Saturday, December 19, 2009

Short Takes: Copenhagen, Health Care, and Afghanistan--Friday Journal

In the days ahead, look for more about Holiday Films, Reviews, and the Awards Derbies...Also: Favorite Books of the Year...nostalgic, humorous sketches on old relatives and animals missed this time of year (gone but not forgotten)....and one way Mark and I are reinventing ourselves, at the Wellness Center (a topic, for all of the time it occupies, I have never written about!)

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First, as I look out on the light and steady snow, COP15, the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, is coming to a close.  To some of us old-movie lovers, "Wonderful Copenhagen" is still a tune sung by Danny Kaye in a Hollywood musical about Hans Christian Andersen, writer of fairy tales.  Unfortunately, many folks still regard the science of climate change as just a fairy tale.  Our media do not cover this issue nearly enough.  I wish the Conference were covered on major networks 24/7; and that there had been an Opening Ceremonies...a Halftime Show...a Red other words, I wish Science were accorded the same hoopla, and attention, as our distractions.

I fear that compromise, and halfhearted "victory", may once again be the order of the day....  But there are lots of meetings to come next year, by scientists and technologists.... this issue is ready to meet progress...

Has this conference begun to produce the desired outcomes?  There have been lofty speeches, given  between tedious discussions about procedures, and drafts of agreements, and just what is being agreed upon.  Disagreements over a "global agreement" or a "political agreement", or whether a document will be produced to further the work begun with the Kyoto Protocol (due to "expire" by 2012) had put the results of the talks in question. 

The latest news appears to be that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton dramatically interrupted a "secret negotiation" by Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian leaders, and that an agreement was eventually reached, but one that was seriously compromised, with no goal for a binding international treaty by 2010 as hoped,  and no real targets for greenhoue gas-emisson controls by industrialized countries.  Developing countries were upset that they were "left out" of the negotiations, and European nations were unhappy because they alone have the world's binding carbon-control policies in place

The upside is that the issue has gained an international profile, and "the accord provides a system for monitoring and reporting progress toward those national pollution-reduction goals, a compromise on an issue over which China bargained hard... calls for hundreds of billions of dollars to flow from wealthy nations to ... countries most vulnerable to a changing climate. And it sets a goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius..." ( or arounf 3 degrees F., a number that African countries believe is still disastrously high)   (NY Times)  

(I wonder how many scientists attended, if any...still researching...)

For a quick glimpse into the conference and its main issues, check out this article in the Arizona Daily Sun.  In it, journalists David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin from the Washington Post, offer a readable summary about the purpose of the conference, what the protesters were protesting, what the main  issues were, and the debate over the science of rising temperatures.

An interesting parallel story is that of James Hansen, NASA's leading climate scientist who has studied this for 30-odd years, and who himself has been arested in non-violent protests against environmental issues.  Hansen was positioning himself to become the "Howard Dean" of the Copenhagen talks, by stating:  "....any agreement that may emerge from the talks that are being held in the Danish capital likely to be so "fundamentally wrong" that it would be better if those seeking to address the problem of climate change and/or global warming took a year out to "figure out a better path".  (Dean made a similar threat to stall health-care discussions in favor of a better plan).

NPR recently interviewed writer and scientist Mark Bowen, whose book, "Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global  Warming",  describes Hansen's going public with the Bush Administration's cover-up of global warming sceintific evidence.  Hansen does not believe most of the world leaders, including our own, truly understand the problem. 

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Health-care reform is still in the haggling stage.  If ever there was an argument for living a healthy life and preventing or reducing illness, the frightening process we've witnessed in the Capitol to extend insurance coverage to all Americans, and ensure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, might just be it.

A blogging friend, Torq,  is passionate about this issue.  He and I fundamentally agree on the importance of passing a bill, although we disagree on how compromised the bill ought to be....(I think less so than my friend)...and who is to blame if a bill is not passed..(he would blame liberals for stalling the process now, I would implicate those who have fought irrationally for its demise the whole time, and used untruths to stir up fears and appeal to the weak or the ignorant.)

Here's from my comment to a recent post on his journal page...

"If the new bill really does provide the access it says it does, at an affordable cost, then I am for that.
Given the way the bill has evolved, and the compromises I'm hearing now, I don't trust that this will be the case if the bill is passed, not in any significant way.
I am losing confidence in the possible outcomes, because many in Congress are so well supported by the health and pharmaceutical industries, that there would seem to be little incentive to effect real competition to keep premiums down.
As I understand it, people will be mandated to buy insurance (a boon to private insurance providers), or be fined...with few choices for affordable care....I just don't see how it represents meaningful change....
I want to remain optimistic... my instincts tell me to fight a little that we don't allow millions more into a broken system...."

