Thursday, August 17, 2006

Green and Mean

I live in New York City and have traveled to Europe and noticed that almost everywhere in Europe, buildings, transportation, almost everything is designed to save energy, water and lessen environmental impacts. In comparison, during the recent heat wave in New York, many retailers were leaving their doors open, spilling air-conditioned air onto the sidewalks. Most often this is mandated by the corporate policy of the retailers' parent companies.
I travel about the city by bicycle about half the time and mass transit the other half. Bicycle transportation is more noticeable in New York than anywhere else in North America, yet is dwarfed by the ubiquity of it in most European cities. In New York City, about 115,000 people a day commute to work by bicycle. I may be biased, but I firmly believe that if more people in the city and suburbs used bicycles to get around at least some of the time it would put a big dent in the nation's oil appetite - and a dent in many bulging stomachs as well.
There was an article in 'The New Yorker' two years ago (it's no longer available online) called 'Green New York'. The article confirmed something I've always suspected: dense urban areas (like NYC) are much more energy efficient than less dense suburban areas. Some of this is due to apartment buildings being more energy efficient, but the primary reason is the small percentage of residents who commute to work by car and/or alone in their car. Only 46% of New Yorkers even own a car (in Manhattan it's only 25%) and 2 out of every 3 people who commute to work by rail in the United States are in the New York area.
We all know that the automobile has changed the landscape of North America for the last 80 years. Suburban sprawl is now the norm and new homes being built are 2 to 3 times larger than the typical home built 20 years ago. This is without any major improvements in energy efficiency, since insulation use became commonplace 30 to 40 years ago.
The simple fact of the matter is that the way most non-urban communities are designed, it necessitates driving almost every day of the week: to work, to shop, to visit friends, to see a movie, to eat out, etc. While public transportation is available in many suburbs, a very small percentage of people have used it even once and even less use it regularly.
This goes beyond city vs. Suburbs though. In the 'pre-suburb' days of 50 to 100 years ago most rural towns had a relatively densely populated town center where most people in the town lived. It was entirely feasible to walk to the local stores to shop, to walk to work, school, church, parks, playgrounds, etc. Now, these same towns that are slapped with the name 'suburb' or 'bedroom community' are filled with what are called 'developments' (at least that's we called them growing up) which are carved out of farmland or forests and are usually miles from any kind of commercial area. These houses were located and designed around the idea of cheap and plentiful gasoline that in the next 50 years will become more expensive and scarcer.
Nationally, 90% of Americans drive to work. Let's assume 10% carpool. Total (on the books) employment is about 145 million, so 116 million Americans drive to work alone about 200 days out of the year. If the average person lives 5 miles from work and is getting 20 MPG, this means 11.6 billion gallons of gas are burned every year to simply commute to work. This equals about 258 million barrels and produces 278.4 billion pounds of CO2 gas.
Per capita, the United States uses the most energy of any nation on Earth and consequently, produces the most greenhouse gases. A good portion of this energy is simply wasted. As a nation, we can't rely on the government or corporations to turn this trend around of their own accord. The ultimate solution has to be demanded by citizens and consumers.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fear or Courage

When the British terrorist plot was uncovered last week and said to be "close to execution", despite the fact that none of the plotters had actually bought airline tickets and only half of them even held passports, there were sighs of relief on both sides of the pond.
Of course, many politicians, primarily George Bush, used the occasion to goose up the fear level a little bit as we close in on the mid-term elections in November:

"The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."...
"But obviously, we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in. It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. And that is why we have given our officials the tools they need to protect our people."

No doubt we'll be seeing more of this kind of fear mongering as the elections draw closer. This page in the Republican playbook has become well worn and dog-eared in recent years though by no means was invented after 9/11 (anybody remember Bush Sr's Willy Horton campaign ads?). Yes, the Republicans like to remind the citizenry over and over that there's a boogy-man around every corner.
Of course, this steady drone not allows them to win elections, it's the perfect backdrop with which to steadily shred the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Best Defense is... a Good Defense

The British Home Defense authorities are reporting Thursday the foiling of a sophisticated coordinated attempt to bomb multiple commercial airliners in flight using liquid explosives. It appears that the harmless separate ingredients of the explosives would have been carried on the flight in hand luggage, combined to create the explosive mixture and then detonated, possibly by use of a simple electrical device.

Police are searching premises after 21 people were arrested. Home Secretary John Reid said they believed the "main players" were accounted for. High security is causing delays at all UK airports. The threat level to the UK has been raised by MI5 to critical after the arrests in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham. Critical threat level - the highest - means "an attack is expected imminently and indicates an extremely high level of threat to the UK"..."We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and to commit, quite frankly, mass murder," Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson said. (BBC News, 8/10/06)

The investigation brilliantly seems to have prevented a terror attack that could've have resulted in many thousands of deaths. Furthermore, the plot has all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda operation: targeting airliners, a multiple coordinated attack and a sophistication to the plan.

What this plot also points out is the utter ridiculousness of the Bush administration's anti-terror strategy. Bush and others like to continually repeat over and over their belief that we have to 'fight the terrorists abroad, so that we don't have to at home'. While this may be valid if he's referring to beefing up our 'on the ground' intelligence gathering and infiltration operations overseas, preemptively launching military operations, such as the Iraq debacle, to 'fight terrorism' has been proven completely ineffective. Indeed, this approach is more likely counterproductive by creating a fertile environment for the recruitment of more terrorists and giving them a foreign 'coalition of the willing' to practice on.

The Moscow Metro bombing of February, 2004, the Madrid train bombings in March of 2004, the Russian airliner bombings of August, 2004 and the London Underground and bus bombings of July, 2005 are but a few examples of attacks that have happened since we 'took the fight to the terrorists' in Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, there are many other large and small terror plots that have been stopped, including today's announcement.

