Friday, September 30, 2005

A correction

In my previous posts (here and here) about the cronyism involved in the appointments of Joe Allbaugh and Mike Brown to FEMA I stated in both posts that Brown and Allbaugh were college roomates. It turns out that I was incorrect, as they are, apparently, either long time or childhood friends depending on the source, but never were they roomates. This would obviously scale back the degree of cronyism, of course, yet it is some what offset by subsequent accusations that Brown's resume was either fraudulent or padded.

This Daily Kos entry discusses the discrepancy in news reports. And credit to Fox News for bringing this to my attention, and shame on me for not picking up on this myself.

Farenheit 451 watch ... and other stuff

Been too lazy to actually write something myself (although I've got several things in the works that I'll likely finish this weekend) so I'll continue for now the trend here of linking to articles of interest.

In Norwood, Colorado, parents did their best impression of a Ray Bradbury novel by burning copies of Rudolph Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima. And I am simply stunned by some of the books that are in the ALA's list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-2000: Huck Finn, Wrinkle in Time, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird ...

From the world of PR, you can look forward to more hidden advertising.

What is truth? Is truth objective, subjective, or something in-between? Philosopher Simon Blackburn addresses these age old questions in his new book Truth: A Guide, in which he takes the reader on a journey through various schools of thought on this matter, and gives his take on what the proper answer is. Slate has put up the first part of a two part series reviewing the book in some detail, and a review of the book can also be read here at Salon.

Also at Slate, William Saletan explains why Intelligent Design is not science. Hopefully, eventually, this message will make it to the public at large.

And one more, a daily dose of Peanuts.

Update: Here is part two of Slate's review of Truth: A Guide

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A letter to John McCain

Considering the importance and respect I have for this letter, I have to credit each link I followed to get to it, from Today in Iraq via Main and Central via the Washington Post (bold emphasis mine)

The following letter was sent to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sept. 16:

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.

That is in the past and there is nothing we can do about it now. But, we can learn from our mistakes and ensure that this does not happen again. Take a major step in that direction; eliminate the confusion. My approach for clarification provides clear evidence that confusion over standards was a major contributor to the prisoner abuse. We owe our soldiers better than this. Give them a clear standard that is in accordance with the bedrock principles of our nation.

Some do not see the need for this work. Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.

With the Utmost Respect,

-- Capt. Ian Fishback

1st Battalion,

504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,

82nd Airborne Division,

Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Now read this.

CBN and the "Night Commuters" of Uganda

I do not have a very high opinion of Pat Robertson or his CBN channel, but today I must give some sort of nod of approval to the station, because today it did a segment on the Night Commuters, children of Uganda and southern Sudan who suffer at the the hands of Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army, quite possibly the most evil organization on the planet in my opinion, which is believed to have stolen over 20,000 children over the course of its 19 year history. This HRW report is from 1997:

The rebels prefer children of fourteen to sixteen, but at times they abduct children as young as eight or nine, boys and girls alike. They tie the children to one another, and force them to carry heavy loads of looted goods as they march them off into the bush. Children who protest or resist are killed. Children who cannot keep up or become tired or ill are killed. Children who attempt to escape are killed.

Their deaths are not quick--a child killed by a single rebel bullet is a rarity. If one child attempts to escape, the rebels force the other abducted children to kill the would-be escapee, usually with clubs or machetes. Any child who refuses to participate in the killing may also be beaten or killed.

... it has eight years since that report was released and the Lord's Resistance Army has still not been brought to justice. They are still mutilating men, women, and children. They are still slicing children's ears and lips off. They are still raping and kidnapping chidren. They are still forcing women to cut-off appendages of daughters and sons at gunpoint.

A search at Human Rights Watch is an excercise in frustration. See year after year HRW release report after report of the horror committed by the LRA. Here's the most recent.

But you do not hear much about this on the news ... print or television. It is such a terrible shame that the power of the press is not being used to help these people suffering such misery and injustice, so I must commend CBN for bringing this issue to light, and for also speaking out on the genocide in Darfur, which goes, for the most part, unnoticed here in America.

Here HRW explains what the average person can do to help end this atrocity.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How much is too much?

The Pentagon is still blocking efforts to look into Able Danger. For some yet unknown reason someone destroyed 2.5 terabytes of intelligence information gathered by the Able Danger team (that's equivalent to 1/4 the amount of information stored in the Library of Congress.) Intelligence information that is now gone. Think about that. That's intelligence that might have been used to help protect America, and now its gone and the Pentagon refuses to tell us why. Any effort to investigate this matter has been blocked by the Pentagon. When witnesses offer to come foward the Pentagon orders that their testimony be classified. Four years after 9/11 we should no longer have the patience to tolerate those who block efforts to get to the bottom of this.

EDIT - I also should have noted that the Pentagon's refusal to allow the testimony of these men is further made inexplicable by the fact that the information gathered by the Able Danger data mining team was open source and publically available - meaning that NONE of the information they gathered was classified.

Correction - The Pentagon is no longer refusing to allow the witness testimony. They have decided to allow the testimony, but the hearing which had been scheduled for Oct. 5th was postponed without being rescheduled.

Article of the day

From the Spring 2003 issue of Free Inquiry, Fascism Anyone? by Lawrence Britt

Free Inquiry readers may pause to read the “Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles” on the inside cover of the magazine. To a secular humanist, these principles seem so logical, so right, so crucial. Yet, there is one archetypal political philosophy that is anathema to almost all of these principles. It is fascism. And fascism’s principles are wafting in the air today, surreptitiously masquerading as something else, challenging everything we stand for. The cliché that people and nations learn from history is not only overused, but also overestimated; often we fail to learn from history, or draw the wrong conclusions. Sadly, historical amnesia is the norm.

We are two-and-a-half generations removed from the horrors of Nazi Germany, although constant reminders jog the consciousness. German and Italian fascism form the historical models that define this twisted political worldview. Although they no longer exist, this worldview and the characteristics of these models have been imitated by protofascist regimes at various times in the twentieth century. Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities.

Beyond the visual, even a cursory study of these fascist and protofascist regimes reveals the absolutely striking convergence of their modus operandi. This, of course, is not a revelation to the informed political observer, but it is sometimes useful in the interests of perspective to restate obvious facts and in so doing shed needed light on current circumstances.
In his analysis Britt finds 14 characteristic points of fascism. They are thus:
  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
  4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
  5. Rampant sexism.
  6. A controlled mass media.
  7. Obsession with national security.
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
  9. Power of corporations protected.
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
  14. Fraudulent elections.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Have a hero killed on your watch, get a promotion

I come back from out of town and I see this about the investigation into Pat Tillman's death. Tillman was the NFL star who gave up a multimillion dollar contract to serve in Afghanistan and who died as a result of "friendly" fire. Exploiting his death to raise support for the war in Iraq and covering up the nature of his death was bad enough, but this takes it to another level:

The regiment’s commander, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bailey, was promoted to colonel two months after the incident, and Saunders, who a source said received a reprimand, later was given authority to determine the punishment of those below him.

