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The Gross National Debt

Friday, November 23, 2007

(Originally posted at Daily Kos.)

Humpback Swimming Underwater - Image © Greenpeace

(Some images are used with permission of Greenpeace - many thanks to Rick Gentry for his gracious response to my request. Those images bear the Greenpeace copyright in accordance with their terms. Other images are taken from Wikipedia Commons, a freely licensed media repository.)

I have to say - I was very lucky growing up in that I got to travel to a lot of wonderful places and do things that many people don't do in their lifetimes.

One of the most indelible and wonderful memories I have was a trip my family and I took to Hawaii when I was about 14 or 15 years old. We went in February, and the highlight of the trip was a charter excursion we took to "swim" with the humpback whales.

Much, much more after the fold.My Humpback Whale Story

My mother was in high-tech sales - I've mentioned that in other diaries on other subjects in the past. She was very successful. One thing that any professional salesperson reading this knows is that successful salespeople and sales managers who meet or exceed their revenue quotas typically receive what is referred to as a "Club Trip". Essentially, the top and over-quota performers and their spouses are treated to a trip somewhere beautiful and warm at the expense of the company to thank them for their success and to bring them all together in mutual celebration.

One year the trip was to Maui in Hawaii. I don't know if it was because my parents didn't want to leave me alone (well-founded concerns on that front!) or that they really wanted to provide me the experience - I suspect it was a little of both - but they paid the extra airfare and room charges to ensure that I was included. That was how I came to go to Hawaii and to be included on this wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience of whale watching.

Breaching Humpback Whale

February is the perfect time to be in the South Pacific if you want even a chance of seeing the humpback whale. We rose early on that day and donned our bathing suits and headed for the boat. Once on board, we were told that we would be sailing for quite some time to get us in the proximity of the whale migration channels. We went really far out into the ocean. I remember feeling some measure of trepidation because by the time we got to where we would drop anchor and wait, we couldn't see land. At all. We were a speck on the vastness of the Pacific, bobbing gently in the swells on a near-perfect Hawaiian day.

The plan was to don our snorkel gear and fling ourselves into the ocean. We were given parameters - how far we could go, how to ensure we utilized the buddy system (which was mandatory), etc. I remember to this day some 25 years later feeling breathlessly nervous at the moment just before I eased myself into the water. While the South Pacific's waters are crystal clear, we were so far out and in such deep water that the ocean bottom was fathomless. As I slid into the water and felt the ocean close around me, I swam away from the boat towards the whale lanes the crew had indicated were our best opportunity for spotting the humpback. I stayed near to my parents, of course, but there was an overwhelming sense of smallness that surrounded me as the boat became smaller as our distance from it increased.

Breaching Humpback Whale

We were out there, paddling around with our fins and snorkel gear, looking down into the water and out towards where we hoped we would spot a whale. It seemed as though an eon had passed as we furtively scanned the underwater landscape. The charter company made no assertion that we would absolutely see a whale - only that they would put us in proximity should whales be present on that day and at that time. Honestly, I think we had given up the idea that we were going to see a whale when, behind us, we heard people calling excitedly. We turned and used our fins to propel us to the spot. By looking slightly downward and out across the underwater horizon, we saw it: a mother humpback with her calf. Make no mistake - we were at some distance - the deal was not that you swam up to a humpback whale and fed it or pet it or anything - but even away from the whale you could see its sheer size. I already felt small, and seeing this giant creature made me feel even smaller. Yet there was no sense of vulnerability on my part. I can't describe it. Looking at that mother and her calf, I felt two things at once: the first was an overwhelming sense of peace, and the second was a connection to the fact that I was in the presence of intelligence.

She tolerated our presence - patiently. We stayed as long as we possible could until she and her calf swam off. There was a vague sense of emptiness upon her departure, but also a keen sense of satisfaction and connectedness - to her, to the ocean, to the earth. To everything.

Once we were back on the boat, removing our snorkel gear and getting ready to head back, the crew again verbally alerted us to something going on off the bow of the boat. We all moved forward and looked out to the ocean horizon. We were treated to a humpback - maybe the same one, maybe not - "breaching". It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Japan is breaking a moratorium on hunting the Humpback for the first time since 1963.

