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Failure to solve the climate crisis probably means plunging civilization into a new dark age -- but humanity has survived dark ages before. According to Bill McKibben, the Holocene era of stable climate is already over -- but before the dawn of civilization, humanity lived through several drastic changes in climate. There's no reason why anyone would want to return to either of those conditions, but what if the alternative is even worse? It's very difficult to tell whether that might be the case, because the alternative is plunging deep into the unknown.

What I'm talking about here is the accelerating rate of technological progress, which gives us our only real hope of averting global climate catastrophe. The problem, as I've mentioned, is that we're trying to slow and stabilize other accelerating processes, which is such a mammoth task that it essentially requires setting up new exponential-growth curves (such as the rate of renewable-energy installation) that might well carry their own ill-considered risks. To paraphrase the NRA, “the only thing that can stop a bad exponential curve is a good exponential curve” -- but is there really any such thing?

Paul Krafel certainly believes there is. His movie The Upward Spiral is actually named for the concept of a good exponential curve, one that creates ever-growing amounts of life and possibility. But Paul's upward spirals are very distributed and grassroots, starting by sharing small local solutions with as many people as possible and hoping they will eventually add up. Apart from tree-planting movements, though, the bulk of the progress we've made toward climate solutions so far has come thanks to megacorporations like GE and Vestas, which can act much faster to deploy solutions at a global scale, and can be motivated by equally centralized policy shifts like the renewable energy production tax credit. In an era of increasing and fully justified alarm about the limited time remaining to avert a collapse, the latter approach seems likely to continue to dominate our response. (Even the accelerating trend toward solar rooftops, which challenges the business model of centralized electric utilities, is driven by the relatively few companies that actually manufacture the solar panels. If those companies hadn't succeeded (with the help of a few big government research institutes) in making photovoltaics so cheap, they would still be a tiny niche market.)

And it's not only the unknown consequences of these panicked high-speed deployments of green technology that worries me. Even on an alternate Earth where the Industrial Revolution was based on non-polluting technology from the start, we would still face another terrifying unknown: what happens when technological progress accelerates to the point where mere human brains can no longer keep up?

It used to be typical to refer to this problem as “future shock,” based on the famous book by Alvin Toffler. These days it's gotten attached to the Technological Singularity concept, and hence to the various sci-fi scenarios where superhuman AIs take over the world. But I'd like to point out that we needn't postulate the development of strong AI to make accelerating progress scary. Consider this quote from the webcomic The Spiders by Patrick Farley:

“Unfortunately the biotechnology which created this virus is only getting more user-friendly. In 10 years it'll be possible for a small community of assholes with fast modems and a shared grudge to wipe out the entire human race.

“And this won't be a problem for the next 10 years, but the next ten thousand. Grok this fact, and then we can discuss ethics, Lieutenant.”

Considering the growing power of various potentially destructive technologies, and the depths of fanatical extremism that humans are capable of, and the difficulty of policing a world of billions to ensure that world-destroying plots are never brought to fruition, you have to wonder whether it would actually be less harmful in the long run to let civilization crash.

Then again, you also have to wonder whether it’s reasonable to base present-day policy decisions on a theoretical future in which some technology that can wipe out the human race could be secretly developed and deployed by a tiny terrorist group. “Comic-book politics” is the term that comes to mind here. That’s why I ultimately decided not to classify this entry as part of my “personal psychology of despair” series. Am I anxious about the dangers of overly rapid change? Yes. Does that alone constitute a reason for despair? No. If it did, I don’t think I could get up in the morning and go to work in the software industry, which changes faster than anything in human history.

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"The real unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, without anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future."

- Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

This blog entry is not for the faint of heart. I was seriously worried that I wouldn't have the heart to finish writing it, given how much there is to say and how most of it is intensely depressing. But If I don't put it on a (web)page, it will just stay stuck in my head. So:

From the perspective of a radical anti-war activist, every American citizen is drenched in the blood of the countless multitudes of innocent foreigners who have been tortured, mutilated, and/or slaughtered in the name of "keeping us safe." From the perspective of the U.S. military, including its Commander in Chief, those victims are just "collateral damage" and should be left out of our considerations entirely, because they are an inevitable consequence of necessary defense projects. This ideological stalemate has held for decades without either side giving an inch; in fact, the government's militancy has increased quite substantially since 9/11, and this trend shows no real sign of slowing down under President Obama.