Excerpt of the day

But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?— in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy-Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts— a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though it may be,

"Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O'er the grave where our hero we buried." [Charles Wolfe The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna ]

The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others— as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders— serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few— as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men— serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it. A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not submit to be "clay," and "stop a hole to keep the wind away," but leave that office to his dust at least:

"I am too high-born to be propertied,
To be a secondary at control,
Or useful serving-man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world." [William Shakespeare King John]

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.

-- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobediance

Thursday, September 22, 2005

One more for the road

I'll be gone for the weekend and won't have a chance to blog again until Monday or Tuesday, and considering the last several posts have been about the environment I figured I may as well leave with one more.

First, though, is this. I watched Curt Wheldon (R-PA) last night on C-Span testifying before a Senate committe about the Pentagon blocking efforts to investigate Able Danger and the alleged identification of Mohammad Atta a year before 9/11. Wheldon was terrribly frustrated because, in his opinion, there is no reason why the witness testimony should be classified other than to protect the Pentagon from looking bad. The committe members -3 Republicans and 1 Democrat: Arlen Specter, Jon Kyl, Joe Biden, and another guy whose name escapes me - all expressed bewilderment that this information should not be released to Congress for oversight and investigation. The amount of information that was said to have been destroyed in relation to this matter is said to be equivalent to 1/4 the Library of Congress. Wheldon also says that the whistle-blowers who came forward with this information are having their careers destroyed by the Dept. of Defense.

Onto the environment ...

A week or so ago a friend of mine told me that the reason gas prices are so high is becase we do not have enough refineries to process oil, and that the reason we do not have enough refineries is because of environmental regulation and lawsuits. I had no reason to doubt that environmental regulations could indeed have prevented the expansion of oil refineries, but I did remain skeptical that the problem could be so neatly laid at the feet of environmentalists. Foward to yesterday and I come across this article alleging that oil companies "intentionally limited oil refineries to drive up gasoline prices." This has happened before. Most people have heard that the energy crisis in California was the result of environmentalists, yet they most likely have not heard that the energy crisis was due to energy companies purposefully driving up prices.

Did it happen again? Are energy companies gouging prices and then shifting the blame to environmentalists, thus killing two birds with one stone? And, of course, it doesn't help when the government is playing "blame the environmentalists," too. If I wasn't on my way out of town I'd do a more through investigation of this matter. Till then, food for thought.

Stay informed.

Bad news for the environment

From the front page of Raw Story.

More environmental fun from the friends of the Earth in the Bush team

The government wants to quit forcing companies to report small releases of toxic pollutants and allow them to submit reports on their pollution less frequently

Saying it wants to ease its regulatory burden on companies, the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed adopting a "short form" that would excuse companies from disclosing spills and other releases of toxic substances if:

_They claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical. The current limit is 500 pounds.

_They store onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants, such as mercury, DDT and PCBs, that persist in the environment and work up the food chain. However, they must report if they have stored dioxin or dioxin-like compounds, even if none is released.

EPA said it also plans to ask Congress for permission to require the accounting every other year instead of annually.
That's all they have to do? Claim they aren't doing anything wrong and they're absolved? Report every other year? Are they serious? This is a joke, right? I can't even believe this might happen. Its absurd, ridiculous, outrageous. What a terrible shame this brings to the party that was once Teddy Roosevelt's.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Blog recommendation of the day

Today in Iraq, a blog which summarizes the day's news in Iraq from a perspective that you will not get in the US mainstream media. It is also one of the most acute criticisms of President Bush (and his administration's handling of Iraq) that I've encountered on the web.

Taking accountability

Considering the entry I blogged yesterday (and several other posts this past week,) today's Doonesbury seems an appropriate follow-up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The worst environmental disaster you might have never have heard of

Until recently, I was completely unaware that on October 11, 2000 "the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the Eastern United States" occurred, resulting in the dumping of "an estimated 306 million gallons of toxic sludge down 100 miles of waterways." The disaster was the result of a coal slurry spill in Inez, Kt. Why had I not heard about this?

The subtitle of the Salon article, Dirty business, from which I discovered this information, suggests an answer: "How Bush and his coal industry cronies are covering up one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history."

Jack Spadaro, who was part of the investigation into the spill, charges that soon after the Bush administrion took office the efforts were made to absolve Martin County Coal, the company responsible for this spill, of any wrongdoing:

Spadaro and his teammates had been uncovering information that had far-reaching implications for both Massey Energy (the parent company of Martin County Coal and a major contributor to the Republican Party) and the coal industry as a whole. Testimony and documents revealed that executives at Martin County Coal and federal regulators were aware that there was potential for a catastrophic failure at the slurry impoundment but didn't take proper actions to avoid it. In particular, an MSHA engineer had made a list of specific safety recommendations to Martin County Coal and MSHA district officials following a 100-million gallon spill in May 1994. But MSHA and Martin not only largely ignored the recommendations, MSHA actually allowed Martin to add coal waste to its impoundment.

By the end of 2000, Spadaro and other investigation team members felt they were beginning to collect enough evidence to issue Massey Energy citations for willful and criminal negligence. In addition, it looked as though their own agency, MSHA, was going to be held accountable as well. But that all changed when George W. Bush moved into the White House. Within days of Bush's inauguration a new team leader was brought in to head the Martin County Coal investigation. The scope of the investigation was dramatically narrowed
The EPA ended up citing Massey for two minor violations and fined them a total of $110,000 (eventually settling on a fine of $55,000 after appeals by Massey), which drove Spadaro to tender his resignation in protest. He was soon after put on leave from his position at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Academy, which had also been found to have been negligent in Spadaro's original investigation.

When the inspector general's office in the Labor Dept. issued a report on allegations made by Spadaro of Bush administration obstruction of justice the conclusion read, "No evidence was uncovered to substantiate any allegations relating to MSHA's Martin County Coal accident investigation."

Yet the report was heavily redacted

Ellen Smith, an award-winning investigative journalist who publishes Mine Safety and Health News, had this to say about the IG report: "I have been reporting on mining issues since 1987, and I can tell you that in all of these years of reporting on mining issues we have never seen a government report with redactions like this one. They might redact people's names. They might redact dates. But in this case, it was literally half the report, and there are pages and pages of redactions. How they reached their conclusions, we will never know, because they have taken all of that out of the report."
Spadaro then became a target for his whistle-blowing

In October 2003, MSHA charged that the superintendent had abused his authority at the academy, made unauthorized cash advances on a government credit card, and failed to follow supervisory instructions and appropriate accident procedures. The most serious of MSHA's charges against Jack Spadaro revolve around the superintendent's granting of free room and board to two instructors who were disabled. MSHA also says that Spadaro violated government rules by providing free room and board at the academy to participants in a mine rescue competition.
Another article on this matter, explains the specious nature of these charges

Spadaro's government credit card and travel records were audited. It turned out that between November 2001 and July 2002, he had used his government credit card to take out 13 cash advances when he needed money to entertain dignitaries and students at the academy. The processing fees for those 13 cash advances totaled $22.60. Spadaro paid his bills on time. In October 2002, Spadaro was told that his abuse of the credit card was a “serious offense.” One year later, he was informed that he would be suspended for three days for the crime of making cash advances when he wasn't on official government travel.
Spadaro eventually grew tired of fighting the administration and retired. And it appears the Bush administration's near complete exculpation of Massey is another case of plutocratic cronyism

Massey Energy, Martin County Coal's parent company, gained a front-row seat to the new Bush administration when it invited James H. “Buck” Harless to join its board in 2001. Harless, a West Virginia coal and timber baron, had raised $275,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, given $5,000 for the Florida recount, and contributed $100,000 to the president's inaugural fund. Bush nicknamed Harless “Big Buck” and invited him to join the administration's transition task force on energy. “We were looking for friends, and we found one in George W. Bush,” Harless told The Wall Street Journal.