Clearly, advances in security technology, better human intelligence and infiltration operations and wider coordination of law enforcement organizations nationally and internationally are much more effective than the current failed military strategy. In this struggle, the best defense is not a good offense, at least as Bush defines it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Proof Needed

One thing that has hardly been spoken of, seen or demanded in the current Israeli war against Hizbollah, and by default Lebanon, is visual proof. Israel has repeatedly stated that they don't deliberately target civilians, though at this time, about 1,000 Lebanese civilians who weren't targeted are dead anyway. Israel and almost everyone else like to claim that Hizbollah is using women and children as 'human shields', but is there any visual proof of this. At one point, the IDF did offer one example of photos or video that supposedly showed a Hizbollah rocket attack. I've seen it and it's very grainy.

It seems that with high resolution camera technology that's available and unmanned drone aircraft not to mention all the NSA and satellite intel that the Israelis are getting from the neo-cons in Washington on the sly, there should some fairly indisputable visual proof for at least one of the bombings. The IDF has been hitting large residential buildings and laying entire blocks of south Beirut to waste. Where is the visual evidence to justify this? Are they using so called human intelligence? Very doubtful. Hizbollah is notoriously secretive of their operations, even from the Shiite population where they operate.

Obviously, the IDF started this operation with what was probably a fairly limited target list and after pounding those targets into oblivion, moved on to any target that could conceivably be hiding a single 6 foot long Katyusha rocket, whether it be an apartment building, a well drilling truck that looked like a rocket launcher or a passenger car that could conceivably be hiding one in it's trunk. As guesswork in the targeting rationale goes up, the fog of war becomes ever foggier.

Israel could've done itself a huge favor in the area of world opinion by foreseeing this as persuasive tool and planning accordingly. Without proof, as the body count grows, the 'trust us, we're being careful' argument just doesn't fly.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Guerrillas in The Midst

Israel's goals when they launched their massive bombardment campaign and later their limited ground campaign in southern Lebanon was to force Hizbollah away from the border to reduce the immediate threat of their Katyusha rocket attacks and also more generally to try to destroy their military capability and ability to re-arm via Syria. On all these counts the campaign is a qualified failure. The rockets continue to rain down with seemingly increased abundance and in direct ground fighting with Hizbollah, Israel has had some success but has lost many soldiers.

"What we face is an infantry division with state-of-the-art weaponry -- night-vision gear, advanced rifles, well-equipped -- deployed along our border," said Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, who until last month was director of analysis for Israeli military intelligence. "They have some of the most advanced antitank missiles in the world." (Washington Post, 8/8/06)
This doesn't exactly sound like a terrorist group, it sounds like a well armed and formidable guerrilla army. But why is anyone surprised? Israel felt the increasingly lethal sting of Hizbollah the last time they were in Lebanon as an occupying force for 18 years up until 6 years ago. Why did they think it would go any better this time?

Over the last week, there has been a slow subtle turn in the diplomatic stances of Israel and the United States regarding the Lebanese conflict. Olmert seems to be murmuring a little louder about reaching a cease fire agreement and pushing for a UN occupying force on the Lebanese border and the border with Syria to prevent the flow of arms. It's obvious that Israel realizes that the war has gone from bad to worse and that public opinion in Israel is quickly ebbing as the rockets continue coming despite the ferocious military campaign to stop them. They're calculating the end game.

So if the result of this foolish conflict on the part of Israel and Hizbollah is simply that Hizbollah is moved back and that there is a UN peacekeeping force, what was the whole point? These results could've been accomplished through diplomacy and the UN after the capture of Israel's soldiers or even before. A thousand dead Lebanese and dozens of dead Israelis, all civilians; never have so many been killed so needlessly for so little.

Losing "Joe-mentum"

A warning bell for many moderate Democrats is tolling tonight in Connecticut. The Washington Post is reporting that three term U.S. Senator, Joe Lieberman is trailing Democratic primary challenger Ned Lamont by about 7 percentage points with 38% of precincts reporting. As of the time of this post the lead is 4 points with 84% of precincts reporting.

This closely watched campaign, that has swung steadily in Lamonts favor in recent months, is being seen largely as a referendum on the war in Iraq. To be fair, Lieberman has been somewhat critical of the conduct of the war, but no more so than many Republicans such as John McCain. What has been missing, though, is outspoken criticism and strongly pushing alternatives or changes in direction such as those offered by Jack Murtha and John Kerry. Additionally, as pointed out by Glenn Greenwald in, much of the rhetoric that Lieberman used in stating his position and criticizing many other Democrats over the last 2 years, seems to very closely parallel the Karl Rove authored Republican talking points about the war:

It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years. And that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril. (CNN, 12/6/05)

My point here is that the home front affects the battle front. Politics as usual at home can and will have unusually bad consequences in Iraq. It encourages our enemies to believe they are succeeding in their attempts to influence our policy. They clearly seek by their hostage taking, by their desecration of the bodies of our dead, and by their terrorism to break the will of the people of America. (Brookings Institute, April 2004)
As Greenwald states, "That is the sort of 'Democrats are allies of our enemies' rhetoric that one expects to find in Rush Limbaugh's daily demonizing rants or on Michelle Malkin's blog, not in a speech from a Democratic senator." Clearly, Lieberman is Zell Miller 'Lite'. We are a very long way from the moderate 'third way' philosophy of the DLC and Bill Clinton of the 1990's. Indeed, even the golden touch of a Bill Clinton appearance with Lieberman at a campaign stop recently didn't seem to have much of an effect.

If Lamont wins the primary, as all signs point to, it raises many questions for the general election. Lieberman has already stated that if he lost the primary, he would still run as an independent. Lieberman's chances in a three way race are probably fairly good, as he would draw many moderate Republican and independent voters. If the race is close, one would hope that Lieberman might consider dropping out and supporting Lamont if the alternative is losing the seat to a Republican. However Lieberman has shown in the past that he is willing to put his own interests ahead of his party's. In the 2000 election when Lieberman was Gore's running mate, he still ran for his Senate seat. If they had won the election (oh wait, they did), Lieberman would have had to vacate his Senate seat. John Rowland, the Republican governor at the time (he moved on to prison afterward for accepting illegal favors), would've appointed a new Senator, who surely would have been a Republican. Lieberman could've chosen to avoid this possibility by letting another Democrat run for the seat and campaigning for him, but he didn't.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Science or The Supernatural

This November, 3 conservative Republican incumbents on the 10 person Kansas state Board of Education come up for re-election. The conservative majority on Board of Education approved new standards for all students in the state that present so called 'intelligent design' as a valid scientific theory and paints evolution as unproven. The standard goes on to state that there's a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code."