Needless to say, my sympathies lie mainly with the anti-war activists, but it took the killing of two American citizens in Yemen with no due process to force me to start considering the real horrors of the current war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If it weren't for that precedent, which potentially puts anyone who opposes our government's military policies in the crosshairs, I probably never would have read all the way through the Atlantic articles "'Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones': The Strikes' Effect on Life in Pakistan" and "Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama," both by Conor Friedersdorf, who asks the basic question of how can anyone support, in good conscience, any leader who perpetrates and perpetuates this kind of madness.

For a while before I read those articles, I'd had a ready answer gleaned from a humor piece about the Occupy movement by Colin McEnroe: "Obama doesn't have my support. Just my vote." Part of my argument for that answer came from the above observation about the decades-long period of national-security dogmatism we currently live in, which prevents any American leader from changing course and therefore, in theory, makes the question of who wins the presidential election totally irrelevant to the Pakistani victims. Whether I vote or not won't change anything for them, so why not leave them out of my voting decision entirely?

The answer, according to Dennis Loo, a columnist even more radical than Mr. Friedersdorf, is that if we want to be moral, we should withdraw our support entirely from a system this evil, thus beginning the path to delegitimizing and dismantling it. Mr. Friedersdorf and Mr. Loo agree that a vote for either major presidential candidate is a statement of support for that candidate's actions, even those the other major party's candidate would agree with. The only way to save the values of our democracy that are being trampled by our increasing obsession with security, Mr. Loo argues, is not to participate in our democracy.

My first reaction to this claim is to cry "Sacrilege!" I've always believed that voting is a sacred duty, upholding the ideal of self-government. But when we're given so few choices, and such bad ones, it does begin to look like that form of faith is a little too naïve. So I would probably decide to skip over the presidential section on my ballot when it arrives in the mail next week -- if the wars were the only major issue in this election. On some of the other issues, particularly women's rights and of course the environment, I view Obama as by far the lesser evil.

Mr. Loo has anticipated this objection, and in fact his article's subtitle is "An Examination of Obama's Domestic Policies." Using extremely harsh rhetoric, he lists several cases where President Obama's actions have been at odds with progressive values on issues including abortion and the climate crisis, frequently connecting back to the issue of war crimes which is the main focus of his organization, World Can't Wait. For example, in the section "The Oppression of Women and Gay Rights," he focuses on Obama's censorship of photos showing rape and sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib. On climate, he quotes another radical columnist, Rob Urie, who claims that Obama is clearly planning to complete the Keystone XL pipeline next year; if so, well-known climate scientists James Hansen claims, it would be "game over for the climate."

Mr. Urie's theory may be undermined by the massive grassroots mobilization against Keystone XL, in which Dr. Hansen participated (see link above), and which has already had some impact on President Obama's decision-making. And Dr. Hansen's extreme statement, if taken in isolation, makes little sense given that Keystone XL would merely add one more pipe to an already existing network of tar-sands oil pipelines. The real argument behind that claim is that committing to buy more tar-sands oil means declaring ourselves "hopeless fossil-fuel addicts," but President Obama's other actions on climate don't match the hopeless-addict profile. They include the $90 billion for clean energy in his 2009 stimulus package, his recently-finalized major increase in fuel efficiency requirements for cars, and, less impressively, the still-in-process EPA carbon dioxide regulations that would apply to the few new coal-fired power plants still being built in America. Discouragingly, the EPA "has no plans to pursue regulations for existing power plants," but that doesn't mean it won't ever happen.

Republicans, on the other hand, have been attacking new and existing EPA regulations vociferously since they took control of the House of Representatives. It's no secret that they'd defund the whole agency if they had the chance, and Romney seems highly likely to give them that chance. I'm a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which has used Clean Air Act lawsuits (focused on pollutants other than carbon dioxide) as an important tool in scheduling over a hundred coal-fired power plants for early retirement, and they're doing it again with the huge plant in Colstrip, Montana that supplies over 30% of my electricity. If Romney is elected President, those lawsuits could have the law they're based on ripped right out from under them.