Bush also demonstrated his friendship to industry leaders when he awarded the top job at MSHA to an executive with Utah's Energy West Mining Company, David Lauriski, whose top two deputies would also be recruited from mining companies. The woman who would become their boss, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, is the wife of Kentucky's Republican senator Mitch McConnell, a long time political ally of coal companies. Chao soon hired several of McConnell's Senate staffers to work in top positions at the Department of Labor. According to Common Cause, from 1997 to 2000—when McConnell was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee—the coal industry gave $584,000 to the NRSC. In 2002, while the company was still under investigation, Massey Energy would give the committee a first-time donation of $100,000, although by then McConnell was no longer the chairman. McConnell left his fingerprints on his wife's agency despite their insistence that there was no conflict of interest. Chao's chief of staff, Stephen Law, was one of McConnell's top aides and Stuart Roy, Chao's spokesman, was formerly McConnell's press secretary. Another former McConnell staffer, Andrew Rajec, was hired to work as a special assistant at MSHA, where he attended several meetings on the Martin County report. In 2002, a Kentucky mine owner named Bob Murray threatened to have some MSHA inspectors fired because they had cited his mines for failing to comply with regulations. “Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America,” Murray told the inspectors, according to local press accounts. “And the last time I checked, he was sleeping with your boss.”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Humanist quote of the day

"The intelligent and good man holds in his affections the good and true of every land -- the boundaries of countries are not the limitations of his sympathies. Caring nothing for race, or color, he loves those who speak other languages and worship other gods. Between him and those who suffer, there is no impassable gulf. He salutes the world, and extends the hand of friendship to the human race. He does not bow before a provincial and patriotic god -- one who protects his tribe or nation, and abhors the rest of mankind." - Robert Green Ingersoll, God in the Constitution

A humanist case against the use of preventive nuclear strikes

Ok, so here is my follow-up to this post.

As a self-described secular humanist and global democrat I find this draft paper cited in the article to be a cause of great concern. Looking at this doctrine from a framework of humanist prinicples I find it to be deeply troubling.

One such principle is that the rule of law should apply equally to all people and nations. This doctrine seeks to make the use of nuclear weapons conventional ... for the US. Combine this with the unilateral pre-emptive war doctrine and you have a policy which amounts to might makes right; do as we say, not as we do. It should be obvious why the rest of the world would be weary about the US claiming the sole right to nuke other countries ... just imagine if we had put this policy into practice before the invasion of Iraq.

Secondly, this philosophy would seem to be a self-fullfilling one, in that countries fearing US dominance might step up pursuit of nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense against American agression (consider North Korea to be a potential case in point.) Where in the past the rationale was that the threat of nuclear weapons would deter nuclear use, this policy goes a step further in this line of thinking and argues the use of nuclear weapons will deter nuclear use. This just seems to me to be a form of fatalistic nihilism. Have we already forgotten just how close MAD brought us to the brink of disaster? Considering those close calls, how can anyone possibly feel at ease about even lower thresholds for nuclear weapon deployment?

Some might object on "practical" grounds that by the nature of the US's unique status as the world's only superpower it is necessary for the US to impose itself on the rest of the world. This argument fails on three levels:
1. It is not democratic. If America represents democracy then it must support democratic institutions.
2. This is not a policy that would be in America's interests if we ceased to be a superpower.
3. Extremist (such as Islamic terrorists) have no fear of retribution so the threat of nuclear force will not serve to deter them. However, a world in where nuclear weapons are allowed to proliferate among the US and its allies creates a world where access to nuclear material is likelier for said extremists.

In order to best protect ourselves we should support a policy that can be most universally be accepted, and that policy would be that the use and pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable by any nation.

Additional concerns are that the use of nuclear strikes can not be justified because of the lasting effects nuclear weapons have on the environment and that civilian casualties will most likely result from the use of nuclear strikes, however "precise" they are.

But what is most disturbing of all to me is the apparent Orwellian nature of this doctrine. The paper cites a desire to prevent the use of nuclear weapons as a justification for using nuclear weapons, but the more astute will notice that what the paper affectively does is make nuclear weapons a form of conventional weapon to be employed as any other weapon would be.

UPDATE - This is tangential, but it appears that North Korea may have agreed to abandon its nuclear program. Hopefully the deal will work.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Art of the day

Another World - M.C. Escher

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Book excerpt of the day

And fear can make people do other things that they would not do if they were thinking rationally. During the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, psychologist Gustave Gilbert visited Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering in his prison cell. "We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction," Gilbert wrote in his journal, Nuremberg Diary.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

"There is one difference," Gilbert pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

"Oh, that is all well and good," Goering responded, "but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

--Weapons of Mass Deception, Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber

Friday, September 16, 2005

Carl Zimmer explains current thinking on the origins of mitochondria

That title may not sound interesting to most, but I find the topic fascinating. In his latest blog entry, Zimmer expounds on how a viral infection might have played a signficant role in the symbiotic process through which bacterial mitochodria ancestors became an essential part of our (and all eukaryotes) genome.

Here’s the history as they now see it: the free-living, oxygen-breathing ancestors of mitochondria were infected with some nasty T3/T7 viruses. Most of the time the viruses were fatal. But some mutant tried to replicate itself inside a proto-mitochondrion and failed. Its genes were trapped in the genome of its host. Its host was able to reproduce, and one of its descendants took up residence inside the cell of a eukaryote. At some point after this merger, a mutation caused the virus’s DNA and RNA copying genes to come back online. They took over the job of making these molecules, and the mitochondria’s own genes for this job were later stripped out of its genome.

Consequences and causes of environmental disregard

This article from Mother Jones details the extent of environmental disregard within the Bush administration and offers an explanation for such behavior in spite of widespread public support for environmental protection and despite the negative consequences of such actions.

