December in Copenhagen, where we witnessed tortured dances by government leaders trying to avoid the realities of our time, and the profound conundrums we face as a society. They accomplished nothing, and may reprise that performance in Cancun.

Take the case of President Obama. He generally signals a serious desire to address climate issues, but, like the leaders of all the developed industrial nations, has been caught in a terrible dilemma. He tries to argue for lower emissions limits, both globally and in the US. But he is simultaneously desperate to revive rapid economic growth and stimulate a sluggish industrial economy hampered by rising costs of energy, rapidly diminishing resources and venal bankers.

So, while Obama talked climate change in Copenhagen, he pushed for accelerated growth and consumption, emphasising such climate-deadly industries as private automobile production, new road construction, nuclear power generation, and continued coal extraction (including horrendous “mountain top removal”) while extolling an entirely theoretical “clean coal”. He was also for expanding manufacture of heavy industrial equipment, and for more export-oriented industrial agriculture, as well as “new housing starts”, increased oil drilling in deepwater zones – such as BP’s – and for deadly tar sands development, all in hopes of growth, profit and jobs.

Watching his performance from a distance, we really don’t know if he understands the contradictions in this pattern, how one goal cancels the other, or if he has simply made a “safer” political choice. If so, it’s safer only in the very short run, as the entire economic system, and possibly industrial-consumer society itself, face intrinsic systemic problems, which may not be solvable. Trying to save an old economic model that is near collapse, he may sacrifice the opportunity to mitigate climate change and save the world.

Does Obama know this? If so, wouldn’t it be “safer” politically to tell the truth about it? Some enlightened political leadership would be really helpful right now. But for the moment, the main point is this: in a choice between addressing the stresses of the planet and addressing the stresses of corporate capitalism, President Obama chooses the latter, while undermining the former.

Let’s be fair. Obama is not alone. The leaders of nearly all governments of the world – and their opposition leaders – exhibited similar internal conflict and timidity in Copenhagen. Even those with true desire to cut carbon felt that their priority was to also stimulate economic growth for their own industries, at all costs. Without growth, big businesses die, and so do national economies, and jobs. The whole system is threatened. That’s really all anyone talks about now.

Whether it’s the political left or right, Obama, or Cameron, or Sarkozy, or Putin, or Wen, or Harper or Miliband or Gingrich or Palin, or any political candidate for any office, they’re all talking about the necessity to stimulate growth. The media does, too, whether it’s the Guardian or the Murdoch press, the Financial Times or the New York Times. They all agree on the one thing: growth, growth, growth. That’s the lifeblood of the system. Everyone is hunting the magic elixir to revive rapid growth. How to build and sell more cars? How to increase industrial production, from computers to heavy equipment to industrial agriculture? How to increase exports?

But there’s a missing link in the discussion, ignored by nearly everyone in the mainstream debate: nature. They speak about our economy as if it were a separate entity, its own ever-expanding universe, unconnected to any realities outside itself, not embodied within a larger system from which, actually, it emerged and can’t escape. Nature cannot be left out of the discussion. It may be the most important detail of the entire conversation. Leaving it out of consideration is, well, suicidal. Here’s the point: never-ending growth on a small planet with finite resources is a profound impossibility. It’s an absurdity. A fantasy. It’s time to wake up.

The missing link

Look around you. The clothes you are wearing, the chair you are sitting in, the implements on the stove, the stove, the floor and walls of your room, its carpet, the lights and the switches, the electrical lines in the walls, your mobile phone, the road outside, the car you drive and all its tyres, wires, metals, glass, fabrics, batteries; airplanes, skyscrapers, tanks, missiles, computers … were all once minerals and metals dug up from the earth, then shipped around the world, transformed, assembled, shipped again to a store near you, and sold. Or else they were living beings: trees, plants, animals, fibres, corals that had their own independent existence. Even “synthetics” began as natural elements. Is your shirt made of polyester? Polyester is plastic. Plastic is oil. Oil used to be dinosaurs, trees, plants. All of it is nature. The entire material economy began as part of the earth, buried in the ground, or it grew from it, or it was alive before we transformed it. But it’s disappearing fast.

The whole situation is something new for capitalism, a shock. For two centuries it’s been like a closely guarded secret that the entire economic system we live in, and assumed was forever, is actually part of another larger system, but with only so many resources and dump sites. But the secret is out. We are eating up the materials that sustain us, and the feast is almost over.

During the great heydays of capitalism – the last two centuries of spectacular development and growth – we lived in what the great ecological economist Herman Daly called a “full world” of resources. We thought they were unlimited, some kind of permanent gift to the human race from God, so we could display our stewardship, or something. But it’s not a “full world” any more. Somebody should tell our leaders.

In addition to those climate impacts, we now face rapidly diminishing supplies of cheap oil and other fossil fuels. They call it “peak oil”. This is catastrophic for our system. Cheap fossil fuels were the primary engine that grew our society over the last two centuries. That’s soon over, and there is no combination of sustainable alternative replacements capable of maintaining industrial society at nearly its present level.

Perhaps ultimately even more important is the global scarcity of fresh water. The World Bank already predicts the next world war will be over water. Healthy topsoils are also seriously diminished, as are agricultural lands, converted to other uses, and global food supplies, which are ever more expensive. So are forests and their hundreds of crucial byproducts, as well as biodiversity of every kind, life in the oceans, coral reefs, and key minerals, including coltan (for your mobile phone), lithium, phosphorous, lead, zinc, tin, copper, gold, and hundreds of others. Following two centuries of voracious exploitation of every mineral, metal and biological resource, we will soon be facing what Daly calls an “empty world”.

