Sunday, August 26, 2007

In Response To The Democratic Party Politicians: Afghanistan The Good War??

If the US were to wipe out the Taliban completely, capture bin Laden, destroy all terrorist camps, would the US then withdraw from Afghanistan?

"Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time", according to John Kerry in 2004. That still is the mantra of the Democratic Party politicians, and major sectors of the antiwar movement as well. On August 20th 2007 the New York Times called for escalation of the "good war". That represents the consensus of the Democratic Party. Should progressives believe the Afghanistan war is a good war and Iraq is not?

Alan Woods writes; "US imperialism is behaving, not like a bull in a china shop but like an elephant in a china shop. Afghanistan is in a complete a mess and as a result Pakistan finds itself in a major crisis, which we have covered in articles on our website. There was the lawyers' crisis, then there was the Red Mosque crisis, etc. It is clear that Musharraf is hanging by a thread and they are preparing for Bhutto's return to Pakistan. Important developments are on the order of the day and our comrades are in a good position to take advantage of them.

The war in Afghanistan drags on and Western casualties are mounting. The US plan to rely on air power in Afghanistan in order to avoid American casualties has failed. Instead the bombing has caused heavy civilian casualties Afghan aid groups estimate that foreign and Afghan forces killed 230 civilians in the first six months of 2007-as many as in the whole of last year. Since the start of 2006, some 6,000 people are believed to have died, perhaps 1,500 of them civilians.

Most are caused by America's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which is separate from the NATO-led stabilization mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This is the Pentagon's version of the gentle art of winning friends and influencing people.

British-led troops are fighting on the ground in Helmand province, advancing along the Sangin valley in the hope of reopening the road to the Kajaki dam, to allow the refurbishment of its hydroelectric plant. But they are taking a lot of casualties in a war they cannot win.

The Taliban avoid head-on battles and are now resorting to more suicide attacks and roadside blasts. These "asymmetrical" (i.e. guerrilla) tactics are very effective and are used even in Kabul. A suicide-bombing on June 17th killed 22 police-academy instructors and 13 bystanders. A similar attack almost killed Dick Cheney.

The former ISAF commander, the British general, David Richards, is said to have warned colleagues in London this month that NATO was making "the best of a bad job"; it was short of troops and had to compensate with heavy firepower. This means even more civilian casualties.

However, they cannot get more soldiers. If anything, allies could start to drop out. Some, such as Britain, Denmark and Poland are increasing their forces. But others are not keen to lose more lives. The Germans are present but their troops are confined to the north (where there is little or no fighting) and are forbidden to leave barracks at night. The Afghan mission is unpopular in Germany, and almost brought down the Italian government in February. The Netherlands are also shaky and will decide in August whether to extend its operation in Uruzgan after 2008. And Sarkozy has said he would also like to leave ISAF though officials say no such move is imminent.

The Taliban, by contrast, have plenty of money, men and arms, financed by the Afghan poppy crop. The opium economy and the insurgency are mutually reinforcing; drugs finance the Taliban, while the fighting encourages poppy cultivation, especially in Helmand, which is set to harvest another record crop this year, producing more opium (and from it heroin and other illegal drugs) than the rest of Afghanistan put together.

The drugs business is highly profitable, earning some $320 billion annually. The opium trade is worth about $3.1 billion (less than a quarter of this is earned by farmers), the equivalent of about a third of Afghanistan's total economy. The Afghan opium trade is worth around $60 billion at street prices in consuming countries- and is out of control. Afghanistan last year produced the equivalent of 6,100 tons of opium, about 92% of the world total. At least the Taliban exercised some control, now there is none. These days Taliban commanders and drug smugglers are one and the same.

Some of the biggest drug barons are reputedly members of the national and provincial governments, even figures close to Hamid Karzai. The Economist (28/6/07) wrote: "The whole chain of government that is supposed to impose the rule of law, from the ministry of interior to ordinary policemen, has been subverted. Poorly paid policemen are bribed to facilitate the trade. Some pay their superiors to get particularly ‘lucrative' jobs like border control."