Janet Waugh, a Democrat who opposed the new standards and lamented that Kansas has become an international laughingstock, drew a conservative Democratic challenger who supports the standards that allow for criticism of evolution.(Washington Post, 8/1/2006)
Many scientific and education group have weighed in against the new standard and the Seattle based Discovery Institute, a pro 'intelligent design' think tank has been running radio ads in favor of the standards. The Discovery Institute website states that opponents are "using their voices to try to undermine Kansas' science standards and stifle discussion of the scientific evidence they don't like." What the Institute fails to mention is that there is absolutely no peer reviewed or even debatable scientific evidence that supports 'intelligent design' or a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code."

We can only hope that in this battle in the 'War on Science', logical, reasoned thinking prevails over supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Charles Darwin himself was a deeply religious man. At least he chose to use his God given intelligence to advance the knowledge of all mankind instead of trying to undermine the progress of science.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Business as Usual in Washington D.C.

"Republicans have made perfectly clear who they stand with and who they are willing to fight for: the privileged few."
-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
As the carnage in Iraq continues and Israel plays a futile and ever deadlier game of "whack-a-mole" in Lebanon, this week the Republican controlled Congress continues it's steady march to turn the United States economy into a feudal system.
The House has passed a measure by a vote of 230 to 180 that will raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1997. However, in an effort to insure passage by the Senate, the House Republican leadership added a permanent cut to the estate tax to the minimum wage bill. Many Democrats are outraged at this tactic, especially involving the estate tax cut, that will only benefit a very small number of the wealthiest American families and cost the Treasury an estimated $263 billion of lost revenue over the next ten years. The Washington Post reports that, "Republicans believed they had found a way to snatch the minimum-wage issue away from Democrats, who had been using it as a cudgel, while securing passage of a central plank of their economic program: all but eliminating the estate tax."
So in this little Republican gambit, if Democratic Senators do the fiscally responsible thing and vote against this bill, their opponents in November's midterm elections can claim, in a tone of mock populism, that they had cast a vote against 'working class Americans' on the minimum wage issue.
This 'compromise' was called "legislative extortion" and "...beyond cynical... disgraceful" by some Democrats. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The "Fog of War" Turns Sinister

The Washington Post reported on July 26 the killing of 4 unarmed United Nations observers in their fortified post late Tuesday. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was "shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting". These comments drew criticism by some, accusing Annan of jumping to conclusions. Maybe these people should've taken a look at the details of the incident first.

The 4 U.N. observers started receiving Israeli bombardment nearby the observation post Tuesday morning and took shelter in a bunker under their post. The post lies near the hilltop town of Khiyam, is very clearly marked and has been there for eighteen years. Israel knew it was there. Both the BBC and the Guardian are reporting that U.N. commanders asked the Israelis 10 times over the course of the day to stop the bombing on their position. According to the Guardian:

Jane Lute, the assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, told the UN security council that the base came under close Israeli fire 21 times - including 12 hits within 100 metres and four direct hits - from 1.20pm until contact was lost with the four peacekeepers inside at 7.17pm."

Ms Lute said the peacekeeping force had protested to the Israeli army after each firing incident. The UN's deputy secretary general, Mark Malloch Brown, and Ms Lute herself also made several calls to Israel's mission to the UN "reiterating these protests and calling for an abatement of the shelling", she said.

After contact with the base was lost, Unifil then won safe passage for two armoured personnel carriers to evacuate the position, she said. They arrived at 9.30pm "and found the shelter collapsed and major damage to the rest of the position". Despite negotiating safe passage, the APCs also came under Israeli attack, Ms Lute said.

Earlier, the United Nations general secretary, Kofi Annan, accused the Israeli military of carrying out a sustained bombing of the UN base on the Lebanon-Israel border that culminated in the killing of four unarmed monitors.

Mr Annan said he had suggested to the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, that they carry out a joint investigation into the events that led to the shelling of the "well-established and well marked" Unifil (UN interim force in Lebanon) post in the town of Khiyam.

"I spoke to Mr Olmert and he definitely believes it was a mistake and has expressed his deep sorrow, " Mr Annan told a press conference in Rome. "But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there."

Clearly, either the artillery gunners (who already knew the post was there) didn't receive these pleas from the U.N. during the day, or did and chose to ignore them. Perhaps someone in the Israeli chain of command chose not to pass along the information. According to the BBC, the post was hit with a "precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling".

Of course Ehud Olmert has expressed "deep sorrow", according to Annan, and has promised a full investigation into the incident. I should say so.

Along with reports of bombardments near hospitals and civilian vehicles being targeted deliberately by Israeli helicopter gunships, this is only another example of the clear lack of any kind of regard for civilian life being shown by the Israelis. 'Well, Hizbollah targets civilians too!' is the typically Neanderthal response to this. Well, if Israel is such a 'progressive' and 'civilized' nation, as so many claim, then why are they exhibiting the same type of behavior as a terrorist organization? But then again, her benefactor the U.S., doesn't exactly set a great example.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"I Forbid"

That's the English translation of the Latin word 'veto'. Today, George Bush used his presidential veto power for the first time in his entire 'reign'. As the Washington Post reports, the Senate passed a bill 63-37 that would've used federal money to fund stem cell research. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the presidential veto has been exercised 1,717 times, an average of 17 times per year or 68 times in a four year term. What Bush has done instead is use hundreds of so called 'signing statements', that basically tell Congress and the courts what part of the bills that he signs into law he feels that he as King - er, President, actually doesn't have to obey.

