Saturday, January 31, 2009

Letter to President Obama -- Subject: Torture

MSU College of Law: Catherine M. Grosso and Sister Dianna Ortiz,a torture survivor, Issue Letter to President Obama Regarding Torture, LANSING, Mich.

To President Obama regarding torture, from MSU College of Law Professor Catherine M. Grosso and Sister Dianna Ortiz,

The Obama administration has declared that the Geneva conventions apply to the war on terror, that torture is illegal, and that the military commissions violate our basic tenants of fair process. In the euphoria over succeeding in these areas that recently required such vigilance, we must not lose track of the scope and depth of the damage caused by the violations.

When it comes to torture, the greatest risk alights on ordinary people all over the world who come face to face with an interrogator. U.S. policy chipped away at the very notion of an international ban on torture. U.S. rhetoric eroded the belief that civilized nations do not torture. U.S. practice undermined the nascent restraint that might have existed in some interrogation cells in some corners of the world.

We must focus today on how to restore the global understanding that only outlaws, thugs, and renegades torture. The immediate risk is that a "forward looking" administration will shy from the task at hand. It is important to fix the offensive laws. Likewise, an investigation is important. The truth is powerful and we must be ready to hear, to own, and to document the grave breaches of human dignity that have been perpetrated in the name of the war on terror. But repaired laws and an investigation cannot remedy the harm that has been done to customary international law and, more importantly, to the safety of detainees all over the world.

The United States, as a member of the world community, must say loudly and clearly that this discourse was wrong and that those who advanced it stood outside of our laws and our values. We must work to ensure certain prosecutions are squarely on the table as a possible response to the findings of any investigation.

Enough is known by now to suggest that senior officials violated U.S. law. The only question now is whether the president will do what under law, he is required to do. We, as a modern democracy, show that people have transgressed our laws by prosecuting them in court. Our Constitution and our criminal laws require that we do nothing less. Our history holds the stories of similar violations by senior administrators and the ensuing prosecutions.

An independent criminal investigation is how we get from accusations to evidence. It is time to start this investigation, and to follow the evidence honestly and in good faith. Does the Obama administration believe in one law for all citizens or are the powerful exempt from that principle?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Antarctic Warming

In recent decades, rapid warming of the western edge of the Antarctic Peninsula has seen plants moving in to colonize the area and Adélie penguins moving out. Some, including "skeptics" have argued that the warming — which has been disproportionate to that seen in most parts of the world — was a localized phenomenon, and that the bulk of the continent's interior was actually cooling. It isn't. In a new study just published in the January 29th issue of Nature, Eric Steig and his colleagues compared 26 years of temperature measurements from the NOAA AVHRR satellite sensor, with simultaneous weather station measurements, and found a gradual, decades-long warming trend.

The image above, taken from NASA's Earth Observatory, and based on the analysis of weather station and satellite data, shows the continent-wide warming trend from 1957 through 2006. Dark red over West Antarctica reflects that the region warmed most per decade. Most of the rest of the continent is orange, indicating a smaller warming trend, or white, where no change was observed.

Steig's results (on the right) are similar to those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (on the left).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

These things are true

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, January 20, 2009

Bush Leaves Office

Americans are prone to be generous and forgiving -- inclined to pull for the underdog. We see this now as George W. Bush leaves office. There are those who object to the criticisms leveled at the former president, and defend his record despite clear evidence of malfeasance and his historically low public approval ratings. Others contend that we should cease rehashing the past and move on to confront the daunting challenges that lay before us.

The Tri-City Herald (McClatchy), allowing the former president to speak for himself, published the full text of his farewell address to the nation without editorial comment (Sunday, January 18, 2009). The former president in outlining what he sees as his accomplishments and in defending his record told us, “I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind… and followed my conscious.” Perhaps we can take him at his word, but it would be an egregious mistake to sugar coat, excuse, or pass over his record in office over the last eight years, whatever his motivation.

One of our nation’s great historians, Pulitzer Prize winning author, David C. McCullough, tells us that, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Whether or not we, as a nation, hold Bush and others in his administration legally accountable for abuses, misconduct, and criminality as some demand, surely we must as a people ensure that history hold him morally accountable. We must learn from our mistakes, for without doubt these are perilous times, and we must reaffirm who we are to ourselves and to the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bush's Midnight Regulations

The online news organization ProPublica has been tracking last-minute rules and regulations that George W. Bush has been pushing through the rulemaking process in the Administration's waning days. Termed "Midnight Regulations," these are typically changes that if allowed to proceed through a normal rule-making process with time for public comment, would raise significant concern, if not outright revolt.

The rule changes range from weakening the Endangered Species Act to amending procedures for releasing documents under the Freedom of Information Act. A new National Parks rule allowing loaded guns and concealed weapons into some national parks went into effect January 9th. Another rule out of Health and Human Services establishes that federally funded health institutions will allow employees to refuse to provide services that they find "morally reprehensible or "at odds with their religious principles." The rule could well limit a woman's access to federally funded reproductive health services.

The Administration has so far submitted 60 rules and hopes to see them finalized before President-elect Obama takes office.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Coming in 2009 -- Increasing World Energy Demand

Total world consumption of marketed energy is projected to increase by 50 percent from 2005 to 2030.

Coal will continue to dominate as the fuel of choice for electricity generation over the next two decades.

The recent increase in concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the result of human activities, mainly the burning of fossil fuels. As the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased, so has the average surface temperature of the earth.

Coming in 2009 -- Continued Warming

An iceberg melts off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland, July 19, 2007

A new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey, indicates that the United States faces the potential for abrupt climate change in the 21st century that could pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt. "Abrupt" changes can occur over decades or less, persist for decades more, and cause substantial disruptions to human and natural systems. Among its findings, the report concludes that:
• rapid and sustained arctic sea ice loss is likely
• an abrupt change in sea level is possible
• the SW United States may be beginning an abrupt period of increased drought
• the pace of methane emissions, a very powerful greenhouse gas, will increase, further hastening warming

Lake Mead lakebed near Las Vegas. The reservoir is down 50% or more since 2000.