In addition Afghanistan is another buffer against Iran, and a route to the oil rich Caspian Sea region.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chavez Proposes Changes to Venezuela’s Constitution to Pave Way for Socialism

By: Kiraz Janicke –

Caracas, August 17, 2007 ( – On August 15, the third anniversary of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s victory in the recall referendum of 2004, and the 202nd anniversary of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar’s famous oath of Monte Sacro, where he swore not to rest “until the chains of oppression are lifted from my people,” tens of thousands of Venezuelans turned out to an extraordinary session of National Assembly to hear the president’s proposed constitutional reform.

Recounting the experiences and achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution over the last eight years, including the Constituent Assembly and referendum of 1999, which founded the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the opposition military coup on April 11th, 2002 and its “victorious defeat” on April 13th and the oil industry lockout which nearly crippled the Venezuelan economy in early 2003, Chavez confessed, “I am emotional today, because I believe this proposal will open doors to a new era.”

The 1999 constitution was “ambiguous” he said “a product of that moment. The world is very different today than 1999.” The new constitutional reforms are “essential for continuing the process of revolutionary transition,” he assured.

New Geometry of Power,
Outlining his far-reaching proposal for transforming the Venezuelan state, Chavez called for “a new geometry of power.” Key to this is an amendment to article 16 in the constitution, which states; “The national territory is divided into states, the Capital District, federal dependencies and federal territories. The territory is organized in Municipalities” to be replaced by; “The territorial political division will be determined by the organic law that guarantees municipal autonomy and political decentralization.”

Declaring that, “regionalism, is dogma, that impedes change, [and] we can not accept situations that create Caudillos,” he said the new law would allow for the creation, through popular referendum, of “federal districts” in specific areas, which could then be categorized as states and assigned all or part of the respective territory.

This proposal, he maintained, is “profoundly revolutionary,” and necessary “to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony, the old society, and, in the words of Gramsci, to weaken the old “historic block.” “If we don’t change the superstructure, the old superstructure will defeat us,” he continued.

The proposal also allows municipalities, “with the acceptance of the people within the municipality,” to create territory or land in common, which would be under the direct government of the community and, according to Chavez, would constitute “the basic nucleus of the socialist state.”

Chavez also said unions or federations of self-governing communes, could be created through popular referendum, through the communal councils, and aggregations of communal councils.

Additionally, through the incorporation of the social missions into the constitution, “functional districts,” could be also be created by one or more municipalities, where the social missions would function as alternative administrations to the traditional bureaucratic institutions.

Chavez declared it was necessary to re-order the country in view of increasing population growth, saying, “one day Venezuela will have 40-50 million people.”

In light of this, he argued it was also necessary to “restructure Caracas,” in terms of urban development, construction of roads, environmental recuperation and measures to achieve the optimal levels of public and personal security, strengthen systems of health, education, sport and culture, as well as the formation of small and medium satellite cities.

Another key aspect of the “new geometry of power” would be the ability of the president to declare special military zones in any part of the country with the strategic aim of defense, and decree special authorities in situations of contingency such as natural disasters.

Popular Power
In addition to the previously existing “public powers” recognized in the constitution such as the judiciary, legislative, executive and so on, Chavez also called for the incorporation of “popular power” into article 70, saying there was a need to decentralize and transfer power to the organized communities to create the best conditions for socialist democracy.

Article 70, Chavez assured, would also “reaffirm means of participation and protagonism of the people in direct exercise of their sovereignty for the construction of socialism,” through election to public positions, referendums, popular consultation, recall of elected officials (including the president), constitutional legislative initiatives, and open assemblies.

“Sovereignty rests with the people,” Chavez continued, “and should be exercised directly through the organs of popular power.” According to Chavez, popular power would be expressed through “the organized communities,” in various forms such as the communes, self-government of the towns and cities, the communal councils, workers councils, campesino councils, student councils, and others councils indicated in the law.

Political Sphere
In a move vehemently opposed by Venezuelan opposition parties, Chavez also proposed an amendment to article 203, which would allow for unlimited presidential re-elections, (countries such as France, Australia, Germany, and England allow for unlimited reelection), a move the opposition claims would lead to ‘dictatorship’. The proposed change would also extend presidential terms from six to seven years.

According Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez, the opposition campaign against unlimited reelections is not out of concern for ‘democracy’, given that they supported a military coup against Chavez’s democratically elected government in 2002, but rather a tacit recognition of their inability to compete with Chavez in the electoral sphere.

However, as with all other aspects of the constitutional reform, which are required to be ratified through a popular referendum, Chavez affirmed that “reelection is the sovereign decision of the constituent people of Venezuela.”

Social and Cultural Rights
Chavez also called for the revision of article 100, to recognize Venezuela as a product of a diverse historical confluence of cultures and recommended the implementation of programs to promote equality for indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent. Additionally, proposed alterations to article 87 (which relates to social rights and rights of the family), would guarantee the right to work and promote the development of policies to generate productive employment. The state would also create a Social Stability Fund for ‘non-dependent’ or self employed workers such as taxi drivers, fishermen, and artisans, among others, to guarantee them the same fundamental rights as other workers such as retirement pensions, paid vacations and prenatal and postnatal leave entitlements.

The proposal calls for the constitution to promote a diverse and independent mixed economy to guarantee the social necessities of the people. While article 115 would continue to recognize and guarantee different forms of property, including private property, it would promote the development of social production and social property including direct/communal social property and indirect/state managed social property.

Chavez also called for the promotion and self-management of communal property, communal micro-financing organizations, cooperatives of communal property (which he distinguished from capitalist cooperatives) communal savings banks, networks of free associated producers, voluntary work, and community businesses as mechanisms toward the implementation of a new social system.

While monopolies would be banned under article 102, the following modification of article 302 would guarantee state control over the oil industry, closing off any potential loophole that would allow privatization of this resource; “The State reserves, for reasons of sovereignty, development and the national interest, the activity of exploitation of liquid, solid, and gaseous hydrocarbons as well as the exploitation of goods and services of public interest and strategic character.”

Other key changes in the economic sphere include the removal of “any vestige of autonomy” for the Central Bank of Venezuela and the elimination of the Macroeconomic Stabilization Fund under articles 318 and 321. Chavez has previously described the autonomy of the BCV as “a neoliberal idea.”

Chavez also plans to modify article 90 of the constitution to reduce the workday from eight hours to six, saying, the objective is that workers have sufficient time for integral and moral development of their personality, for participation, education, spiritual and recreational pursuits.

The reduction of the workday, he argued, would oblige businesses to open new shifts and therefore increase levels of permanent and productive employment, allowing time for volunteer work and contribute to the reduction of the informal economy and unemployment currently at 8 per cent.

Redefining the Military

Chavez also proposed a redefinition of the role of the military through a modification of article 328, which currently states “The National Armed Forces constitute an essentially professional institution, politically unaligned, organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation.”

This would be replaced by, “The Bolivarian Armed Forces constitute an essentially patriotic, popular and anti-imperialist body organized by the state to guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the nation” and the “application of principles of integral military defense and popular resistance war”

Declaring that “the old structure of the Reserves had many legal, structural and financial limitations,” Chavez proposed the amendment of article 329 to transform the Reserves into the Popular Bolivarian Militia constituted as the fifth official component of the Bolivarian Armed Forces, alongside the Bolivarian Army, the Bolivarian Navy, the Bolivarian Air Force, and the Bolivarian Territorial Guard (currently the National Guard). The role of the Territorial Guard would be integrated with other components of the armed forces. “The said bodies would be structured in combined garrison units, combined training units and combined units for joint operations,” signifying the “fusion” of the Armed Forces, he explained.

Summarizing his proposal as follows, “In the political terrain, the deepening of popular Bolivarian democracy; in the economy, the preparation for the best conditions for the construction of a socialist production model; in the field of public administration; incorporation of new structures to leave behind bureaucracy; in social matters, to increase the rights of workers in all imaginable spheres, and in the cultural the inclusion of our peoples of indigenous and African descent, the deepening of our anti-imperialist and patriotic consciousness,” Chavez called for a “grand debate in all areas of society.”

“Some pollsters try to manipulate public opinion, formulating questions such as “do you support democracy or socialism?” “But the people aren’t stupid. Only through socialism can you construct true democracy,” added Chavez.

