January 2005 Archives
Around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, from California to the island nations of Southeast Asia, lies a region known by geologists as the Ring of Fire.
Within this circle of seismically active terrain, volcanoes sprout like wheat while earthquakes rumble with ominous intent along fault lines defined by massive, continental-sized plates. It is a dangerous part of the world, a tectonic time bomb just waiting to happen.
In December, the inevitable finally did happen as a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the island of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. In a span of 3 to 4 minutes, the quake released as much energy as 475 million tons of TNT along a fault line over 1,000 miles long and nearly 100 miles wide, according to the U.S. Geological Service.
Scientists estimate the seabed dropped 65 feet, creating a wall of water as tall as a four-story building. The massive wave then spread outward at the speed of a jetliner, killing more than 150,000 people in coastal nations all around the Indian Ocean and leaving millions more in its wake coping with one of the worst natural disasters in human history.
San Francisco lies on the eastern edge of the Ring of Fire, surrounded on three sides by water. So could a tsunami like the one in the Indian Ocean affect people here, in earthquake-prone California?
“Any ocean, any coast is subject to tsunamis,” said Bruce Turner, one member of a team of oceanographers and other experts who monitor the coast of the Western United States at the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.
Using data gathered from seismometers scattered across the globe, Turner and his colleagues watch for the next big earthquake that might generate a tsunami. Since the warning center does not have funding for round-the-clock operations, Turner carries a pager hooked up to an Internet-connected computer that signals an alert when a major earthquake occurs near the Pacific Ocean.
Turner and the rest of the staff at the warning center must live within five minutes of the office, just in case they need to issue urgent warnings about a destructive wave headed for American shores.
Tsunamis have struck the United States several times over the past century, Turner said, including a wave that struck near the Bay Area in 1991, but caused no reported damage. The warning center was created after a magnitude 9 quake struck Alaska’s Prince William Sound, generating a tsunami that killed 157 people along the West Coast, he added.
Although the United States maintains a series of six tsunami detection buoys spread around the Pacific Ocean that directly measure tsunami waves, only three of the buoys are currently functional due to maintenance problems and the corrosive saltwater environment. Because of the difficulty in maintaining the buoys, Turner and other scientists rely on indirect methods of spotting killer waves.
“We’re very seismically oriented,” Turner said. “We have about 150 (data) channels coming in to us, most by Internet but some by private channels. We really don’t do a lot until the earthquake gets to a (magnitude) 6.5. At a 7.1, we send out a warning. The next few hours are a watch situation. We don’t take any chances.”
Oswaldo Garcia, chair of the Geosciences department at SF State, agrees that it’s best not to take risks when dealing with tsunamis, as they occur more often than many people may realize.
“Tsunamis are generated fairly frequently, mostly in the Pacific Basin,” Garcia said. “There’s an area west of Sumatra that’s very active.”
But Garcia said that danger of tsunamis is not solely dependant on the magnitude of an earthquake. The specific geology in an earthquake zone also plays an important role.
“There are different types of earthquakes. In our area, the type of interaction is a sidewise motion. You see a motion to the left here. The earthquakes that generate the tsunamis are the ones where you have subduction zones,” said Garcia.
Subduction zones are areas where, according to one widely held theory known as plate tectonics, parts of the Earth’s crust run into and over each other, causing one side to rise and the other to sink, sometimes violently and usually without warning.
“Chile and Alaska are two places where that happens pretty frequently,” said Garcia.
Garcia also pointed out that SF State students have an excellent opportunity to learn more about what causes earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. The Geosciences department currently offers a 9-unit block of courses collectively called ‘Our Violent Planet,’ which is designed to give students insight into many of the natural forces that shape our world. Taking the courses counts towards general education credit and fulfills SF State’s Segment III graduation requirement.
“They’re popular classes,” said Garcia.
In Sacramento, Eric Lamoureux, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said that his office is prepared for a tsunami should one strike here.
“Our most significant risk for tsunamis is in Northern California,” said Lamoureux. “We’re certainly prepared to respond to all kinds of emergencies in this state.”
Still, Lamoureux cautions that the danger to California from a tsunami is relatively low. He said his office is spending much more time recently dealing with fires and floods, which are far more common in the state than either earthquakes or tsunamis.
“The important thing to note is that the probability of having devastation on the same scale as we saw in Asia is not going to happen here,” said Lamoureux.
While Lamoureux said emergency workers are ready to respond in the event of a large-scale natural disaster, he urges self-sufficiency.
“Know where your evacuation routes are in the event of an emergency,” Lamoureux said. “Having an emergency supply kit that is going to make you self-sufficient for at least a three-day period of time is really important. Be aware, be informed and don’t rely solely on the government to step in and take care of all your needs following a natural disaster.”