From an article in Time magazine:

Under a loophole in the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban against commercial whaling, Japan has continued to kill hundreds of whales every year for scientific research. Once a whale is killed, scientists collect data from the animal's remains on its age, birthing rate and diet; the meat is then packaged and sold. Japan maintains that the research is essential for managing the whale population. "Minke or humpback, we see whales as a marine resource," says Moronuki [Ed. note - Moronuki is a spokesman for the Japan Fisheries Agency. The fact that "moron" is in his name seems quite fitting.]. Still, most observers have long been skeptical of any benefits from the project. "I haven't met one person, pro-whalers or not, outside of the Fisheries Agency payroll who believe that these researches are useful," says Greenpeace Australia Pacific's CEO Steve Shallhorn. Tensions have been heating up in recent hunts. In February, a member of Japan's whaling fleet was killed in a ship fire following a series of confrontations with vessels from Sea Shepherd. Both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd say that they are prepared to "chase, block, and harass" any attempts by the whaling fleet to harpoon humpbacks.

You don't have to have been fortunate enough to have seen an actual humpback whale in the wild to appreciate the beauty and intelligence of this creature. Killing them for any purpose is barbaric and it MUST be stopped.

What YOU Can Do.

Greenpeace Takes Action: Sign reads "Bush, Fukuda - End Whaling" - Image © Greenpeace

- Use Greenpeace's site to contact your elected officials. Greenpeace really has this down. If you follow the link, you can input your zip code, provide your contact information, and then either use the letter they provide or edit it to include your personal comments and thoughts. Click "send" and it's away, no harm no fuss.

- Send an eCard to your friends and family. Let them know about the renewed Japanese whaling and ask for their help in ending it.

- Create your own Greenpeace fundraising page. This is a simple 2-step process where you provide your information, customize your page (if desired), and launch it. Send your fundraising link to people in your address book and help raise awareness and money to save the whales.

The Great Whale Trail - Image © Greenpeace

- Make a simple donation to Greenpeace. Greenpeace is actively working to stop the Japanese whale hunts. In many cases, Greenpeace vessels and crew physically put themselves and their vessels in the path of the whaling ships and save whales literally one at a time. Won't you help them do this critical work?

I have created a personal fundraising page to help save the whales from Japanese whaling efforts. I would love, if you decide to make a donation, if you did so through my page.

PLEASE help save these beautiful and intelligent creatures from the caprice of mankind. Any combination of the above suggested actions will go a long way towards helping to end the slaughter. I thank you for your time.

Image © Greenpeace

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You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 12:47 PM 47 comments
Tuesday, November 06, 2007

This brings tears to my eyes every time I listen to it. I can't explain it - but it connects to me. Enjoy.

You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 5:49 PM 11 comments
Sunday, November 04, 2007

(Cross-posted from Daily Kos)

I'm serious. Before I get into it, let me say - if you don't know me (I've had almost zero time to write the past six months), I'll introduce myself. I'm RenaRF, and I first came to Daily Kos immediately following the 2004 Presidential election. If you're doing the math, that means I've been here in varying active capacities for three years. I would like to think that I would not be categorized as a Markos fawner. I don't crawl up his ass, and I frankly don't agree with him on a variety of different things.

Last night Markos was a panelist on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. I watched the whole show, and I'm telling you - every member of this community should give him a round of applause. More after the click.

Bear with me and my thought process for a bit. If you follow this Archive.org link, you'll see what Daily Kos looked like in August of 2002. Note particularly that of the 12 entries on what was then the "front page" of Daily Kos, the most comments any one post received was three. Three! Anyone can visit Daily Kos' "About" page to learn how and why it came into being. This excerpt sums it up pretty nicely:

Markos Moulitsas -- a.k.a. "kos" -- created Daily Kos on May 26, 2002, in those dark days when an oppressive and war-crazed administration suppressed all dissent as unpatriotic and treasonous. As a veteran, Moulitsas was offended that the freedoms he pledged his life for were so carelessly being tossed aside by the reckless and destructive Republican administration.

Now fast-forward 5 years and a handful of months and Markos is a panelist on Bill Maher's HBO show. What started as a personal outlet has grown to a bonafide movement that inches forward in influence with every single post and comment.

Last night's Maher show was rife with people I would consider luminaries. Maher's lead-off, post-monologue interview was with Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson. His mid-panel via satellite interview was with Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His panelists were Markos, Alison Stewart (host of NPR's Bryant Park Project and frequent guest host of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann), and comedian Martin Short. I think my only wish would have been that one of the more odious Republicans would have been on the panel - THAT would have been extra-fun - but all-in-all, this was quite a lineup and Markos had a key seat at the table.

In case you're wondering, Markos has been on Real Time before. It was on August 25, 2006 (Mr Met wrote a brief diary with many comments about it), and Markos was an interviewed guest as opposed to a panelist (the wonderful Al Rodgers kindly posted the video of Markos' appearance in this comment). I thought he did well in that appearance. But being chosen as a panelist is, to my mind, a far greater honor than simply being interviewed.