So, of all the bills that he's signed into law, he picks this one to veto. A bill that would've used not fetuses, not even embryos, but multi-celled blastocysts to conduct potentially live saving and quality of life saving research for an array terrible diseases and conditions. Blastocysts are literally the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Randi Rhodes pointed out this sickening exchange with Tony Snow in the 7/18 WHPB on Air America:

MR. SNOW: The President -- I don't think that's the choice that the President has presented. What the President has said is that he doesn't want human life destroyed. Now, you may consider that insignificant, but the President has said -- and you have had in a number of cases the Snowflake babies, where some of those fetuses have, in fact, been brought to term and have become human beings. The President believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federalgovernment to finance something that many people consider murder; he's one of them...
...As you know, there are ongoing efforts in some states, including, I think, California and Massachusetts, to use state money for it, and I daresay if people think that there's a market for it, they're going to support it handsomely. The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong, and he has said.
So, the President thinks it's murder, but he's OK with private research companies committing 'murder' and if people make money from it, all the better. Also notice how Snow gets in the quick dig at two states that vote overwhemingly Democratic in national elections. Do these people have souls? At this point I'd even settle for a little bit of conscience...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pure Insanity

Well, Israel continues trying to make friends and influence people in her own special way this week. The Washington Post reports on 7/18 that the civilian death toll in Lebanon continues to climb. Among those killed were 7 Canadians, unfortunate enough to be caught in southern Lebanon when the Shiite hit the fan. The official explanation for most of the civilains casualties is that Hezbollah likes to hide themselves and their meager weapons among the civilian population. I think 'hiding behind women and children' is the sound bite that seems to be popular. I find it hard to believe that Hezbollah would be hiding behind Canadians. Firing rockets into and dropping bombs on densely populated areas is irresponsible. It doesn't matter who's doing it. There's no moral high ground in this conflict what so ever, only varying degrees of stubbonness and stupidity.

Perhaps the most stupidity is on the Israeli side. Lebanon has a moderate, representative democratic government and along with Egypt and Jordan, is one of Israel's friendliest neighbors. Unfortunately, Syria has too much influence in Lebanon and it's influence largely unwanted by the Lebanese. Ironically, Lebanon wants Hezbollah out of it's country almost as much as Israel does. Unfortunately, the Lebanese army is small and weak and any move they might make against Hezbollah would surely be countered by the Syrian army rolling across the border. So, if Israel and Lebanon want the same thing, why then is Israel bombing the crap out Lebanon. Wouldn't it make more sense to cooperate with them. Here's an even crazier idea. Maybe Israel along with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon could create a regional treaty organization, along the lines of NATO. Given the largely warm diplomatic climate between all these nations for many years now, it's not something that would be impossible to accomplish.

The only thing being accomplished with the current strategy is more of the same alienation and radicalization that's failed for the past sixty years.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Bombs

The past year had seen much progress in the relations between Israel and Palestine. The Israelis withdrew from the Gaza strip, closed Israeli settlements there and talked of more settlement closures in the West Bank. Things began to turn when the Hamas party won a majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament; a setback for the more moderate Fata party. The militant wing of Hamas had committed most of the terrorist acts of the recent Intifada and Hamas as a whole has consistently refused to recognize the right of Israel to exist. That said, the voters of Palestine chose Hamas over the woefully corrupt and often ineffective, Fata party. Tensions were raised when Israel and the U.S. began putting pressure on Hamas and the Palestinian government to moderate their stance on Israel, backing up words with actions in the form of a financial blockade that has bankrupted the Palestinian government for 5 months now.

Hamas militants soon began lobbing inaccurate Katyusha rockets into southern Israel not hitting much of anything. In response Israel began lobbing rockets and shells into Gaza, recently inadvertantly killing an entire family who were enjoying a day at the beach. Two weeks ago, Hamas militants, sneaking into southern Israel through tunnels, captured an Israeli soldier and killed 2 others. I say captured despite the insistence of almost everyone to say he was kidnapped. I'm sorry, but civilians get kidnapped, soldiers involved in a military operation get captured. In response, Israel has launched an ongoing invasion and bombardment of Gaza, targeting among other things, civilian infrastructure such as bridges and a power station. They have lost a few more of their own soldiers and killed at least 20 Palestinian civilians in the process.

Finally, last week Hizbollah militants in southern Lebanon captured 2 more Israeli soldiers during a cross border raid. Israel retaliated by bombing Hizbollah strong points in southern Lebanon, which prompted Hizbollah to launch rockets into northern Israel, some reaching Haifa. In response, Israel has invaded southern Lebanon, bombed the Beirut airport (photo), instituted a blockade and is threatening Syria, which supports both Hizbollah and Hamas. This has already resulted in 55 civilian deaths in Lebanon. The fighting has escalated so quickly, that even the U.S. is urging restraint.

It seems illogical that when Hamas, etc. were targeting Israeli citizens with suicide bombs during the Intifada, Israel was responding by assasinating the leaders of Hamas, etc. Now that Hamas and Hizbollah are at least acting in a slightly more civilized manner by targeting Israeli troops, Israel is responding by targeting Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and the civilian infrastructure (bridges, power plants, etc.).

If Israel is hoping that the next time around Palestinian voters will exercise their democratic rights by electing more moderate leaders, this doesn’t exactly seem the right way to go about it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Department of Homeland Patronage

The New York Times (remember them, the traitorous al-Qaeda sympathizers) published an article today about something that the Department of Homeland Security calls their 'National Asset Database'.