Watch for the big announcement: THE PARTY IS OVER. Without ever-expanding resources, ever-expanding production and consumption, our economic growth model becomes a relic, instantly obsolete. But so far, no one in leadership roles (with one or two exceptions, as we will see) is admitting to that. If they know it, they’re too scared to say so.

• Jerry Mander is the founder of the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization. His books include Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, In the Absence of the Sacred, and The Case Against the Global Economy (with Edward Goldsmith) and Alternatives to Globalization (with John Cavanagh)


It seems that right now there is an increasingly urgent race to explore and find new sources of fossil fules (notably oil), with the Arctic areas now opening up, ironically due to the shrinking ice cover, due in turn to rising ocean temperatures. As the usage increases, the ice recedes faster and more warming occurs, along with higher sea levels. That’s a loop we’re all going to have to work VERY hard to break, sooner rather than later.

Anyway, the whole growth thing is quite bizarre, given that there is obviously a finite planet within which to grow, using finite resources. At the same time, the human population is increasing exponentially and the demand for those finite resources and space is also increasing. We would literally have to start shifting our population and damand to either the Moon or Mars, for this cycle to be disrupted or slowed.

I was thinking about the only infinite resource which humans have access to right now. That is the energy produced by the sun. Every other resource we have access to is finite. You’ve probably heard the following quote…

‘Enough solar energy falls on the earth’s surface every hour to power the whole of human civilisation for a year.’

Well, it’s the only energy source which can meet human’s demand for energy. It will be there until the sun dies (we’re talking billions of years) and everyone has access to it. Solar panels have now been specifically developed to work well in over-cast conditions. Right now, the only major block is electricity storage. If governments and private industry put as much effort and funding into this area of research, as they do for oil production and exploration, there would be a huge change of direction, affecting everyone on the planet, within maybe a generation.


Middle East peace talks begin…

Possibly the longest running and most harmful conflict since the end of the Second World War. It’s impacts reach around the world and are a beacon of strength for terrorism and mistrust everywhere. A symbol of human weakness and base animal instincts, overriding reason and compassion.

So, Obama steps into the ring and picks up the chalice… A ray of light in a sea of sadness…

During the opening speeches yesterday:

‘The Israeli prime minister then turned to the Palestinian leader and said: “President Abbas, you are my partner in peace.” He added: “We cannot erase the past but it is in our power to change the future.”


Brooker’s invisible mosque…?

The Ground Zero mosque that doesn’t exist! I always love reading Charlie Brooker’s work.

Full text:

‘Things seem awfully heated in America right now; so heated you could probably toast a marshmallow by jabbing it on a stick and holding it toward the Atlantic. Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a “victory mosque” slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.

The planned “ultra-mosque” will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin’s call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for “victory” is.

I’m exaggerating. But I’m only exaggerating a tad more than some of the professional exaggerators who initially raised objections to the “Ground Zero mosque“. They keep calling it the “Ground Zero mosque”, incidentally, because it’s a catchy title that paints a powerful image – specifically, the image of a mosque at Ground Zero.

When I heard about it – in passing, in a soundbite – I figured it was a US example of the sort of inanely confrontational fantasy scheme Anjem Choudary might issue a press release about if he fancied winding up the tabloids for the 900th time this year. I was wrong. The “Ground Zero mosque” is a genuine proposal, but it’s slightly less provocative than its critics’ nickname makes it sound. For one thing, it’s not at Ground Zero. Also, it isn’t a mosque.

Wait, it gets duller. It’s not being built by extremists either. Cordoba House, as it’s known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It’ll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.

To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you’d have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you’re heading an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.

Perhaps spatial reality functions differently on the other side of the Atlantic, but here in London, something that is “two minutes’ walk and round a corner” from something else isn’t actually “in” the same place at all. I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen’s pillow. That’s how “distance” works in Britain. It’s also how distance works in America, of course, but some people are currently pretending it doesn’t, for daft political ends.

New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald’s and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven’t produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.

That’s literally all I’d ask them in an interview. I’d stand there pointing at a map of the city. Would it be offensive here? What about here? Or how about way over there? And when they finally picked a suitable spot, I’d ask them to draw it on the map, sketching out roughly how big it should be, and how many windows it’s allowed to have. Then I’d hand them a colour swatch and ask them to decide on a colour for the lobby carpet. And the conversation would continue in this vein until everyone in the room was in tears. Myself included.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, 70% of Americans are opposed to the “Ground Zero mosque”, doubtless in many cases because they’ve been led to believe it literally is a mosque at Ground Zero. And if not . . . well, it must be something significant. Otherwise why would all these pundits be so angry about it? And why would anyone in the media listen to them with a straight face?

According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t. A quarter of those who believe he’s a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much. Americans aren’t dumb. Clearly these particular Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled. Where are they getting their information?

Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media. Which means it’s time for the media to give up.

Seriously, broadcasters, journalists: just give up now. Because either you’re making things worse, or no one’s paying attention anyway. May as well knock back a few Jagermeisters, unplug the autocue, and just sit there dumbly repeating whichever reality-warping meme the far right wants to go viral this week. What’s that? Obama is Gargamel and he’s killing all the Smurfs? Sod it. Whatever. Roll titles.