Hurricane Katrina showed us how difficult it has become to distinguish between natural disasters and man-made ones. First, the Army Corp of Engineers decides it can build a better river than Mother Nature and in the process deprives the delta of storm-absorbing wetlands and barrier islands while allowing the ground under New Orleans to subside into a suicidal bowl. Then a storm hits and... well, you know the rest of the story. The lesson is simple: we are embedded in natural systems and whether we acknowledge that or not can be a matter of life and death.

What follows next you've heard a hundred times: the Bush administration's environmental record is lousy. More than lousy, it is potentially disastrous. But why? At first glance, it's easy enough to understand. Philosophically, Republicans believe in the power of the marketplace to shape behavior. Their animosity toward government regulation is long-standing. They emphasize the rights of private-property owners over any notion of the commons, and so are comfortable letting corporations pursue profit at the expense of air or water quality. Obviously, a Texas oilman like George W. Bush and a former Halliburton CEO like Dick Cheney aren't about to object to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Caribou, they certainly believe, are expendable if they get in the way of our urge for faster-bigger-more.

The Bush administration's assault on environmental quality has, however, been so deliberate, destructive, and hostile that the usual explanations -- while not wrong -- are hardly adequate. During their time in power, Bush's officials have worked systematically and energetically to undo half a century of environmental law and policy based on hard-learned lessons about how to sustain healthy environments. Strikingly, they have failed to protect the environment even when they could have done so without repercussions from special-interest campaign contributors. Something more is going on.

The writer concludes that it is religious dominionism in combination with corporate opportunism that accounts for the systematic disregard for the environment that is evidenced by Bush's environmental policies.

Bush's assault on the environment makes perfect sense once you see the bargains that drive it. The fundamentalists give Bush political power; his corporate cronies get free reign to plunder the land for their profit; and the fundamentalists get the heads of nature-worshipping enviros on an arsenic platter. The rest of us, of course, get left behind.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Humanist quote of the day

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." - Spinoza

This is an admirable creed to live by.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Profoundly disturbing

From Yahoo
A new draft US defense paper calls for preventive nuclear strikes against state and non-state adversaries in order to deter them from using weapons of mass destruction and urges US troops to "prepare to use nuclear weapons effectively."
This is, quite frankly, madness. Utterly frightening madness
"To maximize deterrence of WMD use, it is essential US forces prepare to use nuclear weapons effectively and that US forces are determined to employ nuclear weapons if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use," the document states.
I had thought the US and the world had moved away from the precipice of disaster known as Mutually Assured Destruction, but, alas, it appears not.
The doctrine reminds that while first use of nuclear weapons may draw condemnation, "no customary or conventional international law prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict."
I'm speechless. Really. I'll have more to say later when I compose myself and gather my thoughts.

EDIT - Well, I've gathered my thoughts a bit. I do feel that this pre-emptive nuclear strike doctrine is one that merits a legitimate response rather than just emotional reaction (which is all I have given so far and something I've done too much of lately) so sometime this week I will post why I feel this is a horrible policy to adopt.

Truth and integrity

From Media Matters

On the September 11 edition of NBC's syndicated The Chris Mathews Show, New York Times columnist David Brooks revealed that he has learned from private conversations with Bush officials who "represent" what "Bush believes" that from its earliest days, the Bush administration adopted a policy of shielding itself from political damage by never publically admitting a mistake -- even if it meant lying to the media and the American public. The fact that Bush doesn't admit mistakes has been reported by the media for years. For instance, in the September 11 edition of the New York Times, David Sanger reported, "Mr. Bush, his aides acknowledged, is loathe to fire members of his administration or to take public actions that are tantamount to an admission of a major mistake." Brooks himself has previously noted the Bush adminisration's unwillingness to admit mistakes. But what Brooks's September 11 account adds is that Bush is being intentionally dishonest -- in Brooks's words, "totally tactical and totally insincere" -- in resisting such public admissions and in blaming others when failures are too obvious to deny.
This is, of course, when asked during the election what errors he had made during his first term President Bush would not admit any. It is the same reason why George Tenet and Paul Bremer were awarded Medals of Freedom despite their respective failures (WMD "slam dunk" and Iraq reconstruction.) It is the reason why Karl Rove is still on staff after it was revealed he was involved with the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity despite President Bush saying he would fire any staff member that was found to be involved with the leak. It is the reason why nothing this administration does is its fault, why it is always someone else's. This administration may not hold itself accountable for its actions, but the American public should not allow its government to continue to mislead it.

- It appears that the President may have finally accepted some culpability for his administration.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

EPA official warns New Orleans will be uninhabitable for ten years

I can't even begin to express the horror of this.
Toxic chemicals in the New Orleans flood waters will make the city unsafe for full human habitation for a decade, a US government official has told The Independent on Sunday. And, he added, the Bush administration is covering up the danger.
But this all sounds familiar. After 9/11 the EPA told New Yorkers working in the debris of the Twin Towers that the air was safe to breathe. It was not. Now this EPA whistle-blower is saying its happening, again. Except this time instead of covering up the health hazards for the sake of keeping American spirits high the administration appears to be doing it to cover-up its own ineptitude.
Mr Kaufman claimed the Bush administration was playing down the need for a clean-up: the EPA has not been included in the core White House group tackling the crisis. "Its budget has been cut and inept political hacks have been put in key positions," Mr Kaufman said. "All the money for emergency response has gone to buy guns and cowboys - which don't do anything when a hurricane hits. We were less prepared for this than we would have been on 10 September 2001."

Reflecting on lessons not learned

Four years after the 9/11 tragedy our nation remains unprepared to deal with catastophe, as evidenced by hurricane Katrina. What is even more unsettling is that Katrina was expected - in 2001 FEMA warned that a category three or greater hurricane striking New Orleans would be a disaster. If we can not prepare for a known crisis with days notice how can we expect this gov't to respond competently to an unpredicted one? Joe Conason of Salon writes in an editorial that we can not. I fully endorse the sentiments expressed by Conason. From the conclusion:
Four years ago, as we contemplated potential threats from the enemies of civilization, it was impossible to conceive of the vast damage that our own government would inflict upon America before those enemies could strike again. The danger from the perpetrators of 9/11 has not abated, and suddenly we know how vulnerable we remain -- because the federal officials who have sworn to defend us, beginning with the president, have neither the character nor the competence to fulfill that oath.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Quote of the day

"When people do not want to play the blame game, they are to blame." - Jon Stewart (via the Green Knight's Quotes of the Week)

More on the blame game.

Will we be celebrating Katrina four years from now?

Only by a stroke of Orwellian genius could one of the greatest intelligence failures and human tragedies in American history be turned into a day of celebration. But that's what the Freedom Walk does, says Reason Magazine:
The walk aims to mix the memory of the 9/11 victims with a salute to those currently serving in the military and a "celebration" of freedom—combining three separate sentiments and gestures into an inappropriate spectacle.

Yes, we honor the departed and keep them in our memory. In New York, the sacrifices of the police officers and firefighters who died saving others as the World Trade Center fell down around them will never be forgotten. Nor will the heroism of the ordinary passengers on United Airlines Flight 93.