The proposed constitutional reform, which aims to change 33 articles, or approximately 10% of the 1999 constitution, is set to be debated in three extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly over the next two-three months before going to a popular referendum.RENEGADE EYE

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Argentina: Hotel Bauen's Workers Without Bosses Face Eviction

Written by Marie Trigona
Wednesday, 15 August 2007
ImageArgentina’s worker occupied factory movement is rallying across the country for a national expropriation law in the face of eviction orders and legal uncertainty. At the forefront of the worker recuperated enterprise movement is the BAUEN Hotel, just one of the 180 worker-run businesses up and running in Argentina.

After four years of successful worker management, a federal court issued a 30 day eviction notice to the workers of the hotel on July 20. If the workers do not successfully block the eviction order legally or through political actions the hotel could be lost and 154 workers out of a job.

A network of worker run factories and worker organizations are mobilizing not only against the possible eviction of the cooperative from the BAUEN Hotel, but also for a long-term legal solution for the 10,000 workers currently employed at Argentina’s recovered factories and businesses. At worker assemblies and rallies, hundreds of workers without bosses are using the slogan: si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos! (if they touch one of us, they touch all of us!)

Working without bosses

Recent Bauen Press Conference
After the hotel’s 2001 closure, on March 21, 2003 the workers decided to take over the hotel to safeguard their livelihood and defend their jobs. Since 2003, workers have operated the BAUEN cooperative hotel, a 20 story building in the very heart of Buenos Aires. The BAUEN cooperative, like many of the recuperated enterprises was forced to start up production without any legal backing whatsoever.

Just a week before the eviction notice was delivered workers could be heard in the comedor (cafeteria) talking about how to improve services for hotel guests. Over a lunch of roast beef and potatoes, reception workers discussed strategies for checking hotel guests in quickly to avoid back ups at the front desk during their busiest time of year, winter vacation in Buenos Aires.. These aren’t hotel managers strategizing how to make employees improve services in order to get a promotion. They are simply rank and file workers taking pride in their jobs and working to improve services for the benefit of the entire cooperative. Such conversations are common in the break room, an informal space where the workers can discuss administrative and personal issues that need to be resolved. Since the eviction notice, there was a dramatic shift in what is being discussed in the break room. Workers are now talking about how to defend their jobs and hotel by keeping services up and running, while focusing energy on the political fight to prevent the cooperative from being evicted from the hotel.

ImageAt a time when Argentina is just recovering from its 2001 economic crisis, during which thousands of factories closed down and millions of jobs were lost, the recuperated enterprises have created jobs. Gabriel Quevedo, president of the BAUEN cooperative says that the workers created jobs when investors and industrialists were fleeing the country. “The workers took on responsibility when the country was in full crisis and unemployment over 20 percent, where workers couldn’t find work. The workers formed a cooperative and created jobs, when no one believed that it was possible.”

Along with the other worker-run recuperated enterprises throughout Argentina, the BAUEN Hotel has redefined the basis of production and management: without workers, bosses are unable to run a business; without bosses, workers can do it better. This is the message of Pino Solanas, world renowned filmmaker. “BAUEN is a symbol of resistance and an example of creativity in society. At the BAUEN they have invented a way of managing a business successfully. This proves that a non-capitalist form of management is viable, in a society that has been in crisis.”



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Victor's 1959 Cafe

A not very subtle backdoor, to a Cuba discussion.


I invite you to come to my little piece of Havana in Minneapolis. My father was a chef and he taught me everything he knew about good, simple, authentic Cuban cooking. It is my pleasure to share these foods with you in a relaxed, casual and festive environment.


Need an event catered Cuban style?

¡No problema! Whatever the occasion, we will work with you to customize a menu to best meet your needs. And, if you like, we will be happy to assist in the coordination of other details to help make your event muy especiál.


Breakfast and lunch, 6 days a week.
Tuesday thru Saturday 7:00am - 2:30pm
Sunday 8:00am - 2:00pm
Closed Monday

Breakfast and lunch, 6 days a week.
Tuesday thru Saturday 7:00am - 2:30pm
Sunday 8:00am - 2:00pm
Closed Monday

Dinner, Tuesday thru Saturday.
4:30pm - 9:00pm

3756 Grand Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN


Wednesday, August 08, 2007


The rules for The Dinner Party Game:

1) You can only invite four people. The can be living or dead, from any time in history.