So let me turn to last night's show with some selected parts that I have transcribed from my DVR.

Topic #1 - Hillary Clinton, MSM CW, Debate Talk

Now - In the diary comments last night I saw a lot of outrage about whether or not, specifically, Maher and Markos were "carrying water" for Hillary Clinton. I don't believe they were. The central point that Maher made was simply that the media has turned on Hillary Clinton presumably as a result of the latest debate and that he (Maher) didn't think her performance was "that awful". That's hardly tantamount to "carrying water" for her. Here's a bit of the discussion:

MARKOS: I know [referring to stumbling in the debate]. There's a couple of things. One is that, clearly she didn't do as bad as people say she did. But, she did poorer than before. She was a machine the first few debates. She was perfect. So now she's a little less perfect...

STEWART: She let them see her sweat. That was the for the first time you've seen Hillary Clinton actually sweat a little bit. Especially in the last two minutes, and also in the middle. She really raised her voice. She'd gotten really good about modulating her voice - remember when she used to give her speeches and then she was like [raises voice], "I will tell you exactly what I think" - And so she clearly... [unintelligible] ...and then it came down and then through the debate [raises voice] she started talking to you like this again. And by the end, I was in first grade again.

MARKOS: But clearly it's nowhere near as bad, and I think the media wants a horse race at this point. They spent a year [crosstalk], they spent - what - the last two years...

MAHER: They have to change the story. It was getting boring.

MARKOS: It really was getting boring.

So all you water-carrying criers - come on. The essential point of this exchange was a knock on the MEDIA - NOT a pimping of Hillary Clinton.

Topic #2 - Immigration

I found this highly interesting, Markos notwithstanding (e.g., it was Maher's comments that caught my attention the most):

MAHER: ...but it's really part of the bigger issue, which is immigration. The Republicans have once again been able to creat a boogeyman out of complete cloth. It's astounding the way they're able to do this. They did it with Iraq. Nothing had changed with Iraq - when we went to war with Iraq - nothing. It was still Saddam Hussein with that corrupt regime. Ok - now they did it with immigration, and I read a poll this week that said independents - who the Democrat[s] need to get elected - for them, the #1 issue in this country is our broken borders. They've been listening to Lou Dobbs. And the Democrats could lose on this issue - this completely non-issue, because once again, nothing changed. Yes, there's 12 million immigrants doing jobs in this country.

MARKOS: I think that poll's completely bunk. Every - I mean, I swim in polls. It's my job. And every poll I've seen shows that independents and Democrats are almost eerily aligned on the issue. The poll actually asks for "unprotected borders". Who the hell is for unprotected borders? Nobody is. I mean...

This was where everyone jumped in and Markos got more or less drowned out. His point, and I thought it was a good one, was that the polls are skewed because of the nature of the question asked. Very few people will answer "yes" if asked if they support unprotected borders. The larger issue, for me, was the idea that immigration, while clearly something the US needs to address from a broad policy perspective, is not the issue Republicans are making it out to be. I hadn't considered that we're essentially being set up. Again. But I digress.

Topic #3 - General Stupidity of the Electorate, Mike Huckabee

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this exchange. Bear with me. Markos wrapped it expertly.

MAHER: Listen. Mike Huckabee, the Republican candidate says the reason we have to import so many illegals in our workforce - he said it might be that for the last 35 years we have aborted more than a million people. Hm. You see, there's your connection. Those people we aborted would have all been fruit pickers.

SHORT: It's a lovely thought. He's quite the thinker.


MAHER: He's [Huckabee] lost the weight. He's also the one who doesn't believe in evolution...

MARKOS: This is perfect, though. Here's a guy who's really obsessed with abortion - you know, trying to tie it in to the border issue which is red meat for his base - but once these kids are born, they don't care. They don't give a damn. And so they veto healthcare for children but, before they're born, they care so much.

STEWART: But this shouldn't be a shocker about Mike Huckabee. He's so affable...

MAHER: I'm not saying this to attack Mike Huckabee, and he is a nice guy. What I'm saying is that it could work on the stupidity in this country. That's what worries me - is people actually hear that and go "Oh there you go. That's the problem. Our fruit would get picked if we hadn't aborted those people. Makes sense to me because I live in idiocracy."

SHORT: But that has worked. If we fight them... if we fight them over there we won't have to fight them here. That worked.

MARKOS: 24% still approve of George Bush. So you've got a quarter of the public that's going to be pretty stupid no matter what we do.

Hah. Perfect.