So here's my answer to Conor Friedersdorf's question: I may be able to support President Obama despite his war crimes, because he's currently our best hope for making progress as a nation toward solving a vastly more serious humanitarian crisis. By one well-researched estimate, the climate crisis already causes five million deaths per year, a number projected to grow to six million (a.k.a. "one Nazi Holocaust per year") by 2030. For comparison, the maximum estimate for all deaths from U.S. drone strikes is just over three thousand, and almost all known drone strikes occurred in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas region of Pakistan, whose population is 3 million, which I'd call a reasonable upper limit on the number of people being traumatized due to constantly circling drones.

Except that reasonable is, of course, the wrong word to describe any of these horrors. Among the three thousand reported dead are one hundred seventy-six children, and a national-security policy that murders children and calls it "collateral damage" is obviously morally untenable (regardless of whether the U.S. military makes good on commitments to massively reduce its fossil-fuel use). So the question is, do I vote to continue to legitimize that policy for the sake of preventing even greater harm, or will that make it impossible to live with myself?

(If it weren't for my pledge to ignore all political ads, my decision would already be made, thanks to a recent pro-coal ad approved by President Obama that cynically tries to out-Romney Romney, while asking viewers to forget about Obama's climate rhetoric and the significant progress toward phasing out fossil fuels that I noted above.)
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They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

- Benjamin Franklin

Central to civilized law is the notion that a person cannot be held without a charge and cannot be detained indefinitely without a trial. These principles date back to Greco-Roman times, were developed by English common law beginning in 1215 with the Magna Carta, and were universalized by the Enlightenment in the century before the American Constitution and Bill of Rights were fought for and adopted as the supreme law of the land.

For more than two centuries of constitutional development since then, the United States has been heralded as the light to the world precisely because of the liberties it enshrined in its Declaration of Independence and Constitution as inalienable. It now seems as if the events of 9/11 have been determined to be of such a threatening magnitude that our national leaders feel justified to abrogate in their entirety the very inalienable principles upon which our Republic was founded.

- Jim Garrison, "Obama's most fateful decision," The Huffington Post December 12, 2011

“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued in Hawaii, where he is on vacation. “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” . . .

The president, for example, said that he would never authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens, because “doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”

- Mark Landler, "After Struggle on Detainees, Obama Signs Defense Bill," The New York Times December 31, 2011

What are the natural limits to freedom? )

Now, what if the U.S. government believes that an American citizen is planning a deadly terrorist attack? If the evidence of this was lawfully obtained and is reasonably solid, the police have every right to arrest him, charge him with a crime, and put him on trial. This allows the man to go free if the government made a mistake; his freedom will only be limited for a short period, unless he's found guilty of a plot to commit mass murder, using public evidence and arguments. But let's say the government doesn't think it can build its case before a jury, maybe because the evidence was obtained using an unconstitutional warrantless search, or because it involves classified information and revealing that information would somehow compromise national security. So it decides to classify the man as an "enemy combatant" and have the military lock him up indefinitely.

On the one hand, if the man is guilty, limiting his freedom seems better than letting him go free, allowing the attack to go forward, and eliminating the freedom of the people who end up dead as a result. But on the other hand, from the perspective of the public at large, it looks like the government may have made an unfounded accusation against an innocent man, and imprisoned him for life for no good reason. Maybe he was a prominent critic of the government whose criticism was becoming inconvenient, or maybe some government official just had had some private grievance against him.

So unless the government can stomach having a public trial, or find some other option that prevents the attack without violating anyone's civil liberties, we will be faced with an apparent failure of the central principles that make this a "free country." The fact is that indefinite detention without trial means we have no way to know whether the government is saving us from terrorism or turning into a fascist regime--or both. That's why we must fight hard to restore our basic rights--because otherwise, we'll never again be able to trust the people who are supposedly "defending our freedom."
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Link to my original post on the topic

[profile] lxpk  recently convinced me to watch Zeitgeist, a web movie chock-full of conspiracy theories. It spends quite a bit of time on the big theory currently in vogue, that the 9/11 attacks were a "false-flag" operation by our own government, but the movie has an interesting way of describing it: apparently, the conspiracy was so ineptly executed that it should be obvious to anyone who looks, to the extent that several of the supposed hijackers are still alive! (Obvious explanation: the hijackers stole other people's identities.)