2) All previous games don't count anymore. I've played with different rules before, as the party can only be bloggers.

I'll start

Marlon Brando

Astor Piazzolla

Pablo Picasso

Leon Trotsky


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Prime Minister Gordon Brown – the man with different toothpaste

The Beatroot is a blogger from London now living in Warsaw.

Bush did his best to love the new British prime minister when they met this week, as much as he loved Our Tony. But will there be a change of policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur….?

George W. Bush once remarked that he and Tony Blair shared many things in common – “We share the same toothpaste”, said Bush, giggling like the overgrown frat boy he is.

Aside from the question: Was Bush insinuating that he and Tony had…you know…woken up together after falling asleep over the diplomatic pillow talk? –it was true Blair was good for Bush, they had a rapport.

Tony was able to articulate a policy of international intervention. Blair had had the practice – he was one of the biggest influences on Clinton bombing Serbia over Kosovo, just as he was an influence on Clinton’s bombing of Sudan in 1998. Monika Lewinski was the other.

When Bush came to power he just wanted to forget all that international, peace making, nation building stuff – having to know the name of the president of Pakistan was just too boring.

And then the world – or the Islamo-lunatic part of it – came to America on 9/11. After that, Bush had no choice but to get his school boy atlas out – “Where the hell is Pakistan, anyway?”

So Blair could tell him all about that stuff. How it was right and proper to, you know, do the ‘right thing’, which meant, in practice, smashing up national sovereignty and, ‘you know, bombing people to liberate them…’.

Blair was the bleeding hearted liberal wing of the neocons. A lib-con.

Different toothpaste, same old shit?

But what of our Gordon? Bush gave Brown lavish praise (not reciprocated), but said, after the meeting with the new British PM after a pow-wow at Camp David, that he and the Scot, ‘Didn’t use the same toothpaste’.

What could this mean? Was this code for an ideological split between the US and UK? Was the ‘special relationship’ not so special anymore? Is Brown so different from Blair?

For those of you in America who might not have a clue who this Gordon Brown is, he was the finance minister for Blair’s government ever since the ‘New Labour’ (read Clinton’s New Democrats) came to power in 1997. He has been a supporter of all that Blair has done on the international stage – including the Balkans, the ‘war on terror’, Iraq, Afghanistan…

But many in Britain – certainly many in the ‘Old Labour’ wing (a sad, isolated rump) of the New Labour party, hoped that Brown was secretly a traditionalist – not a socialist, but at least closer to the left wing roots of the party, the trade unions, the radicals, than Tony Blair – who always despised the old Labour, socialist past. He just wanted to win elections. Tony just wanted to be a Labour version of Margaret Thatcher.

Darfur, Iraq

Brown supported the Iraq war, but he is certainly in more of a hurry to get the hell out of there than Blair was. Brown has hinted that he wants to start pulling out troops at the end of this year (not that it will change the perception of the British people, or the Iraqis, about the ruin that they will leave behind). This is not too good for Bush, as he knows that the Democrats at home are thinking like Gordon Brown – they want the boys home, too (after, like Brown, supporting the invasion and occupation in the first place).

So will Brown take the British government away from Blair’s interventionist stance? Nope, nope, nope.

.In a speech at the United Nations after he left Bush, and his toothpaste, back at Camp David, Brown said this:

"Today is decision day for the United Nations to send an African Union and United Nations force of 20,000, to call on the government of Sudan for a ceasefire…Following my meeting with President Bush, the UK and the French have now, with US support, agreed and tabled a UN Security Council resolution that will mandate the deployment of the world's largest peacekeeping operation to protect the citizens of Darfur. And I hope this plan will be adopted later today.
"Immediately we will work hard to deploy this force quickly. And the plan for Darfur from now on is to achieve a ceasefire, including an end to aerial bombings of civilians, drive forward peace talks starting in Tanzania this weekend, and, as peace is established, offer to and begin to invest in recovery and reconstruction."