"The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha." (NYT, 7/12/06)
The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security published a report (.pdf) Tuesday that criticizes the database as containing many seemingly anomolous or outright head scratching oddities in the Deaprtment's site priorities. Some of the 'assets' listed in the report are among others, 'Old McDonald's Petting Zoo', 'The Amish Country Popcorn Factory', 'the Mule Day Parade', 'The Sweetwater Flea Market', 'Nix's Check Cashing', 'Anti-Cruelty Society' and 'Bean Fest'. From a higher level, New York is listed as having only 2% of the nations banking and financial sector assets, ranking it just behind North Dakota. Of total assets, New York ranks as number 3, behind Indiana and Wisconsin. Nebraska ranks at number 7, just ahead of California, our most populous state.

The Times quotes Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), “Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was. This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.” The 2006 budget for the Department of Homeland Security in $41.1 billion. Usually when a system for handing out that amount of money makes absolutely no sense, it isn't an accident.

Why would Indiana get so much of that money? Well, the Republican governor of Indiana is a man named Mitch Daniels. Up until June 2003, Mr. Daniels worked in the White House as Bush's Director of the Office of Management and Budget. During his tenure as the administration's budgetary watch dog, a $236 billion federal budget surplus evaporated into a $400 billion deficit. From 1993 until his administration appointment, Mr. Daniels served as an executive at Eli Lilly & Co. Interestingly, Daniels's name was mentioned as being involved in the insertion of the "Midnight Rider" of the Homeland Security Act in 2002. The bill contained a provision added at the last minute that would block lawsuits against Eli Lilly and Company over the production of a controversial vaccine preservative called "thimerosal" which is 49.6% mercury. Parents of autistic children claim this preservative has caused autism in thousands of children (source, Not exactly something related to 'homeland security'. What a guy! Huzzah for bringing integrity back to the White House!

The other oddity in the database, Wisconsin, is also interesting. Tommy Thompson served as Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services until 2005. Prior to that he was governor of - you guessed it - Wisconsin. Thompson is currently working in the private sector, no doubt building up a war chest for a Presidential run in 2008. In August 2005 he announced that he was considering forming an exploratory committee for a possible Presidential campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security's asset database, doesn't publish a complete list of all sites, but I bet if a map of those sites was put next to a national Congressional district map, there would be a lot more of these interesting 'coincidences'.

At this point it's fairly obvious that the four year old Department of Homeland Security is nothing more than another political patronage machine. Then again, Bush and company are running things like a 21st century version of Tammany Hall on a national level, complete with election tampering, so why are we surprised. I guess once the people in states like California and New York start voting Republican in national elections, then they'll be able to feel as safe as the 5 employees of the Amish Country Popcorn factory in Berne, Indiana.

Novak Speaks - finally

Conservative columnist and CNN curmudgeon Robert Novak finally broke his long held silence about his role in the Valerie Plame leak investigation in his column on July 12:

"...One was by my principal source in the Valerie Wilson column, a source whose name has not yet been revealed. The other was by presidential adviser Karl Rove, whom I interpret as confirming my primary source's information... Bill Harlow, the CIA public information officer who was my CIA source for the column confirming Mrs. Wilson's identity."

Novak still hasn't exposed his 'primary source' of Plame's identity, though the list of who it could be is shorter than a list of people who think that Barry Bonds is clean. 'Scooter' Libby can be ruled out, since he has quit his post as Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and is already under indictment. As I've said before, my money is on Dick Cheney himself.

The real damage to national security with this politically motivated leak, as the main stream media HASN'T reported, wasn't that Plame's identity as a CIA operative was exposed. The real damage is that the entire 'brass plate' operation that she was a part of was exposed. This CIA front operation was called Brewster Jennings and Associates and was setup in the mid 1990's to help gain intelligence on various country's nuclear weapons programs. We'll never know how many other undercover CIA operatives and non-CIA sources were compromised, endangered or perhaps even killed due to this. If this did happen, the longtime CIA policy is that it will never be made public. Additionally, this leak of Plame's and BJ&A's real identity, had to have hurt the CIA's ongoing efforts to acquire reliable human intelligence on WMD programs.

Also, in another one of the curious coincidences that seem to happen with these shadow affairs, the Army has announced that it is ending it's contract with Halliburton to provide worldwide logistical support for it's troops. "Pentagon leaders decided multiple contractors would give them better prices, more accountability and greater protection if a one contractor fails to perform..." (Washington Post, 7/12/06). Halliburton is the company that Dick Cheney used to run, between his stint as Secretary of Defense under the first Bush and his current stint as VPOTUS, becoming VERY wealthy in the process.

Hmmm, Washington D.C. these days seems to be quite fertile ground for coincidence.

The Half Measure

The Pentagon announced in a July 7 memo that suspected terrorist detainees, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, are entitled to treatment consistent with 'Common Article 3' of the Geneva Conventions:

Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict. (source: International Committee of the Red Cross)

This is an about face of the administrations stated policy that 'non-combatant' detainees did not fall under the protection of the Geneva conventions. "The administration also has decided that even prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons abroad must be treated in accordance with international standards, an interpretation that would prohibit prisoners from being subjected to harsh treatment in interrogations, several U.S. officials said." (Washington Post - 7/12/06)

This announcement comes on the heels of the Supreme Court 5-3 ruling in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, striking down the legality of the administrations use of "military tribunals". The legal procedures used in these tribunals forbid among other things, calling defense witnesses and being able to see any of the evidence that is being used by the prosecution. To me that sounds like it should be illegal and is a legal stone's throw away from the 'procedures' that Saddam Hussein is claiming he used before executing over 100 residents of Dujaill in his ongoing trial.

So after years of international and domestic outcry about the treatment and legal status of the Guantanamo detainees and others around the world, from institutions like Amnesty International, the ACLU and the United Nations, this administration is finally changing it's tune only after the Supreme Court declared it illegal and the Congress threatened to pass legislation to declare it illegal. I suppose this is the current administration's idea of checks and balances: they'll finally give in when both the Supreme Court and Congress AND the entire international community lines up against them and/or threatens legal action.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Representative government anyone?