Pledging to unite the international community into a democratic safe haven, George W. Bush became the 15th president in U.S. history to be sworn in to a second term of office on January 20.
While most second-term presidents can look forward to a lame-duck session after the midterm congressional elections, the president said that he plans to work vigorously with Congress on his top domestic priority - overhauling Social Security by creating private savings accounts, allowing Americans to choose how to invest their own money for retirement.
Some financial analysts and lawmakers from both major political parities have criticized the president’s initiative. They argue that the cost of privatizing Social Security - estimated to be $2 trillion over the next decade - would be taken out of the current system and added to the national debt, further slowing economic growth as well as decreasing benefits to those set to retire over the next 15 years.
“Bush has only laid the groundwork for a change in Social Security but it’s Congress who drafts the legislation,” said Jason Smosna, Social Security aide to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Ca., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “While we’re still doing the research on the different methods of reform, we need to fix the system as soon as possible because if we leave things the way they are, by 2018 we’ll be forced to take money from the general fund.”
Thomas, who represents the 22nd district in Bakersfield, plans to examine many different approaches to Social Security reform, not just Bush’s privatization scheme, according to Smosna, 26.
“My boss will look at everything - race, gender, occupation - on how payout formulas are calculated for Social Security,” Smosna said. “Blue collar workers sometimes have to retire earlier than other workers because of injuries and illnesses.
“And the life expectancy of men is different than that of women, so that should also factor into how a new system is set up. As for health care, a Social Security retiree is more prone to long-term and chronic care, which is a large portion of the cost for Social Security, so Congress will have to also factor in those costs.”
Gene Ferguson, who works in the SF State Registrar’s office, said that Thomas is on the wrong track.
“It’s not fair to judge the amount someone receives from Social Security based on their race and occupation,” said Ferguson. “That is just outrageous.
“Bush’s plan for Social Security won’t affect me, but it will affect my children and grandchildren. The private savings accounts won’t work because most individuals can’t save enough for medical problems that come later in life.”
Smosna said that Social Security needs to be reformed now if people in their 50s expect to get any of the money that they have put into the system. There just is not enough money to cover the large number of baby boomers who will retire over the next 20 years.
“At the rate the current system is being used up, there certainly won’t be anything left in the fund for my retirement,” said Smosna.
Chris Omarr, an SF State freshman studying psychology, said that he talks to his mother regularly about her concerns for Social Security.
“My mom works for the Oakland Unified School District and they are constantly cutting back on benefits,” said Omarr. “She says that she’s worried that all of the money she has put into the system won’t be there for her by the time she retires.”
Future problems with Social Security funding would not directly affect tuition costs for public university students, but Smosna said that Pell Grant recipients may suffer should the federal government need to cut services in order to pay for funding the current Social Security system past 2018.
“Tuition to state schools is not determined by Social Security,” said Smosna. “The state government factors that budget. But if a student plans to apply for Pell Grants, that’s another story. In the past few years, formulas have been changed to determine who is eligible for Pell Grants, and it will get harder and harder to vie for these grants if the money has to be diverted to Social Security.”
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Ca., on the other hand, does not share the president’s belief in the critical urgency of reforming Social Security, according to Victoria Plopkin, an aide to the senator.
“There haven’t been any distinct boundaries set for privatized accounts, nor has any legislation been drafted, but Senator Feinstein supports privatized accounts in conjunction with the current Social Security fund,” said Plopkin. “(Sen. Feinstein) does not, however, support increasing payroll taxes. We have a great deal of bargaining left to do, so I wouldn’t panic right now. The senator will fight for the right changes.”
Right-to-life issues also top the president’s agenda. With one or more Supreme Court justices expected to retire during Bush’s second term, many pro-life organizations are hoping the president will nominate conservative judges to the court, tipping the court in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
“With the current makeup of the Court, women don’t have anything to worry about,” said Alex, another Feinstein aide who declined to provide his last name. “But if a new judge or judges come up for confirmation, and a new abortion case came before them, the Court could overturn the 32-year-old precedent.”
Although the nomination and confirmation of judges isn’t controlled directly by the voters, Alex said that now is the time for voters to put pressure on local representatives. He also stated that it is good for women that Senators Feinstein and Boxer support a woman’s right to choose.
Smosna countered that it is unfortunate for Californians that the state is represented by two liberal senators who are proponents of abortion rights.
“There is no way that Feinstein and Boxer are going to support judges who openly declare a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade,” he added. “Boxer sits on the (Senate) Judiciary Committee, and I guarantee you (Boxer and Feinstein) will not vote in favor of confirming conservative judges.
“But Bush will not back down on the appellate or federal nominations. If he is the same man he was in his first term, he won’t do something just to please the other side.”
SF State employee Ferguson said he believes that there are more pressing issues that Bush can focus on in his second term, without specifying what those issues are.