Topic #4 - Why Democrats Can't/Don't use Statewide Wedge Issues As Republicans Do

this was interesting because this was where Markos nailed Maher (rightfully). Relevant parts below:

MAHER: So why can't the Democrats do what the Republicans do - which is get on the ballot in states - initiatives that get their people out to vote. In 2004, famously, gay marriage got their crowd out there and while they were in the voting booth, of course they voted for George Bush. Why can't the Democrats figure out that same strategy. You know. Like here in blue state crazy California - I mean, if we had a - something on the ballot that said you get free ecstasy and that the government would pay for it and send it in your mailbox, I mean, people would come out and vote for that.


MAHER: Even - what about a draft. You know, that would get young people - I mean the young people are all for the Democrats but they don't show up because they're asleep in a ditch on voting day.

MARKOS: You know, to be fair, last election cycle the youth vote actually came out in record numbers. And we've seen that for the last two cycles. They're getting to the point where they're actually matching the general population in voting trends. The draft wouldn't work. The draft is a Federal issue - it's not a state issue...

MAHER: No, you could draft for the state National Guard.

MARKOS: It's actually still a Federal issue. So but what you have is - you have Democrats that are doing minimum wage...

MAHER: [squinting and shaking his head at Markos] He's shooting down my premise. Mr. Reader [makes finger quotes].

MARKOS: We're not going to need ballot initatives to win this next election. If we can't point to what Republicans have done to this country in eight years and win, then we don't deserve to win this election.


STEWART: I mean, what could be a wedge issue [this directed to Markos]. This is your world, you swim in polls...

MARKOS: I mean, right now, healthcare for children apparently a wedge issue. I mean, I can't believe it that they would veto this, but apparently, taking care of children is a wedge issue. Now you have the Republicans, their philosophy is, government doesn't work. So how can you possibly have a government that works if you're a Republican, because you would invalidate your own ideology. That's why Bush puts people like horse lawyers in charge of FEMA. Because you can't possibly work or...

MAHER: [laughing] Horse lawyers. That was a lawyer for a horse, wasn't it.


There was then general discussion about the media, how they handle the debates, and how it affects frontrunners and challengers. It was an interesting discussion, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to highlight from this segment. From there Maher went into his usual mid-panel schtick (this week it was Rummy's "snowflake memos", both real and manufactured) and his interview with Jeremy Scahill. Then it was back to the panel.

Topic #5 - Iraq. Lower death numbers. The surge.

Let me point out - Maher, to me, played devil's advocate for this part of the panel discussion, as he sometimes does. He set the stage by giving the latest numbers that are being touted about the two months worth of lower US troop deaths.

MAHER. Look - I'm just going to be Fox News here for a second because I've got a panel of liberals. So what I saw all on the news this week is that things in Iraq are turning around. Fallujah, apparently, is a paradise. It's more secure than my own studio. Less than half the attacks than there were a year ago now. Iraqi deaths are down by two-thirds. Lowest US death count in over a year, only 29 this month - I mean it's 29, it's horrible, but by comparison - maybe - this thing is burning itself out. Is it possible that something good could now be coming out of Iraq?

MARKOS: Well actually this month - I mean this year so far is going to far outpace any year before it in the number of Iraqi deaths, in the number of American deaths. So...

MAHER: I'm talking about the last few months.


MARKOS: [Regarding Fallujah] That was an ABC news report and two years ago, ABC News filed that exact same report. We've heard "mission accomplished" too many times.

STEWART: The Washington Post also reported on it.

MARKOS: Yeah. It's - there is - when you flood the zone...

MAHER: You're not rooting against victory, are you?

MARKOS: Of course not. When you flood a zone with troops you're going to get...

MAHER: More important...

MARKOS: Fallujah's been ethnically cleansed. You don't have the sectarian violence there that you used to have when actual people of different colors and different religions used to live there. And you have a case of whack-a-mole - you put troops in Fallujah, they all run somewhere else. They're all sitting back because we can't sustain this. Now when we went into the surge, the reason we did the surge wasn't to pacify Fallujah. It was for the Iraqi government to create space for reconciliation and the passage of this oil law and sort of the factions in the Iraqi government coming together and finding a solution for their country. That hasn't happened.

STEWART: Two things - I want to follow-up on something that you said [indicating Markos] and follow something you said [indicating Maher]. I've been a journalist for 16 years so...

SHORT: Anything I said? [laughter] [Short snuggles and kisses up to her with some crosstalk]

STEWART: Just to correct that you're talking to three liberals here, I'm a journalist and I try to be objective about things - hi boss -

MAHER: I do. That's why I'm asking the question.

STEWART: But just to follow up on the point you mentioned [turned towards Markos] - I think it's an interesting one and an important one when you talk about the idea of - if you're talking about the surge - and you say, ok, yes it did work, what happens when there's no more surge. And that means, is everybody going to stay. So we have to stay to make it continue to work. And are we preapred for that.