Anyway, this style of theorizing continues through the more interesting part of the movie, which describes "the men behind the curtain" not as secretive Masons or Illuminati but as people who are actually right out in the open, ruthlessly seeking power under the accepted rules of capitalism. Specifically, influential banking families supposedly created the Federal Reserve and pushed American into the three major wars of the Twentieth Century (counting Vietnam), both to increase their profits and to build their influence.  The film predicts that this will eventually lead to a tyrannical world plutocracy with continuous surveillance of everybody, using RFID chips which are even now being implanted in people's arms (that last fact is in no dispute, as the linked Forbes article shows).

If this story or something like it is accurate, one might reasonably assume that the perpetrators, "wolves" if you will, are heartless villains with no sense of compassion. But I'd like to suggest that this isn't the case. The "wolves" are ordinary human beings following the imperatives of small-group loyalty that have served our species for millions of years; it's just that they don't know when to stop. There's a reason that business families like the Morgans and the Rockefellers are so cohesive: it's them against the world, just as if they were a tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Stone Age, but on a vastly larger scale of power.

In this version of the metaphor, the "sheepdogs" are the relatively crazy people who think we can establish large-group dynamics, such as democracy or true Communism, where the people stand up and tell the leaders what we want, and the leaders listen. As the bumper sticker says, "If the people lead, the leaders will follow." We really have no idea how to make this work, because most of the "sheep" are too involved in their own lives and local communities to care much about global, national, or even state-level politics. But perhaps, thanks to the global store of news and information now available at the touch of a button to anyone with an Internet connection, we will see that start to change.

Even if we're not in time to prevent the world plutocracy, though, I honestly don't believe it can last long in times like these. As I observed in this post, rapid change will not be kind to organizations that try to set up any kind of New World Order. There are any number of forces that could bring down such a world government, including global warming, hackers, internecine warfare among the ruling families--and yes, terrorism.
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The standard progressive story is that terrorists are desperate people who live under oppressive regimes with starkly limited economic opportunities and, unable to strike at their own governments, are pushed instead by unscrupulous leaders to blame the West for their problems. The standard conservative riposte is that many terrorists have middle-class living standards, so why would they be desperate? (Yet both sides basically agree that more democracy would help.)

Still, what if the conservatives have a point? After all, it's not only the terrorists who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for a cause. Maybe they have core beliefs in the superiority of Islam every bit as strong as a good American soldier's belief in the superiority of democracy.* Or, if you don't like the comparison of "cowardly" suicide bombers to our brave servicemen and women, we can consider what terrorists actually are: covert operatives, agents battling in the shadows to try to reshape the world, somewhat as the CIA has done by inciting revolutions and toppling governments.

Of course, it's easy to argue that a typical American soldier or CIA operative doesn't expect to die in the line of duty, though s/he may be prepared to do so (and if religious, s/he probably believes that s/he will go to Heaven in that event). So maybe suicide bombers really are just desperate, for whatever reason--but there are other kinds of terrorists. There are those who merely plan the operations, and those who launch missiles or plant roadside bombs.

So in the shadow war that we hope is being won by our counterterrorism agents around the globe, both sides have similar outlooks--it's just that we view our ideology, with some justification, as better than theirs. They think the world would be better off united under Islam; we believe democracy is best for everyone, because it serves as a meta-ideology, a framework that allows each of us to choose what kind of beliefs we want to follow.

* During a get-out-the-vote drive, I once talked on the phone with a veteran who told me that he was only "fighting for the guy next to me." But my guess is that he was drafted, and of course we don't have any draftees at the moment (knock on wood). And while you could turn the argument around and claim that most of our current soldiers are desperate poor people too, could the same be said of the highly educated covert operatives who "volunteered" for the CIA?
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America is not a country built for war. We sometimes do well at it because of our large size and advanced technical abilities, but mostly we are a different kind of strong. Our primary strengths are our prosperity and a system of government that gives the people a voice. We may not have the highest overall quality of life in the world, or the most effective democracy (in particular, partisan politics can often paralyze our government), but we are the biggest of the First-World nations and the largest economy, so we stand out. We also produce more self-promotional media than anyone else.