“Social Security is fine the way it is,” said Ferguson. “And if it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.”
The 2004 balloting produced yet another controversial election. A Congressional challenge, co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), as well as two legal suits by the Green and Libertarian Parties, questioned the veracity of the Ohio vote, indicating deep divisions among Americans.
Many rallied in Washington D.C. and San Francisco to brave the cold and march in the streets on January 20th, to protest the Bush Administration’s agenda. A Gallop poll on January 15th disclosed 54 percent of Americans now think it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq.
Carrying banners reading, “Fund Education not Imperial Occupation,” and Stop Mad Cowboy Disease,” protesters chanted, “Is it Bush’s world? Hell no! Whose world? Cheney’s World? Hell no!”
Thousands of demonstrators crammed in front of the City Hall rotunda to hear a bellicose address by organizers who oppose not only Bush’s pre-emptive attack on Iraq, but a domestic policy that critics say gave tax cuts skewed toward the rich at the expense of diminished health care and a dearth of affordable housing for middle and low-income earners. Estimates numbered protesters at nearly 5,000.
The rally was organized by International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), the peace group that helped end the war in Bosnia, resulting in independence from Yugoslavia 10 years ago.
ANSWER organizer Richard Becker acknowledged that now is a transition point with new Bush cabinet appointees such as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, but he expressed no confidence in Bush’s former National Security Advisor for stemming the current spate of daily attacks against American troops in Iraq. He insisted the best way to quell the violence is an immediate troop withdrawal.
Tanyo Mayo, activist with Not In Our Name Project, a rally co-sponsor, said, “Bush held a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. He promised freedom to the world while trampling [it] here at home.”
Mayo went on to criticize passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act as unjustly denying civil liberties and also said, “We’re here to repudiate Bush’s mandate. Another world is possible,” yet she didn’t specify exactly what she expects now.
But Amy Moise of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate said, “Mr. President, you can’t say you stand for freedom when you strip women of bodily integrity.”
Moise implied Bush intends to reverse Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. She added that peace and reproductive activists need to link their causes in order to achieve a common goal of greater freedom of choice.
But on January 22nd, the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Walk For Life West Coast, a pro-life action took place in Justin Herman Plaza. Walk For Life said their mission is to change the perceptions of a society that thinks abortion is an answer.
Sally Winn, vice-president of Feminists for Life of America, a pro-life advocacy group, addressed several thousand supporters and said, “Abortion advocates have pitted women against their children. Abortion is not a solution but a reflection that we have not met the needs of women.”
Amir Ali, a senior at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, enrolled at SF State for the 2005 fall term as a pre-med freshman. At the anti-inaugural rally he stressed the need for students to drive the military recruiters off campuses and deny the “military machine” of a pool of compliant “grunts.” He accused the military of making false promises of funding enlistee’s education, which often don’t materialize he said.
Carlos Zepeda, an SF State political science senior who is active with the College Republicans, said that critics show disrespect for the presidency by protesting the inauguration. He noted that Bush won the election with a large majority and is deserving of America’s support. Zepeda recognizes the partisanship dividing Americans but believes Bush’s second term will be inclusive of all sides of the political spectrum. He speculated that former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry could play a key role in formulating an Iraq policy and helping to bridge the left and the right if he does not get overzealous.
While police helicopters circled overhead, demonstrators wrapped up two hours of speeches by orderly vacating the Civic Center. A dozen police riding motorcycles on the sidewalk and additional scores on foot, shadowed the procession headed to the Embarcadero, trailed by several police vans.
At a finale at Justin Herman Plaza, the peaceful proceedings were disrupted when some protesters burned several American flags. Alarmed by the flames, police dispersed those responsible but restrained from making arrests. Tensions mounted when ANSWER organizer Gloria La Riva demanded police cease and desist and let marchers self-police. While La Riva did not condone the flag burning, she justified it as a powerful expression reacting to incendiary government foreign policy. The situation deescalated moments later when protesters dispersed at 8 pm.
A summit at the Women’s Building called by the Campus Anti-War Network followed. It aimed at outreach that explained alternatives to international conflict. SF State Students Against War is an affiliate of the network’s coalition. Jeremy Mack, 18, a Hayward High School graduate new to activism, is one of 50 who attended to learn more. Mack said too many lives were lost to get rid of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He felt the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq, but said it would be wrong for America to leave now.
Sarah Levin, an SF State history junior, sat in at the Administration building two years ago to protest the Iraq War. Levine told the summit, “It’s important for students to voice opinion to inspire others. We actually win reform by getting in the streets.”
ANSWER’s Becker said, “The Civil Rights Movement, women’s liberation and the Vietnam War protests all proved that [social] advances are made when ordinary people got organized and politicians will respond when the movement gets strong.”