And what has the new British PM to say about Iran?

"On Iran, we're in agreement that sanctions are working and the next stage we are ready to move towards is to toughen the sanctions with a further U.N. resolution," [Brown told a joint news conference with Bush at Camp David].

So once again we are about to go down the same old roads. Sanctions in the belief that this will weaken the will of Tehran – and further militarism to solve civil wars.

Brown is also going to push Bush on seeming to be more onside about climate change and Kyoto, and he will want Bush to pay more attention to Israel/Palestine and the two (well, one and a half) state ‘solution’.

But don’t you lefties over that side of the pond get too excited that Brown is going to be anything too different from Blair. He ain’t. He might want to see a Democrat in the White House, and he might use different toothpaste to George, but both US and UK will still be working hard to ‘sort out’ Africa and the Middle East. The new interventionist imperialists don’t need to use the same toothpaste.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Minneapolis Bridge: Sorrow then Anger

Nick Coleman is a second generation journalist, who writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and is heard locally on Air America Radio.

Nick Coleman: Public anger will follow our sorrow

The cloud of dust above the Mississippi that rose after the Interstate
35W bridge collapsed Wednesday evening has dissipated. But there are
other dark clouds still hanging over Minneapolis and Minnesota.

By Nick Coleman, Star Tribune

Last update: August 02, 2007 ? 11:33 AM
The cloud of dust above the Mississippi that rose after the Interstate
35W bridge collapsed Wednesday evening has dissipated. But there are
other dark clouds still hanging over Minneapolis and Minnesota.

The fear of falling is a primal one, along with the fear of being
trapped or of drowning.

Minneapolis suffered a perfect storm of nightmares Wednesday evening,
as anyone who couldn't sleep last night can tell you. Including the
parents who clench their jaws and tighten their hands on the wheel
every time they drive a carload of strapped-in kids across a steep
chasm or a rushing river. Don't panic, you tell yourself. The people
in charge of this know what they are doing. They make sure that the
bridges stay standing. And if there were a problem, they would tell
us. Wouldn't they?

What if they didn't?

The death bridge was "structurally deficient," we now learn, and had a
rating of just 50 percent, the threshold for replacement. But no one
appears to have erred on the side of public safety. The errors were
all the other way.

Would you drive your kids or let your spouse drive over a bridge that
had a sign saying, "CAUTION: Fifty-Percent Bridge Ahead"?

No, you wouldn't. But there wasn't any warning on the Half Chance
Bridge. There was nothing that told you that you might be sitting in
your over-heated car, bumper to bumper, on a hot summer day, thinking
of dinner with your wife or of going to see the Twins game or taking
your kids for a walk to Dairy Queen later when, in a rumble and a
roar, the world you knew would pancake into the river.

There isn't any bigger metaphor for a society in trouble then a bridge
falling, its concrete lanes pointing brokenly at the sky, its crumpled
cars pointing down at the deep waters where people disappeared.

Only this isn't a metaphor.

The focus at the moment is on the lives lost and injured and the
heroic efforts of rescuers and first-responders - good Samaritans and
uniformed public servants. Minnesotans can be proud of themselves, and
of their emergency workers who answered the call. But when you have a
tragedy on this scale, it isn't just concrete and steel that has
failed us.

So far, we are told that it wasn't terrorists or tornados that brought
the bridge down. But those assurances are not reassuring.

They are troubling.

If it wasn't an act of God or the hand of hate, and it proves not to
be just a lousy accident - a girder mistakenly cut, a train that hit a
support - then we are left to conclude that it was worse than any of
those things, because it was more mundane and more insidious: This
death and destruction was the result of incompetence or indifference.

In a word, it was avoidable.

That means it should never have happened. And that means that public
anger will follow our sorrow as sure as night descended on the

For half a dozen years, the motto of state government and particularly
that of Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been No New Taxes. It's been popular
with a lot of voters and it has mostly prevailed. So much so that
Pawlenty vetoed a 5-cent gas tax increase - the first in 20 years -
last spring and millions were lost that might have gone to road
repair. And yes, it would have fallen even if the gas tax had gone
through, because we are years behind a dangerous curve when it comes
to the replacement of infrastructure that everyone but wingnuts in
coonskin caps agree is one of the basic duties of government.