But the fact remains that this was one of America's darkest days—and not just because of the deaths of over 3,000.

It was a day of failure.

It was a day when misguided policies going back years, if not decades, came home to roost. The right and the left will continue to argue whether the Clinton administration or the Bush administration deserves more of the blame for allowing a relatively small band of operatives to produce more death and devastation on American soil than any outside enemy had ever previously managed.

But there is little disagreement over one essential fact: September 11, 2001, was a day when institutions designed to protect America, particularly the intelligence community, failed.

Karen Hughes declares pr war

See here.

Project Censored 2006

Sonoma State University has just released it's 2006 edition of Project Censored and the top 25 censored stories of the past year are now up on their website. As usual, they've done an excellent job of highlighting important issues that did not receive the media attention they deserve.

And it turns out I was right about my prediction that one of the top stories would be about alleged vote fraud in the 2004 election: it came in as the number 3 story.

The number one story is something that I just covered a few days ago, the decline of the open society under the Bush administration. I'm absolutely disgusted that such a serious issue can go undiscussed in this country.

Looking at the list, I'm surprised to see so many stories that I was completely unaware of. I spend a good bit of time checking numerous news sources, from across the political spectrum, and yet many of these completely escaped my notice. Once again Sonoma State University has demostrated the poverty of the mainstream media in this country.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Chris Hitchens vs. Juan Cole on Iraq

As you can see from the links section, I'm fond of the writings of Christopher Hitchens. He's a fellow humanist, an excellent wit, can write and speak eloquently ... all traits that I admire and respect.

Which is partly why reading some of what Chris has been writing about Iraq has grown increasingly painful for me. The quality of his arguments seem to have suffered as he struggles to justify a war that despite his best wishes simply is not going as well as he would have hoped it would. Some of his writing, such as his defense of neoconservate foreign policy and apologetics for Islam Karimov I find to be baffling, especially so when coming from a man who has spent a good portion of his adult life trying to have Henry Kissinger brought to trial.

But enough with context, Chris's latest piece defending the war can be read here. And Juan Cole, who expresses sentiments similar to mine, offers a rebuttal here.

A must read piece on Iraq and journalism

From Media Channel
What if you're an Army journalist and expected to put the war in Iraq in a good light — no matter what you see? Between March 12, 2004, and February 2, 2005, I found myself in that uneasy situation.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina and New Orleans: who's fault is it?

Someone forwarded me an article from the Wall Street Journal by Bob Williams entitled 'Blame Amid the Tragedy', which basically says that the local and state officials were primarily responsible for responding to the emergency situation in New Orleans and thus the burden of blame should fall most squarely on Governmor Blanco and Mayor Nagin.

I am not going to pretend to be fully knowledgeable about the situation and say that there were not failures at the city and state level. And to be honest, I do expect that a full investigation will find that state and local officials did not perform adequately and must share the burden of responsibility for Katrina; my initial impression thus far is that the state and local officials did not do enough to evacuate the city before the hurricane struck while the federal officials were to slow to respond after Katrina hit. Fair criticism should be applied to all who deserve it.

But it is difficult, for me at least, to tell what is true and what is false, who's to blame and who's not, because a media misinformation campaign to shift blame away from the federal government has begun (in addition to the rumor mill and allegations of press censorship.) And as usual, it appears to be the work of Karl Rove.
In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.
Take for instance, the assertion that Governor Blanco did not request federal help. That's a falsehood yet its already taken off in the media circuits.

And here's another one: its the primary responsibility of state and local officials to respond. Again, not exactly true.
In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort. The new Department will also prioritize the important issue of citizen preparedness. Educating America's families on how best to prepare their homes for a disaster and tips for citizens on how to respond in a crisis will be given special attention at DHS
Or, see here.
The NRP establishes policies, procedures, and mechanisms for proactive Federal response to catastrophic events. A catastrophic event is any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions. A catastrophic event could result in sustained national impacts over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to State, local, tribal, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened. All catastrophic events are Incidents of National Significance.
But nevermind that for a moment. One aspect of the debate, which I find to be ridiculous to the nth degree, is the "state's rights" argument - the assertion that the federal government could not respond in time because the proper channels were not followed. Are we to take this seriously? The federal government couldn't step in to save lives during one of, if not the, worst disasters in American history because t's weren't crossed and i's weren't dotted?

Secondly, this administration has in the past demonstrated a willingness to overstep state's rights, with two specific instances being medical marijuana in California and Oregon's assisted suicide law. This would indicate that the administration feels that preventing sick people from smoking marijuana and preventing terminally ill people from choosing the time of their own death and dying peacefully and painlessly neccesitates federal intervention but offering food, shelter, medicine and relief from a catastrophic hurricane does not. This, to me, is absurd.

Update - I didn't want to make anything of it, since an argument is true or false regardless of its source (genetic fallacy and what not,) but I couldn't help noticing at the end of the WSJ article I was sent it stating that Bob Williams is "president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a free market public policy research organization in Olympia, Wash." This roused my suspicion so I looked a little and found this which is terribly frustrating since it highlights the problem I got at earlier - media misinformation; in this case propagated by a false expert funded by a think-tank. An all too often occurrence.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Requote of the day: a self-admonition

"There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men" - Marcus Aurelius

Yesterday I had a conversation with a person that I know to be a compassionate and caring individual, concerned with the suffering of others who is generous and willing to help others whenever possible. The subject of our discussion was New Orleans.

This person was just as angry, just as vitriolic, just as incensed as I. The only difference was that this individual's indignation was directed towards the city, state, and persons critical of the federal government.

Which served to remind me that the passion for which we support a position does not correlate to the accuracy of that position. Ultimately, the strongest argument or defense of a position must come from the strength of the facts supporting it, not the conviction of the person presenting it. I think sometimes we confuse our outrage with the strength of our argument, or worse, with moral clarity.

Anger is a destructive emotion, and too much of it eats the soul. Anger is a force of division, of disagreement, and alienation. Anger, in itself, is not a constructive force. Constructive solutions require compromise, and that necessitates civil discourse focusing not only on our differences, but also on what we share in common. We have seen in the last century where the road that anger focused on group differences leads.

It isn't wrong to feel strongly about something, nor to be outraged. But we must remember to temper our anger and remain tolerant because, as Robert Berdahl once said (as quoted in The Elements of Journalism - I told you I'd refer back to it frequently,) "Democracy is based on a fundamental compromise between the majority and the minority. Compromise, however, becomes impossible if every issue is raised to the level of a moral imperative."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Something rotten redux

In a discussion elsewhere I posted another version of my something rotten blog entry which I believe has a better narrative function. So here it is (tweaked):

Joe Allbaugh serves as Bush advisor and chief of staff during his run as gov. of Texas. Serves as national campaign manager during the 2000 campaign. Gets appointed to the head of FEMA. While there hires on his friend Mike Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no experience in disaster related coordination.

Allbaugh steps down (shortly before the invasion of Iraq) from FEMA, Brown replaces him in the top slot.