Three term Connecticut Senator and 2000 Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has a little problem. The good people from the state of Connecticut that he represents in the Senate want a better plan for Iraq, whether it be an immediate pull-out, a timetable of some sort or a redeployment on the 'horizon' as Jack Murtha has proposed. On the Iraq issue however, Lieberman wants to do whatever George Bush thinks we should do. The way our government is supposed to work (and sometimes does), when the people don't like how they're being mis-represented they will seek an alternative candidate, even within the same party.

Enter Ned Lamont. Lamont is a multi-millionaire cable TV businessman, local Greenwich town politician and a Democratic alternative to Lieberman. A Quinnipiac University poll from June 8 showed Lieberman's lead slip to 57% from 62% in May. On July 6, the two engaged in a relatively fiery debate, that showed Lamont to be an able debater and speaker, despite his deficit of debate experience to the veteran Lieberman.

Let's face it: With the exception of the one issue of Iraq and in a general sense, all foreign policy issues, Joe Lieberman is a moderate Democrat. On domestic issues: healthcare, tax policy, the environment, etc. his policies are solidly Democratic.

My big problem with Lieberman (a Senator from my home state) and Clinton by the way (a senator from my current state), is that they are not representing the wishes of their constituents on the issue of Iraq. The entire Congress, not just the House, is supposed to be beholden to the voters that sent them there, not just to exclusively vote according to their own beliefs or to position themselves for a run at a higher office (listening Hillary?).

This goes to the big knock that many registered Democrats have against their own party. That too many times, they will pull the "D" lever, but have to hold their nose while doing so. I experienced this first hand when I voted for Mark Green for mayor in NYC in 2001, but was kind of glad that Bloomberg won anyway. Green was clearly lacking in the integrity department. The next time, instead of voting for Ferrer, I just stayed home. Ferrer was clearly lacking in the competency department.

Maybe having Lamont on the Democratic ticket in Connecticut will actually help take back the vulnerable House seats there. Instead of staying home or having to 'hold their noses', registered Democrats and independents will actually get out and vote because they'll have something to vote FOR.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

A letter by yours truly in response this article on by Nir Rosen, 'Did the invasion make things worse in Iraq?'

This recital of examples of Saddam's day to day methods for squelching any form of dissent (a law against re-selling a car built before 1978?!?!) begs a big question. What was the U.S. - the beacon of freedom and human rights in the world at the time - doing throughout the 1980's when his despotic ways were becoming apperant? The answer should be that we were loudly denouncing Saddam's actions and working to align world opinion and actions against him. Sadly this is not the case. No, our foreign policy apparatus was holding it's collective nose and cozying up to this thug. This was for 2 reasons: 1.) He was at war with Iran and we were still smarting from the Iran hostage crisis. Saddam was no less ruthless than the Ayatollahs, but at least he never tweaked our nose in front of the whole world. and - 2.) Oil. Specifically petro-politics. The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, got the attention of many a myopic policy wonk who started proposing foreign policy solutions straight out of "The Prince" or in many cases, straight from the boardgame "Risk".

Saddam was only our friend because he was the enemy of our enemy. Throughout history, this has resulted in many problems almost all of the time. The blood-thirsty attack dog will eventually turn on the master. Another example of this from the same era, is a certain tall, bearded, former CIA friend and pupil now residing and making home videos in the mountains somewhere between Pakistan and Afghanistan. This hipocracy, though ignored by our own main stream media, is VERY obvious to many people in many other regions (e.g. "The Arab Street"). Still wondering why we're so hated by so many?

Friday, June 30, 2006

It Speaks

Osama bin-Laden released his 41st public announcement during George Bush's tenure this week. On the audio tape, he expresses surprise that Musab al-Zarqawi was found and killed earlier in the month and that:

"Abu Musab had clear instructions to focus his fight on the occupiers, particularly the Americans and to leave aside anyone who remains neutral. But for those who refused [neutrality] and stood to fight on the side of the crusaders against the Muslims, then he should kill them whoever they are, regardless of their sect or tribe."

Clearly the relationship between bin-Laden and Zarqawi had been a strained one and this newest tape seems to be an effort to make it appear that the relationship was cozier than it perhaps appeared. His surprise may be to try to put to rest rumors that he or al-Qaeda may have been a source of the intel that pointed us to him, since al-Qaeda saw Zarqawi as a rogue. It may be an oblique comparison, but in his first term, George Bush held only 16 press conferences. During that same time, Osama bin-Laden issued a total of 26 audio and video taped statements. In others words, bin-Laden was more likely to issue a statement than Bush was to actually stand in front of a group of reporters and answer their questions (or not).

Another fact that's kind of fascinating is that since 9/11 and Bush's famous statement that he wanted bin-Laden 'dead or alive' ("I don't care, dead or alive — either way. It doesn't matter to me."), bin-Laden has released a total of 39 audio and video statements. Despite all of these tapes that somehow had to be delivered to the Arab press, we are seemeingly no closer to capturing or killing bin-Laden. It's becoming more and more obvious to anyone who receives at least some of their news from alternate sources (foreign press, independent press, etc.) that this administration will only find or kill bin-Laden when he: a) ceases to be useful to them and b) doesn't offend their business sensibilities.

This focus away from bin-Laden came though loud and clear from Bush himself, during one of his afore mentioned rare press conferences on March 13, 2002 - only 3 months after his 'dead or alive' quote:
"Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban."
I can almost picture Dick and Don sitting in a room somewhere cringing at that one. He is simply a hand puppet, and often, not even a good one. Also, "I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country". Yes, that must be why he paid so much attention to the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief entitled "bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Flag or Flog

Congress was at it again this week. More time wasted on yet another Constitutional amendment. This one would make it unconstitutional to burn the U.S. flag. On Tuesday the proposal fell one vote short in the Senate after a couple of days of debate. What wonderful use of our legislators' time, right up there with the anti-gay marriage amendment and proposals to make English the 'official' language of the United States. Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.... The last I checked the flag wasn't capable of feeding the hungry, providing healthcare to all children, finding an international diplomatic solution for Iraq/North Korea/Iran/Darfur/Gaza/etc., confronting global warming, balancing the budget or curing disease. Not to mention that there has hardly been any flag burnings within our borders in the last 25 years.