I'm not just pointing fingers at Pawlenty. The outrage here is not
partisan. It is general.

Both political parties have tried to govern on the cheap, and both
have dithered and dallied and spent public wealth on stadiums while
scrimping on the basics.

How ironic is it that tonight's scheduled groundbreaking for a new
Twins ballpark has been postponed? Even the stadium barkers realize it
is in poor taste to celebrate the spending of half a billion on
ballparks when your bridges are falling down. Perhaps this is a sign
of shame. If so, it is welcome. Shame is overdue.

At the federal level, the parsimony is worse, and so is the
negligence. A trillion spent in Iraq, while schools crumble, there
aren't enough cops on the street and bridges decay while our leaders
cross their fingers and ignore the rising chances of disaster.

And now, one has fallen, to our great sorrow, and people died losing a
gamble they didn't even know they had taken. They believed someone was
guarding the bridge.

We need a new slogan and we needed it yesterday:

"No More Collapses."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Will You Be Blogging 200 Years From Now?

I was invited to attend a meeting of the Minnesota Futurist Society. I met the leader Hank Lederer, a retired computer scientist. He is an advocate for nanotechnology for over 20 years. As an advocate of scientific optimism, these are some of his predictions. Each futurist meeting is by topic, organized as week one may be war and peace issues, week two business predictions, week three new technology etc. They are not partisan as a principle. I think they view all politicians as a species. I actually don't know how this post will viewed. This is taken from The Rake.

The World According to Hank Our favorite futurist predicts...
Eric Dregni and Jonathan Dregni

Implantable Cell Phones
By about 2020, Lederer predicts, there will be a range of cell phones in use, depending on what people feel comfortable with. One might be a big screen that can unfold; another would be integrated into a pair of glasses, and would project information onto the retina. But the most popular models, he believes, will be implanted under the skin of their users. He is certain of people’s willingness to merge body and phone: “They already have it hooked behind their ear, why not just implant it?” Furthermore, call screening will become intuitive: “The answering machine in there will be so smart that it’ll know when you don’t want to talk to someone. It’ll seem like telepathy.” Another feature of this future cell phone: Since it’s implanted, you won’t talk into it; instead, people will learn how to “subvocalize.” So instead of walking down the street, talking and gesturing at nothing, users of this invisible cell phone will merely gesture at nothing—unless they also learn to “subgesture.”

Supercomputers Render Human Brain Obsolete
“We’re not even in the Model-T era of computers,” says Lederer. “In order to make computers a million times more powerful, they have to be much, much smaller.”

Once we get to that point, though, in about 2025, “computers will mimic the brain’s architecture. This is a big deal, because then you can have robotic assembly systems” that will effectively take over the last remnants of manufacturing currently done by humans. That development also could portend the rise of real-life HAL 9000s.

“Hyperintelligent computers are going to change the world more than anything that has ever changed the world in the history of man. The only thing that man has going that other animals don’t have is the human brain. Other animals can smell better, can fly, can hear better than we do. But the computer is going to have a much better brain than we do. Computers will start thinking for themselves. Once one computer knows something, all the others can know it instantly. We’ll have no idea what the computers are doing or thinking, and they won’t be able to explain to us—it’ll be like explaining the law of supply and demand to a chipmunk.” So maybe the only way to beat the computers is to become one with them. As Lederer puts it, “If you want to live life in the fast lane, you’ll have to upgrade your brain with computers. And if you want to live in the really fast lane in outer space, you’ll have to dump your intellect into a computer.”

Smart Glass
Over the next quarter-century, glass is going to up its IQ considerably. Dust-repelling glass is already on the market, but, says Lederer, smarter glass would be self-cleaning as well: “You could write on it with a felt pen and in ten minutes it’d be clean.” Extra-smart glass “repels or retains heat or light when you want it to. It will let sunlight through in the winter but keep it out in the summer.” And by 2020 “we’ll have glass powered with electricity,” Lederer predicts. “If someone goes by your house with a boom box, a smart-glass window will cancel out that sound” using the same technology as the noise-canceling headphones that are currently available. This ultra-smart glass will have some give, so it won’t kill birds that fly into it, or crack if hit by a baseball. Finally, by 2030 or so, picture windows could provide most any kind of view desired. “If you want the ocean to look at, or a forest, it’ll change. You can have a sunset that’ll change colors as you walk by it. Or it can turn into a TV screen.” The ultimate window, in Lederer’s view, is smart enough to act as a wall or a door, depending on one’s wishes.