Allbaugh starts two consulting companies - one is domestic and advises how to get gov't contracts (including FEMA contracts) and the other advises on how to get Iraq reconstruction contracts. This March he also becomes a lobbyist for Halliburton, who already has a contract for reconstruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.

His wife, Diane Allbaugh, worked as a lobbyist for three Texas energy companies, one of which, Reliant, I think, participated in Cheney secret energy task force meetings, and has been linked to the California energy crisis. Joe Allbaugh, as head of FEMA, was privvy to inside information on both national energy policy and the situation in California.

Diane also serves as an advisor to Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, the Republican lobbying firm founded by Haley Barbour, the current gov. of Mississippi. Joe Allbaugh's Iraq consulting firm, New Bridge Strategies, appears to be a morphed version of BGR, with Griffith, Rogers, and International director Richard Burt all being in chief executive positions at New Bridge Strategies.

Lanny Griffith, one of the three partners of BGR, is a Bush 43 '"pioneer," having raised over 100,000 dollars for his campaign and previously served in the Bush 41 administration.

Ed Rogers, the third of the three partners of BGR and a former employee of the Bush 41 and Reagan administrations, also started up Diligence, LLC, which is another company involved with reconstruction in Iraq. Joe Allbaugh is the deputy chairman.

Neil Bush, GW's brother, gets 60,000 dollars a year from John Howland, president of New Bridge Strategies, for serving as a consultant for the Crest Investment Company to "aid in the procurement of contracts for companies seeking to do business in Iraq."

"One of the most significant intelligence failures in history"

Roger Pielke jr on the federal response to Katrina (via Chris Mooney)
The Bush Administration's complete lack of preparedness for responding to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is one of the most significant intelligence failures in history, ranking right up there with Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Ii will be important in the coming months for Congress to investigate this policy failure with every bit of effort that it did after 9/11. Let me say that I have every expectation that the government professionals now fully engaged in the rescue and recovery operations will do an outstanding job. The question that needs to be asked, and it is not too soon to begin asking, is why was the federal government so unprepared for the disaster in the face of robust scientific knowledge about the disaster at all time scales? This is especially in light of the fact that the government completely reorganized itself after 9/11 to improve the nation's preparedness and response to catastrophes.

Like many people, I too was buoyed by the reports in the immediate aftermath of Katrina that New Orleans had dodged another bullet. It is understandable that government officials not involved with disaster preparedness and response (including the President) might have seen these reports and felt the same way. But to learn that the federal government agencies responsible for disaster preparation and management had taken very little action in the days and hours before Katrina's landfall to prepare for the possibility of flooding of New Orleans is simply amazing. I study disasters and find this incredible

Something rotten this way comes ...

Plutocracy: a political system governed by the wealthy people
Cronyism: favoritism shown to friends and associates (as by appointing them to positions without regard for their qualifications)

Joe Allbaugh, Bush's chief of staff in Texas and campaign manager in 2000, served as head of FEMA from 2001-2003. There is nothing in Allbaugh's resume to suggest he's qualified for the position, although he has been a loyal and trusted advisor of the Bush family. In 2003, Allbaugh resigns to start a private consulting firm (which among other things, advises companies how to get FEMA contracts), another consulting firm to work on reconstruction in Iraq, and becomes a lobbyist for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR - Dick Cheney's former company - the same company that will be doing some of the reconstruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.

He's replaced at FEMA by Michael Brown, a man, like Allbaugh, with no clear indication of any qualification what so ever to be in a position of coordinating disaster response, but who was aa friend of Allbaugh.

But the incestuous mixture of government, business, and lobbying doesn't stop there.

Some googling turns up Reliant Energy, a Texas based energy company which has faced allegations of complicity in the California energy crisis and may have been one of the companies that participated in Cheney's secret energy task force meetings. It turns out the Allbaugh's wife, Diane Allbaugh, worked for Reliant as a lobbyist.

It gets worse. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out, when Joe Allbaugh left FEMA the person who helped him set-up his new company was Haley Barbour, the current governor of Mississippi. And the door keeps spinning, because if you follow Marshall's links, you see that Allbaugh's New Bridge Strategies company bears an awful resemblance to Barbour's lobbying group, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. Oh, and Joe's wife Diane is consulting at Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, too.

Doesn't stop there, either. Lanny Griffith, BGR's chief operating officer, is one of the "Pioneers" who raised over 100,000 dollars for Bush's campaign. He also served in Bush 41's administration.

The other partner, Ed Rogers, also served in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations. He's the initial funder of Diligence, LLC, another company that provides logistical assistance in Iraq. Joe Allbaugh is the company's deputy chairman.

And yet, that's not it. There's more. George W. Bush's brother Neil* is on New Bridge's payroll (sort of), receiving 60,000 dollars a year to "aid in the procurement of contracts for companies seeking to do business in Iraq." Neil gets his check from New Bridge president John Howland for being a consultant to the Crest Investment Company.

Richard Burt, Director of New Bridge and International Director of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers is also the chairman of Diligence, and is an advisor to the Carlyle Group.

I could go on, but I'm losing my patience.

Let's hope there's a journalist willing to follow the money and dig a little deeper.

*I had erroneously listed Jeb as being on the payroll.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A government run by Vogons

As I continue to hear and read reports of aid being turned away or prevented by FEMA, and the reason for aid not being delivered explained as a failure of local and state officials to follow the proper channels of action, I can't help but think of Douglas Adams' parody of bureacracy in the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Vogons, an alien race who
are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.

No further words necessary

Watch this video. It speaks for itself. Nothing anyone in Washington says can answer for this. Nothing.

Government secrecy continues to grow

A democratic society is an open one, yet the amount of information withheld by the government from its citizens continues to grow. The public has a right to know how decisions that impact them are being formulated so that they can develop informed opinions and fully participate in the democratic process. Part of the reason an open society is required of democracy is that it allows the public to hold its officials accountable for their actions, but as I alluded to in my post from yesterday this administration has used the veil of secrecy to protect itself from being held accountable for its actions. This is simply unacceptable, because, as journalist Walter Lippmann wrote in 1919, "there can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies."

Back in March I linked to a Slate article about this subject. The conclusion of that article says it best

Information is the oxygen of democracy. Day by day, the Bush administration is cutting off the supply.

The Doubter reaches a breaking point

I've always tried to maintain a civil tone in matters of discussion. But my emotions have been running high, especially since I watched the video of Shep Smith's frustration over the situation in New Orleans. I strongly urge you to watch this powerful video clip, it has left me with a new found respect for Smith and Rivera, who broke ranks with the rest of their station to voice their concern for the plight of the victims of Katrina still trapped (inexplicably by military force) in the city. I can't get the sound of Smith's voice out of my head, the voice of a man who has had his spirit broken by witnessing first hand human suffering and then having to listen to people (some of them from his own channel) lie to America about what's really happening. See here for example.