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Afghanistan---is still on my mind....but not so much in the news these past few days... 
I have thought a lot about last Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview, with Mr. Obama talking to Steve Kroft about, among other things, the soon-to-be-increased  troop levels in Afghanistan.  
(click here for a transcript).
Mr. Obama seemed more confrontive than I had ever seen him, holding Kroft in an unblinking gaze like a double-dare.  Mr. Obama gave indirect answers, speaking instead about benchmarks for success and the best interests of American security, without elaboration.  When Kroft asked him how the goals would be accomplished in a "country" that is a collection of tribes under a corrupt leadership, the response from our President was, chuckling, "This is hard".

Again, I want to support an honest effort.  Yet I have been learning about how we got there in the first place. I found a very interesting article in a blog called RealityZone, and I am questioning my assumptions and attitudes.  I read this article just hours before I heard the 60 Minutes interview, with passages like the one below.    Re-Invention, in my case, means continuing to read check open my eyes....

The following was published in Counter Punch, written by By Richard W. Behan, 9/9/09.

"It is a war....undertaken for the geopolitical control of the immense hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian Basin: Afghanistan, lying directly between those resources and the world’s richest markets, uniquely offers pipeline routes of incalculable value.
By 1996 the Bridas Corporation of Argentina had a lock on the routes. With signed pipeline contracts from both General Dostum of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban, Bridas controlled the Caspian play.
To the Unocal Corporation of the U.S. (and subsequently to the Bush Administration) that was intolerable. To contest Bridas’ success, Unocal hired a number of consultants: Henry Kissinger, Hamid Karzai, Richard Armitage, and Zalmay Khalilzad. Armitage would later serve George W. Bush as Deputy Secretary of State, and Khalilzad would become a prominent diplomat. Both were enthusiastic members of the “PNAC,” the Project for a New American Century, a far-right group......" 

..."In the late ‘90’s Unocal hosted Taliban leaders at its headquarters in Texas and in Washington D.C., seeking to have the Bridas contract voided. The Taliban refused. Finally, on February 12, 1998, Mr. John J. Maresca, a Vice President of Unocal, testified to the House Committee on International Relations. He asked to have the Taliban removed from power in Afghanistan, and for a “stable government” to be installed in its place...."

"...The Clinton Administration, having rejected a month earlier the PNAC request to invade Iraq, was not any more interested in overthrowing the Taliban: President Clinton understood and chose to abide by the United Nations Charter. In August of 1998, however, Clinton launched a few cruise missiles into Afghanistan, retaliating for al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And he signed an Executive Order prohibiting further trade negotiations with the Taliban...."

"...Frantic to avoid the retaliatory bombing, the Taliban offered the surrender of Osama bin Laden.
As the details of the handover were being worked out, however, the stalemated election of 2000 was awarded to George W. Bush. The surrender of Osama bin Laden would be handled by the incoming Administration.

"...But the new Administration demurred. In letter to the Taliban the Bush White House asked to postpone the handover of bin Laden until February; the Administration was still “settling in.” Kabir Mohabbat, however, was retained as a consultant to the National Security Council.

Unocal's fortunes then improved dramatically. In direct repudiation of Clinton’s Executive Order, the Bush Administration itself resumed pipeline negotiations with the Taliban in February of 2001. (At one meeting, a Taliban official presented President Bush with an expensive Afghan carpet.)"

But the Bush Administration meant to prevail, by force if necessary. As early as March 15, 2001, when Jane’s, the British international security journal disclosed the fact, the Administration was engaged in a “concerted front against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime.” Confirming the Administration’s intended violence, George Arney of BBC News wrote a story published September 18, 2001: “U.S. Planned Attack on Taliban.” In mid-July of 2001 a “senior American official” told Mr. Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary that “...military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by the middle of October.”
."...Finally, on August 2 of 2001, the last pipeline negotiation with the Taliban ended with a terse statement by Christina Rocca of the State Department: “Accept our offer of a carpet of gold or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.” Shortly afterward, President Bush informed India and Pakistan the U.S. would launch a military mission into Afghanistan “before the end of October.”

This was five weeks before the events of 9/11..."


  1. A fascinating read, Tom! Thanks for sharing. In all of your articles I see a common thread that binds them all together: Greed, power, ignorance and corruption. It's unfortunate, but this seems to be the standard operating procedure in the world these days. All I can say is that my expectations from these talks and negotiations is extremely low because I don't believe that the people and the environment are truly anyone's principal priority. Any outcome derived from these talks will likely be only a futile band aid-type solution.

    Behan's article from Counter Punch was riveting. The more people that know the details leading up 9/11, the better we can understand our failings and try to avoid them in the future. The story reminds us of the ignorance and self-serving attitudes of those in power. I know we don't need another excuse for holding GW in contempt, but here's another one just the same. Powerful.

  2. Tom....

    I struggled with this post, and wound up writing much more than I intended for a "Short Takes", so thanks for hanging in there.

    I have found some amazing articles in my research, and it would be easy for me to hold on to frustration and anger with the things I am discovering.

    The journal helps me formulate opinion in a constructive way. Finding the humor in the absurdity of our circumstances, which is one of your best attributes, has helped me regain my perspective.