Dirty Viruses and Genetic Warfare
Here is the flip side of those wealthy people chasing everlasting life (see above). “People used to worry about NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) warfare,” says Lederer. But by about 2030, “It’ll be GNR (genetic engineering [genomics], nanotechnology, and robotics).” In 2000, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote an influential article in Wired magazine claiming that GNR will make humans into an endangered species. “He wanted to stop all research in these areas because of all the potential problems,” says Lederer. “He’s right, this is really dangerous shit. You could figure out a super virus that would only get people with a certain genetic make-up: ethnic cleansing. Or a super virus that goes into the brain to make everyone docile, as a sort of tranquilizer.” He compares us to “kids in a pool of gasoline playing with matches—as soon as we drop one, we’re all dead.”

RFID Chips
Radio Frequency ID is a current technology that might finally spell the end of the cash economy. According to Lederer, Wal-Mart is already using it on pilot programs, “but it’s still too expensive, at ten cents a chip.” RFID stands to replace the universal product codes on everything we purchase. The tiny RFID chip includes that bar code, and, “like a transponder on an airplane, it reflects the signal from the radar and tells what it is.” With RFID, you’ll simply walk out of the store with your purchases and be automatically charged for them. Foods will be implanted with digestible chips. By 2015, says Lederer, this technology will be everywhere. “Active RFID chips will actually transmit a signal. Global positioning systems will read everyone so your kids can’t be kidnapped and you can always tell where your spouse is.” Of course, the implications for privacy are huge, but Lederer believes “people are going to continue to sacrifice privacy for security. With more technology and more people we’ll have less privacy, and therefore less freedom.” But don’t blame RFID. Says Lederer, “Once again, it’s people that cause the trouble!”

Miracle Food Builder
It’s not quite the long dreamt-of miracle pill, but by 2050, Lederer predicts the development of a box “the size of a microwave” that will take air, water, and sunlight and turn them into “meat, milk, or brussels sprouts—whatever you like.” This box won’t produce food instantly, however. “Every two hours you can get a glass of milk out of it and every six hours you can get a hamburger.”The box will take in solar energy, air, and be “open to the dirt” on the bottom. That way it can send “little microscopic tubes into the ground, sometimes hundreds of feet down, “for water, minerals, and other nutrients.” As Lederer points out, a cow’s meat and milk come from grasses, which themselves come from air and water. “The first food creator will cost about a billion dollars,” he says, but like any technology, the price will eventually come down.

Extreme Life Expansion and Human Redesign
Immortality is within reach—at least for those of us who make it to 2015 or so. That’s when, according to Lederer, we will enter the age of “Extreme Life Expansion.” At that point, advances in medical science will expand the average life span, on an annual basis, by more than one year.

And with tissue regeneration, radical plastic surgery, and other technologies that Lederer calls “human redesign,” appearing youthful (or even appearing to be the evil twin of your favorite celebrity) will be a snap. Lederer acknowledges that curtailing the death rate “will create a huge population explosion. If everyone is on the planet for three times as long, you have three times as many people.” Not everyone will be able to afford “Extreme Life Expansion”—in fact, “it might be only for the very wealthy,” he says; he also foresees people growing weary of never-ending life. “I don’t think most people will want to live more than two hundred years. Many will probably just get bored and kill themselves, but that’s my opinion.”

Nanotech Clouds
Cloud creation is the next generation of cloud seeding. Along with carbon-sequestering technology and the depositing of CO2 into empty natural-gas deposits under the North Sea, the ability, through nanotechnology, to make clouds will control some of the damage from global warming. More clouds, Lederer points out, will reflect sunlight and mitigate temperatures. “By 2040 or so,” he says, “we’ll be able to juggle the environment and eliminate global warming and start reducing pollution enormously.”