Well, earlier today I had a breakdown of sorts, and released a rare invective, something I usually frown upon. But right or wrong, it reflects what I'm feeling right now, so I'm going to transcribe it here.
"There's ineptitude from government at other levels as well. We're only focusing on one thing - why relief efforts were so late."

You know what, I can live with ineptitude. What I find absolutely intolerable, though, is the refusal of gov't officials to own up to their failure to respond adequately. Let's hear someone in gov't say, "A heavy burden weighs on my conscience, because I know that I failed the people I'm sworn to protect. I should have done more. This is simply inexcusable."

But no, we get these slick slimy son of a bitches outright lying. Lying to the American public. And I'm going to start right at the top. Pres. Bush set the tone for accountability in this administration: that tone being there is none. Promote and reward failure, deny and explain away any wrongdoing.

FEMA predicted in 2001 this would happen. Four years later with advance notice and they still couldn't handle it. Four years of saying 9/11, 9/11, 9/11, it changed everything, we've got to take your civil liberties away and consolidate more power in the executive branch and trade some democracy for secrecy, and they were just as unprepared for this disaster as they were for 9/11. I'm sick of them. I'm sick of their b.s rhetoric.

What do we have to show for it? 1800 dead soldiers in Iraq, 25000 dead Iraqi civilians, a trillion dollar deficit, an American city wiped off of the map, and a concentration of wealth unseen since the Gilded Age. We've seen who gets left behind by this gov't ... their dead bodies are floating in the cesspool that once was New Orleans.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Responding rationally to crisis

This is something of a spin-off of a conversation that began when The Renegade of Junk brought up a point about the disproportionate amount of resources we've been willing to commit as a nation towards fighting terrorism.
It has always been puzzling to me, the huge difference between the resources a country will allocate to it's military spending, as opposed to everything else. Why is it that a foreign threat to a country is deemed deadlier than a threat from other more home-grown factors like poverty, environmental catastrophes, pollution or lack of basic health care? Take for instance 9/11, which resulted in the abrupt focus of American energies into the terrorist threat. It resulted in a war in Afghanistan, which was probably justified in that it was actually aimed at a regime directly responsible for the attacks. Then, we had the Iraq war, wholly unjustified, but feeding on that same focussed anti-terrorism energy, which had a tremendous cost monetarily as well as in terms of American and Iraqi lives.
In the comments there I provided a link to this article from the Skeptical Inquirer (from the Sept/Oct 2002 issue) which called for rational thinking rather than emotional as a response to terrorism. Renegade of Junk quoted the conclusion, so it seems fitting that I should focus on a point in the introduction. (Bold emphasis mine.)
Human beings might be expected to value each life, and each death, equally. We each face numerous hazards-war, disease, homicide, accidents, natural disasters-before succumbing to "natural" death. Some premature deaths shock us far more than others. Contrasting with the 2,800 fatalities in the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001 (9/11), we barely remember the 20,000 Indian earthquake victims earlier in 2001. Here, we argue that the disproportionate reaction to 9/11 was as damaging as the direct destruction of lives and property. Americans can mitigate future terrorism by learning to respond more objectively to future malicious acts. We do not question the visceral fears and responsible precautions taken during the hours and days following 9/11, when there might have been even worse attacks. But, as the first anniversary of 9/11 approaches, our nation's priorities remain radically torqued toward homeland defense and fighting terrorism at the expense of objectively greater societal needs.
Now, to further bring this into context, one might remember that I had mentioned in my argument against the invasion of Iraq that we were "diverting a significant amount of our resources to fighting in a country that previous to the invasion did not host terrorists, nor did it have weapons of mass destruction," and, more specifically, that "the war has cost 200 billion, with a projected cost of 600 billion ... yet we are operating at a budget deficit of 330 billion with a ten year projected deficit running anywhere from 1-2 trillion."

In the course of the original e-mail conversation that sparked that post I had said to my friends that I believed that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had left us with less capacity to deal with domestic threats (a point which was dismissed prima facie as absurd.) My response to this was:
The point I made was that diverting resources into Iraq, leaves us less capable of diverting resources into other measures. Can we do it? I suppose so, but we do it by cutting the budgeting of domestic programs and operating at a large budget deficit. As the ideological push to establish Pax Americana increases, so does military spending while other government programs suffer. Being concerned with this has nothing to do with being a "liberal," remember, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address that one of the gravest threats to American democracy was the rise of the military-industrial complex.
Now consider that the estimated damage Katrina has done to New Orleans ranges as high as $100 billion. Costs in terms of human lives, rebuilding, environmental clean-up, and economic consequences will, I'm guessing, end up being far far higher than that, yet a $14 billion 30 year plan was developed to protect Louisianna from hurricanes, of which only $2 billion was granted, with it being questionable how much of that actually went into the project.

See the point developing? $14 billion in prevention versus $100 billion plus in curing. And where is that money going to come from? How much of a strain will this put on our economy? What other programs will have to be cut to pay for all this? (presuming our government stays the course in its current philosophy of spending and not taxing.)

"They've locked them in there" - Shep Smith, Fox News

Click here to watch the dejected, desperate frustration of Fox News correspondents Shep Smith and Geraldo Rivera (with the latter in tears at one point) as they tell us that a military checkpoint has been set-up ... to prevent people from leaving New Orleans.

Katrina and global warming?

You might have heard at this point it said that Katrina is the result of global warming. That's not exactly true. Global warming has the potential to intensify hurricanes - its like having the odds that a hurricane will reach the class four level increased - but it can not be directly determined what effect warming has on any given hurricane. RealClimate has written a piece answering the question of how global warming affects hurricanes and what relation, if any, it has to Katrina.

The correct answer... is that there is no way to prove that Katrina either was, or was not, affected by global warming. For a single event, regardless of how extreme, such attribution is fundamentally impossible. We only have one Earth, and it will follow only one of an infinite number of possible weather sequences. It is impossible to know whether or not this event would have taken place if we had not increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as much as we have. Weather events will always result from a combination of deterministic factors (including greenhouse gas forcing or slow natural climate cycles) and stochastic factors (pure chance).

Due to this semi-random nature of weather, it is wrong to blame any one event such as Katrina specifically on global warming - and of course it is just as indefensible to blame Katrina on a long-term natural cycle in the climate.

Yet this is not the right way to frame the question. As we have also pointed out in previous posts, we can indeed draw some important conclusions about the links between hurricane activity and global warming in a statistical sense. The situation is analogous to rolling loaded dice: one could, if one was so inclined, construct a set of dice where sixes occur twice as often as normal. But if you were to roll a six using these dice, you could not blame it specifically on the fact that the dice had been loaded. Half of the sixes would have occurred anyway, even with normal dice. Loading the dice simply doubled the odds. In the same manner, while we cannot draw firm conclusions about one single hurricane, we can draw some conclusions about hurricanes more generally. In particular, the available scientific evidence indicates that it is likely that global warming will make - and possibly already is making - those hurricanes that form more destructive than they otherwise would have been.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina still wreaking havoc.