Party lines were definitely more blurred for this proposal than they were for the anti gay marriage amendment that was defeated recently. Many Democrats, even genuine liberal ones, were in favor and some moderate Republicans were opposed.

One thing sure, when politicians decide that it's a better use of time to protect a piece of fabric that in essence celebrates our expansionist history, than try to safeguard the lives and welfare of our nation's citizens, there's a problem.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Double your Trouble.

Letter Posted to this article in by Sidney Blumenthal about Ron Suskind's new Book, "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11"

Does everyone over 30 remember how scary the Soviet Union was for 50 years? A technologically advanced, centrally planned juggernaut with many friends in the world (including one 100 miles from Miami). But then they invaded Afghanistan, and for 9 bloody years watched the mood of their citizenry and their international prestige go very sour. There were many reasons for the downfall of the Soviet empire, but none larger than Afghanistan. 15 years ago these same neo-cons were even gleefully saying that Afghanistan was their 'Vietnam'. Except for the little detail that Vietnam didn't lead to our downfall, they would be right.

Well it seems that Vietnam was only a warm-up. Afghanistan wasn't enough of a historically proven quagmire for us. No, we had to 'double-down' and jump with two feet into another quagmire at the same time.
We can only hope that future historians won't be calling Iraq our 'Afghanistan'.

But then, hope without action is useless.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Looters" vs. "Finders" redux...

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report June 13th that criticized FEMA for doling out up to $1.4 billion dollars for fraudulent claims, representing up to 16% of the total funds distributed. Most media outlets instantly jumped on the story downplaying the criticism of FEMA and running their stories, with pictures of - guess who? If you said black people, you are correct.

This is reminiscent of the type of coverage the Katrina disaster aftermath received right from the beginning. Example below (from the Media Awareness Network):

Now, I'm sure that a lot of the people who defrauded FEMA actually are black. But when the only photograph or video associated with a media outlet's coverage of the story shows black people, consciously or unconsciously people will assume that all of the defrauders are black. An example below is the photo that AP ran with their story.

Hmmm, that guy must have ten more of those cards in his back pocket, right? Here's an idea: how about if they ran the story with a picture of new FEMA head David Paulison, since the GAO report criticizes FEMA. Or even mention his name in the story. Or run a picture of an actual person who's been charged with fraud (many have been). Or even provide some background, like how most of the no-bid contracts handed out went to out of state firms, some of whom brought in immigrant workers and then didn't pay them, instead of hiring locals. So what, FEMA hired firms that were basically practicing slavery. Big deal! What? Regular crooks, who aren't incorporated and publicly traded, actually profited from this? Lock 'em up!

The "liberal" media? No, the media of the lowest common denominator.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Baghdad Bush

On the heels of Tony Blair's visit last week and over three years after his 'victory' lap on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, George Bush made a second surprise visit to Iraq today. The 'scene of the crime' so to speak. His first visit was during Thanksgiving in 2003. The unannounced five hour visit entailed a meeting with new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in the fortified 'Green Zone' and a meeting with some U.S. troops.

"Good to see you," exclaimed al-Maliki as they met. "Thanks for having me," Bush responded (AP). An interesting response by Bush, since Maliki only knew about the visit five minutes before Bush's arrival, so there couldn't have possibly been a formal invite, not to mention permission for him to visit given by Maliki. The fact that Bush's visit needed to be a surprise, only five hours long and that he was helicoptered into the 'Green Zone' from the airport wearing a 25 pound flak jacket all for security reasons, says pretty much all you need to know about the situation there. Additionally, the fact that Maliki wasn't told about the visit days or even hours in advance says a lot about the level trust that there really is between the White House and Iraq's leaders.

Obviously, 'Bush's brain' is hoping to get some bounce in the poll numbers from the visit which comes 6 days after the death of Musab al-Zarqawi. Another reason, that will go under the radar, is that they need to make it clear to Iran that Maliki is still our guy, despite his recent half-hearted remarks that Iraq would not support any kind of military action against Iran from their soil.

The Greased Pig

"The first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them." - N. Machiavelli

It's being reported Tuesday that Karl Rove, George Bush's longtime political advisor, will most likely not be facing criminal charges related to the outing of a CIA agent's identity. The case is being investigated by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. The identity of Valerie Plame was leaked in 2003 to selected reporters by White House sources in an effort to discredit her husband, Joe Wilson, who was disputing administration claims about Iraq's pre-war WMD program. In the Washington Post, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin is quoted as saying that, "[Fitzgerald] has formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges".

This will come as quite a blow to many Democrats, liberals, lefty bloggers, CIA agents working covertly and a majority of Americans, who have all been reasonably expecting that treasonous actions should be punished. This White House has made it quite apparent that anyone or relatives of anyone who dares to contradict administration propaganda will pay a price. Besides undercover CIA agents, past victims have been a few Generals (Shinsecki, Franks, etc.), an ex-General Secretary of State (Powell), and a too talkative Treasury Secretary actually possessing some common sense (O'Neill).

So, the "Turd Blossom" will live to fight - and lie, cheat and steal - another day. Tim Grieve says in that there's the possibility of a civil suit, since Joe Wilson has raised that as a possibility in the past. Whether a civil suit is successful or not, it just doesn't feel like justice. What Rove and others in the White House did is, if not out and out treason, at least is treasonous behavior. By blowing Plame's cover, they also blew the cover of an entire ongoing CIA operation, involving other agents and intelligence sources, who were trying to produce 'human intelligence' about certain nations WMD programs. This is exactly the kind of thing that this White House professes the urgent need for. Once again though, their actions demonstrated that even national security can't get in the way of politics and their obscene lust for power.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Benefits of Diplomacy?