Among Second-through-Fifth-World populations, then, there are two main factions. There are those who like what they see and want to join us. We can fight them off as necessary by arresting illegal immigrants and building border fences, but also through foreign policy aimed at raising other countries’ standards of living toward Western levels (preferably using high-efficiency technologies that don’t put too much extra burden on the world’s natural resources).

Then there are those who want to bring us down to their level. Their motivations may be simple jealousy, outrage triggered by the harmful effects of economic globalization or American foreign policy, or religious condemnation of our sinful hedonistic lifestyles. Currently, this faction doesn’t include any entire nations that have the power to strike us directly and get away with it, though growth in Islamic populations and Chinese bellicosity may change that in the future.

For now, we can fight those with the both the desire and the power to hurt us—in short, the terrorists—through covert offense and military and police defense. (We can also try invading whole countries that harbor terrorists, but we’ve already seen that that strategy doesn’t really help.) We can also fight the terrorists by redoubling our efforts to get more people to join the like-what-they-see faction, rather than throwing their lives away for a basically lost cause. (Demographics may someday beat us, but scattered individual attacks, however dramatic, can never bring down the United States.)

The advantage of the military/police/intelligence approach is that it’s more likely to be effective in the short term, but the problem is that it will never make any progress toward eliminating the threat; we can’t prevent every attack, and for every terrorist cell we eliminate, two more will pop up. The advantage of the propaganda approach is that it’s far cheaper in both money and lives, and may in time lead to real reductions in the number of terrorists we face. Needless to say, the answer is to do both.

A specific, though unintended propaganda victory for Western values that's already well underway is the rise of Islamic feminism. The linked article is partly a scathing critique of modern American feminism, but observes that in the Muslim world, "a feminist reformation could be as dangerous to the dreams of the jihadists as any military assault by the West."
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Look, it's true: an American withdrawal from Iraq will be seen as "retreat and defeat" by anti-American fundamentalists and will embolden them. But you know what else emboldens the terrorists? How about the fact that much of our military, including half of the National Guard, is holed up in Iraq, embroiled in a civil war and being gradually picked off by insurgents, and the amount that's been spent on this war would probably buy enough solar panels to equal the energy value of Iraq's entire oil output?

Personally, I'd say that if there was ever a time to attack us on our own soil, it would be now. It seems that we have so few standing troops left here that the military has been forced to send soldiers with major injuries and illnesses to support the so-called surge! So it seems to me that our government has four options.
  1. Institute a draft, thus dooming whichever party proposes it to at least a few decades out of public favor.

  2. Improve the disinformation campaign aimed at fooling the world into believing that both our homeland security and the Iraq war are going swimmingly.

  3. Ignore reality and proceed to invade Iran without consulting Congress, while still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  4. "Give up" on Iraq and refocus on Islamic fundamentalists whose main target is actually us, rather than each other.

As a 22-year-old male with no ailments other than low muscle mass, slight scoliosis, and oddly bent knees, I know which option I'd pick.
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I freely admit that I still haven't done much of a literature review, but one possibility I won't accept on the climate-change front is that global warming is just a sensational myth. There is no vast left-wing conspiracy capable of spinning a global scientific consensus out of thin air. At least some of those scientists must be smart, reasonable people who would know a nonviable theory if they saw one. And if the politics of science were really insane enough to force those people to support a nonviable theory, at the same time that the most powerful government on Earth is trying to get them to oppose it, I think we would still be muddling our way out of the Renaissance.

Some people think climatologists are crazy because they also claim that melting polar ice could be the harbinger of a new Little Ice Age. In fact this is not a contradiction, and it's easy to see why. One effect of the melting of the northern ice cap is that fresh meltwater will find its way into the north end of the Gulf Stream, just off the southern tip of Greenland, disrupting the global cycle of ocean currents that carries heat north and south from the tropics. Thus a Little Ice Age may be an eventual effect of melting, but global warming is still a likely candidate for the present-day cause. In any event, it would be nice to stop that melting if we can.