What I found interesting about this exchange was that Stewart turned her entire focus and attention to Markos. She did that numerous times throughout Maher's show. Short did as well.

Topic #6 - Iraq. Cost of the war. Post-9/11 Panic

MAHER: But even if it was a giant victory tomorrow, I read in the paper this week, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost in 10 years 2.4 trillion dollars. Which is on top of $100 billion dollars a year, so far, that we're spending on homeland security.


MAHER: It seems to me that we panicked after 9/11. I mean, it was a bad thing 9/11. No one denies that. We should have had a response. It should have cost You know, we're again down this torture path because we're trying to...


There are those who have said that the plan of the terrorists - they know they can't actually bring America down - but by scaring us with that attack, they could get us to bring ourselves down. We would get into this endless economic debacle and bleed ourselves dry. And it does seem like that is happening.

MARKOS: Man, I wish you would have said something about this after 9/11.

[Note: above said with complete sarcasm]

MAHER: [laughing] I get what you'e saying.

MARKOS: That's a perfect example of that panic! You couldn't even say what you said without repercussions. That's the reason people like me exist in this media and landscape now. People like bloggers - because nobody else could say the things that a lot of people are thinking. And logic led them to say that. And so I started my little site at the time because nobody else was saying that and it grew because people said "Finally somebody's saying this" and they can't fire me.

H/T Daily Kos. Just one additional excerpt from this segment and I'll wrap, continuing where I left off:

MAHER: So why can't you get your liberal troops to stand up and put the pressure on - for example - the Democratic Congress which today, again, caved in on this Mukasey guy.

[My note: Generally I love Maher, but that above shows that he doesn't read Daily Kos at all - the "troops" were doing everything they could]

MAHER: ...He's the guy that George Bush is trying to ge tto be the new Attorney General, and he will not say whether waterboarding is torture. And trust me - I've been waterboarded - it's torture.

SHORT: George Bush had threatened not to have an Attorney General. And how detrimental would it be [addressing Markos] for the country not to have an Attorney General.

MARKOS: Nothing. It'd be nothing.

STEWART: You think nothing?

MARKOS: We have an acting Attorney General.

STEWART: You think with that many people that are in temporary appointee positions...

MARKOS: Sure - why not? It can't be anything worse than...

STEWART: It could be a lot worse.

MARKOS: In what way?

STEWART: ...If you think about the differences between the kinds of Attorney Generals we've had, then you have someone who's an interim who is - who is somebody the President clearly thinks he's comfortable with - wouldn't you rather have somebody that the Congress has - at least that goes through Committee and goes through a vote? Rather than this temporary person who's in there?

MARKOS: ...To have somebody else that Bush is comfortable with. You know...

STEWART: But at least there's other people weighing in on it.

MARKOS: But they don't have a voice. They cave.

I thought Markos did really well in that segment. I understood his point - what the difference? Whether the person is a nominee or an interim, clearly s/he is somebody Bush is "comfortable with". And if the Democratic Congress caves, it doesn't matter a whit. It wasn't a contest, necessarily, between Markos and Stewart - but she and her 16 years of journalistic experience (and I like her) didn't win that point against Markos and his 5-year old blog.

Whew! That was a LOT of transcription - about two hours worth for that small amount. With that, I've highlighted what stood out for me. So...

In Conclusion

Listen. Markos it but one of a host of notable, intelligent, prominent figures in the Netroots and what I consider the "new" media. As I was driving home from the store today, thinking about this diary, it occurred to me that much of the RoA (Rest of America) still considers blogging an uber-geeky, basement-of-the-science-building, outlier and slightly weird thing to do. But then it occurred to me - 15 years ago that's what people thought about email. 10 years ago (roughly), that's what they thought about going online.

I think that Markos' appearance last night went a long way towards legitimizing, to the RoA, what we already know to be legitimate: that we are ALL a part of the "new" media and that we continue to help to shape what we hope will be "new" politics in America. I feel like Markos, on that show, helped the entire Netroots take a step forward in perception and legitimacy.

And for that, he certainly has MY applause. Are you standing up yet?

Update [2007-11-3 15:30:30 by RenaRF]: Miss Laura links to a video clip in today's Midday Open Thread.

Update [2007-11-3 15:43:42 by RenaRF]: VelvetElvis has posted a comment with a link to the Maher show's Torrent. If you're a torrent type, you can get it there. If you're not, you can Google Bittorrent and download stuff to be able to access it.

You've Come This Far - So Read more & Comment!

posted by RenaRF at 12:49 PM 14 comments