I was hoping this wouldn't happen.

A huge oil spill was spotted near two storage tanks on the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, state officials said Friday

New Orleans fell deeper into chaos on Friday with gangs roaming the streets and corpses rotting in the sun a full four days after Hurricane Katrina lashed the city and exposed federal aid efforts as a failure.
As the mayor of New Orleans expresses what can only be described as exasperated outrage

"I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man," he said in a radio interview. "Now get off your asses and fix this. Let's do something and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country."
And Chris Mooney reiterates

Folks: Katrina hit New Orleans Monday morning. That was the 29th. On the 24th, I blogged the following about "Tropical Depression 12": "It has the Gulf Coast in its sights, and a potential trajectory that could take it right over Lake Pontchartrain (potentially driving a storm surge right into New Orleans)...." I didn't even know the storm was named Katrina when I wrote that, but I knew that New Orleans was a potential target.

If I could know that, it is simply beyond belief that federal emergency planners and relief agencies could not know it. The fact that the relief effort thus far has been so tragically pitiful, when the knowledge was available many days before the storm of its possible trajectory, is absolutely inexcusable. All of this was foreseeable. Relief workers should have been in place, on the ground, ready to move. That they were not suggests utter, inexcusable incompetence.

Two articles about the uninsured

Something that has always nagged at me was the fact that there are people who die and suffer every year because they don't have the money necessary to afford the treatment they need. Something about this has always seemed to be ... well... just wrong. Is it really ethical to let people die because they aren't affluent? I'm not looking to blame anyone, but I am looking for solutions. What can we do as a nation to reduce the number of people who go untreated? With that in mind, here are two recent articles dealing with the health insurance issue in America.

The Uninsured: 45.8 million and Counting ...

For the fourth year in a row – and for the tenth time since the last national effort to expand health insurance coverage in 1993 – the number of Americans living without health insurance has increased. This week, the Census Bureau released its analysis of the most recent Current Population Survey, which estimates that 45.8 million Americans did not have health insurance during 2004. The last time our nation seriously engaged on this issue, “only” 40 million Americans lacked health care coverage.
The Moral-Hazard Myth

The U. S. health-care system, according to “Uninsured in America,” has created a group of people who increasingly look different from others and suffer in ways that others do not. The leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States is unpaid medical bills. Half of the uninsured owe money to hospitals, and a third are being pursued by collection agencies. Children without health insurance are less likely to receive medical attention for serious injuries, for recurrent ear infections, or for asthma. Lung-cancer patients without insurance are less likely to receive surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment. Heart-attack victims without health insurance are less likely to receive angioplasty. People with pneumonia who don’t have health insurance are less likely to receive X rays or consultations. The death rate in any given year for someone without health insurance is twenty-five per cent higher than for someone with insur-ance. Because the uninsured are sicker than the rest of us, they can’t get better jobs, and because they can’t get better jobs they can’t afford health insurance, and because they can’t afford health insurance they get even sicker. John, the manager of a bar in Idaho, tells Sered and Fernandopulle that as a result of various workplace injuries over the years he takes eight ibuprofen, waits two hours, then takes eight more—and tries to cadge as much prescription pain medication as he can from friends. “There are times when I should’ve gone to the doctor, but I couldn’t afford to go because I don’t have insurance,” he says. “Like when my back messed up, I should’ve gone. If I had insurance, I would’ve went, because I know I could get treatment, but when you can’t afford it you don’t go. Because the harder the hole you get into in terms of bills, then you’ll never get out. So you just say, ‘I can deal with the pain.’ "


"Flood control has been a priority of this administration from Day One" - Scott McClellan

Scott must be using some odd definition of the word "priority" that I'm completely unaware of.

An old comment that I can't help but remember

I sent this eSkeptic to my friends last year before the election. Its about the politicizaton of science, and it seems more important than ever to bring this problem to light.

“Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue,” George Will wrote recently. “Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.” 30 Bush has finally met his match. The Universe is the one foe more steadfast than he is. It cannot be bullied or intimidated. The laws of physics know no compromise. This is a game of chicken Bush will lose. If he doesn’t take his foot off the accelerator, then the only question is: how will we recover from the crash?

Katrina: a short-lived reprise

Ok, I'm sorry. In the previous entry I expressed concern that now was not the time to politicize the tragedy that Katrina has wrought. But this has pushed me past my limits of moderation:

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." - George W. Bush

You don't? Well goll, shucks, gee whiz. Nobody must a seen it coming, then. Except everyone that requested greater funding for the levees which President Bush chose not to fund.* Sorry, Mr. Bush, but you will not get a pass on your empty rhetoric. Not today.

Via Yahoo:

Bush administration funding cuts forced federal engineers to delay improvements on the levees, floodgates and pumping stations that failed to protect New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters, agency documents showed on Thursday.

The former head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that handles the infrastructure of the nation's waterways, said the damage in New Orleans probably would have been much less extensive had flood-control efforts been fully funded over the years.
But then there are the wetlands, or more accurately, there aren't the wetlands, which is the problem

"This was predicted. It is not surprising that a Category Four storm like Katrina would result in such devastation," said Robert Twilley, director of the Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute at Louisiana State University. "But it is difficult to comprehend the extent of the damage."

However, it would have been much less had Louisiana not lost a third of its coastal wetlands, Twilley told IPS.
The article goes on to state:

"Minor storms that had no impact 20 or 30 years ago cause flooding today," he said. "It's alarming a lot of people."

That alarm, and plenty of scientific evidence, produced a 14-billion-dollar, 30-year plan in 2002 to construct new barrier islands, improve levees and reroute up to one-third of the river to help restore coastal wetlands.
So what happened?

...the George W. Bush administration balked at the costs, supporting only a two-billion-dollar expenditure.
Paul Krugman, in his op-ed for the New York Times, writes

Before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters facing America: a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans. "The New Orleans hurricane scenario," The Houston Chronicle wrote in December 2001, "may be the deadliest of all." It described a potential catastrophe very much like the one now happening.
And this entry at the MoJo blog puts this all into perspective

... if Katrina makes anything clear, the federal government—Homeland Security, FEMA, the DoD, whatever—has no plan to deal with a major disaster, terrorist or otherwise. Think about it: after an catastrophic event—and this one, at least, was entirely predictable—we've got a major city degenerating into lawlessness, with conditions that make bringing medical attention and other forms of relief very difficult.

That's an accurate description of what's going on in New Orleans now. But it could also describe what might happen in the aftermath of say, a dirty bomb or a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack. Of course there are some differences. But think of the similarities in what would look like an adequate response. Where is the fleet of helicopters? Where are the plans to press gang every bus in a 500-mile radius? Where are the airlift-ready hospitals, water sanitation plants, and tents? Where are the air drops of non-perishable food?

*lt hasn't escaped my attention that previous administrations also failed to adequately fund the Army Corps of Engineers. What is intolerable to me, however, is President Bush's refusal to acknowledge this or take any accountability for his administration.