To those who claim that human actions still can't change the course of nature on a global scale, I would point out that we have already, indisputably, done so. To pick the most obvious example, farm fields now cover an area larger than South America. And vegetation patterns influence many other aspects of the global environment, including the atmosphere. As technology grows more powerful, we may be able to maintain the stability of the climate even if we aren't the ones who disrupted it. See this post for some ideas on how to do that.

And the standard preventive action against human-caused global warming, switching to renewable energy sources, is a good idea for at least four other reasons:
  1. We could stop the flow of our money into the hands of Middle-Eastern regimes that support terrorism.

  2. Shifting away from oil now would also give us a head start on adapting to the depletion of oil reserves that we know is coming.

  3. Phasing out coal-fired power plants would reduce or eliminate many coal-related lung diseases.

  4. Giving a boost to new technologies and industries is a great way to reinvigorate the middle class.
And for those who claim that it would result in an economic Apocalypse instead, I would ask whether they really think they know enough to decide which of the two catastrophes is worse, or more likely. If you don't trust the scientists to figure it out, you'll have to explain why, and why you think you're better qualified than they are.
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Francis W. Porretto is a "classical liberal" who apparently believes that all of the scientists who promote action on global warming are people with a juvenile mentality who are perpetuating a complete myth. Yet in his very next post, Porretto wrote down these quite moderate "Commandments Of Beneficial Conservatism":
  1. No one is as smart or knowledgeable as he needs to be.

  2. That goes for you too, hero, so show a little respect.

  3. Other people are not mere means to your ends.

  4. Other people's opinions and tastes do not require your approval.

  5. No one owes you one damned thing just because you're alive; the converse is also true.

  6. Things are the way they are for a reason. You're expected to learn the reason before you open your yap to complain about them.

  7. If the reason is still sound, don't monkey with the works.

  8. If the reason has become unsound, or has been superseded by developments, it's still wise to make changes slowly, and with full attention to the consequences.

  9. Many things, once done, cannot be undone. About these, be supremely cautious.

  10. Admit your mistakes and make good on them; to do less is to be less than a man.
Only number 5 shows a clear streak of rugged-individualist ideology; the rest are principles many progressives could embrace (as long as we could change the word "man" to "wo/man" or "adult" or something...)

Just think: if we could have somehow instilled these principles in corporate leaders, they might not have been so quick to saturate the global market with potentially dangerous products such as genetically modified foods, chemicals with no known antidote, or even cell phones. (Call me paranoid if you want, but the fact is that it's still too early to tell for certain.)

And if politicians in Washington took rules 6-10 to heart, for instance, they might not have been so quick to radically weaken the rights of terrorism suspects for the sake of an election-year political ploy. They might never have made the irreversible decision to legitimize preventive warfare by invading Iraq (or failing that, at least they might have planned better for the likely outcomes). In this alternate timeline we might even be halfway through the shift to sustainable energy sources by now. Yes, change needs to be cautious, but whatever your views on global warming, it's been quite clear for several years that our oil dependence was a mistake that contributed to terrorism. Let's not perpetuate that mistake any longer than necessary.
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You've heard of the Nuclear Doomsday Clock? Well, twelve days ago, the American Fascism Clock was brought forward to about three seconds to midnight. And I haven't posted about it until now.

My only excuse is that I'm still in shock. I ask myself, what could possibly have been the motive behind Congress's insane willingness, in the name of "fighting terrorism," to unblinkingly vote into law a piece of legislation that:
  • allows the President to unilaterally broaden the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" and narrow the meaning of "illegal torture" as much as he likes?

  • allows the government to hold terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial?

  • denies such suspects the right to challenge their detention (the writ of Habeas Corpus)?

  • also denies such suspects any right to see the evidence used against them?

  • legalizes closed-door tribunals where evidence obtained under "treatment formerly defined as torture" is admissible?*

  • retroactively forgives any government officials who performed previously criminal acts that this bill will legalize?

  • preemptively prohibits any judicial review of this law?**
And yet the Military Commissions Act of 2006 does all of these things, probably even to US citizens (please correct me if I'm wrong), and thanks to the convenient sex scandal that erupted at around the same time, practically nobody has even noticed.

Update, 2/24/2007: Here's what you can do about it.

*Even though such evidence would consist mainly of whatever the detainee in question thinks his/her interrogators want to hear. This is especially true of an actual hardened terrorist, who probably knows how to make interrogators believe that he/she has been broken, without actually giving them any useful information.

**Although my dad says this part is unlikely to hold up in court...
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No, they're not environment-related as far as I can tell, but I'll think of a connection eventually. After all, as a wannabe ecologist, I know that there are connections everywhere.

Which is actually the point of my first thought, which is for people who like paranoia. Personally I think paranoia sucks, but every once in a while I give in and let a bit of it through my guard.

How's this for an idea: The "telescreens" from George Orwell's novel 1984 were actually invented and can be found in a majority of American households, but you don't notice them because you're looking in the wrong place. As a character named Mr. Universe observed in the movie Serenity: "Can't stop the signal, Mal. Everything goes somewhere, and I go everywhere." Well, guess where everything goes these days, including this post! That's right, the Internet. So your computer is probably watching you. Sound argument against buying a webcam? Maybe, but then again, you have to remember: Paranoia sucks.

Second, unrelated thought (or is it?): According to an article I'm currently reading (who needs to finish news articles anyway?), Israel "believes it can neutralize Lebanon's Hizbollah militia militarily." Well, I'm no tactics expert, but come on, people: they're terrorists! Mobility is their middle name! Maybe it looks like it'll be easy, but that's just because when they decide their work is done, most of them will be withdrawing into the shadows. The minute you wipe out their current presence, they'll hit you from somewhere else. Israel ought to be the expert on this stuff by now, so I'm sure they know something I don't, but still. If this keeps up, I don't think I'll be trusting Birthright Israel's claims of safety much longer.

(Update, 8/8/06: My cousin just returned from a Birthright Israel trip, where she had to hide in a hotel's bomb shelter when one of Hezbollah's bomb attacks came close to hitting it.)

Oh, and here's a bonus thought, also on the subject of mistrust (What can you do? Politics is like that.) It looks like us progressives can't trust Senator Barack Obama anymore, since he apparently voted for the Oman Free Trade Agreement, which, among many other problems, is going to be bad for the environment. There, you see? I connected it. One down, two to go.

First post

Mar. 21st, 2004 06:20 pm
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The fight to save the environment must take precedence over battles against terror and tyranny as well as poverty and inequity. Here’s why:

Millions, if not billions of people currently face the serious threat of death from starvation, disease, or war. At the moment, starvation is largely a problem of the poor nations, whose populations increase regardless, and does not threaten the entire human species. Also, as yet even the most virulent diseases can be contained using quarantine, unless they are used in large-scale warfare.

Terrorists have yet to obtain anywhere near enough weapons-grade viruses to pose such a threat. They also have yet to obtain even one nuclear device; it takes at least dozens, possibly hundreds of mushroom clouds to produce nuclear winter and/or deadly global fallout levels.

So, barring improbable celestial events, there are only two main threats to the existence of the human race: global war between nations, and biosphere collapse. This site deals with the latter.

Because the species we use as food are dependent on so many other species, biosphere collapse will make starvation a truly universal problem; if it significantly affects algae populations as well as forests, it will eventually threaten even our air supply. An elite may manage to keep power stations running and use them to produce oxygen and nutrients chemically, but at present there is little hope for the vast majority of humankind if biosphere collapse occurs.

There are a variety of views on the current situation and the necessary counteractions:

1. The root problem is overproduction, i.e. overuse of natural resources. The expansion of production under capitalism must be slowed to a halt. For example, see the film Advertising and the End of the World by Sut Jhally.

2. The fantastic power of technology got us into this mess; it can get us out, if we apply it in the right ways before it's too late. For example, see Rachel Carson's famous book, Silent Spring, and the end of Arthur Clarke and Stephen Baxter's novel, The Light of Other Days.

3. We may not be able to undo the damage we've done, but a large-scale artificial replacement for the biosphere is possible, one that could support at least a sizeable fraction of the current human population. For example, see Stanley Schmidt's novel, Lifeboat Earth.

4. Biosphere collapse is already underway, and the only way to prevent a mass extinction is to dismantle civilization and return to the Stone Age. For example, see

(originally posted May 24, 2003)

March 2015

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