By now the entire world knows of the killing of 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' head sociopath, Musab al-Zarqawi. He was killed in a tactical airstrike sometime on Wednesday, after weeks of intelligence gathering and "helped by tip-offs from Iraqis and Jordanian intelligence", according to Reuters. Apparently, the crucial tip came from Iraqis living near the 'safe house' he was occupying in the small town of Hibhib near Baquba. This town lies about 25 miles from the Iranian border.

Now, there seems to be an interesting coincidence here. Zarqawi, being a Sunni, was waging sectarian violence against Shiites. Iran is a Shiite nation. When we toppled Saddam, a secular Sunni leader, and announced that Iraq should have a unity representative government, Iran had to have been quietly excited. Shiites are the largest of the three factions in Iraq, so giving Iraqi Shiites, many of whom have very close ties to Iran, more power can only play into Iran's hands down the road.

Now I wonder if anyone else finds it curious that we find and kill Zarqawi only a couple of weeks after the Bush administration finally pulled it's head out of it's derriere and actually decided to talk to the Iranians about their nuclear program? Hmmm, very coincidental.... We've been using all manner of high-tech electronic and desperate on the ground intelligence to try to find this guy for at least two years, and all the sudden, literally a couple of weeks after the slight diplomatic warm-up between ourselves and Iran, he pops up on the radar. Maybe things are a little warmer than they appear publicly. Additionally, eventhough we knew where he was, an airstrike is called in, instead of trying to capture him alive. Though if he was surrounded by large numbers of militia, in a firefight situation, he could've wound up dead anyway.

Gee, when is Musharraf in Pakistan going to ever cough up bin-Laden for us? The answer - never. He's a little to close to the whole Bush family/ bin-Laden family/ House of Saud/ Carlyle group "Axis of oil money". Not to mention, he knows about everyone's skeletons in their closets. Zarqawi? Just some un-wealthy punk out of Jordan.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Un-War

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."
"Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the [U.S.] media."
- Noam Chomsky

In high school, I loved the history classes. One of the half-year classes I took was called simply "Contemporary History". This class was focused on 20th century U.S. History. The teacher was a veteran from the Vietnam era, though he only served state-side. One of the points made about the Vietnam War, is that is was nicknamed the "TV War". Almost every night on the evening news, Americans could watch video, sometimes close-up and graphic, portraying the indiscriminately violent meat-grinder that that war was. This was a historic first for any war, primarily due to technological advances, the willingness of the media to report the whole story and the government letting the 'free press' actually report what it wanted. The lesson learned by the powers that be was that the constant flow of these video and still images were seen to be a significant factor that contributed to public opinion finally souring toward the war.

As we see today, this lesson was not lost on the Pentagon. 'Embedded' journalists, the cushy 'green zone' and press restrictions are all designed to let the government control the message, not the press. Another lesson of history is that when the government controls the message it isn't called news, it's called propaganda. Furthermore, propaganda is most effective, when it doesn't appear to be propaganda. If anyone still thinks that the main stream media is actaully giving us independant news and information, they should take a much closer look. Coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan in almost any country in the world is less sanitized and controlled than it is here. In the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz cites Marty Kaplan from the Huffington Post on this subject:

"So let's see. If you take the amount of time that Greta and Rita and Anderson et al currently spend on a typical day on sensational crimes here at home... and divide that by the number of victims, and then multiply that per capita coverage times the number of Americans daily wounded or killed in the war... let's see... carry the seven... it looks like there would no time left for any of the cable channels to cover anything but casualties. No Michael Jackson, no runaway bride, no Natalee; just American troops, doing their patriotic job, and paying a terrible price."

"That the Bush administration has thoughtfully banned coverage of returning coffins; that the president has refrained from attending military funerals (can't show favoritism by being selective, can he?); that it's too dangerous for tv crews to venture out of the green zone to report on our troops; that Bush and Rumsfeld relentlessly mau-mau the press about excessive coverage of "bad news" and scant attention to all the swell progress being made: these make it especially easy for cable news, so dependent on pictures, to excuse its disproportionate blindness to war casualties."

With the advent of 'entertainment news' that more often every years seems to merit coverage as 'front page' news, news media no longer competes with itself, it now competes with 'American Idol', 'Brangelina', Britney and car chases that CNN inexplicably covers as 'breaking news' on a national level seemingly once a week. This is all by design. Entertainment news diverts the attention, primarily of women, away from real issues that will actually have an impact on their day to day lives. Just as Sports, diverts the attention of, primarily, the male populace.

What we have is one of the best propaganda mechanisms the world has ever seen, combined with high tech, muliti-media 'Bread and Circuses' that has sucked most of the oxygen out the sphere of public discussion about issues that most directly effect the public.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"Cue the Fiddles...

...Rome is burning"

There are over 50 million Americans with absolutely no healthcare insurance, out of these, 9 million are children. We are in the fourth year of a war in Iraq that has so far cost over 2,500 soldiers lives, in the area of 100,000 Iraqi lives and 1 trillion dollars of taxpayer money. This war was started with faulty if not outright fabricated assumptions, with a severely flawed strategy of Panglossian assumptions that everything would go just fine, with absolutely no 'plan B' and with absolutely no end or exit strategy in sight. We are in the fifth year of an occupation in Afghanistan, that is beginning to look like Iraq looked 2 years ago when the insurgency was taking it's first baby steps. Additionally, there are many important diplomatic challenges facing us: Iran, North Korea, Israel/Palestine and now East Timor. Added to this, the still brewing genocide in Darfur.

The Federal government has been running large annual budget deficits for 6 years and the total treasury debt is now $8.37 trillion, That's about $28,000 for every man, woman and child. If you're the type of person like me who prefers to live as debt free as possible, then you might be a little pissed that if you're the average taxpayer, out of the total that you paid in Federal tax last year, you paid $1,394.00 in interest on the Federal debt. The United States economy has been growing at a good rate for the last 2 years, but the wealthy have been the primary, if not only beneficiaries of this growth. There has been job creation, but the majority of these jobs have been created by the government - this government being run by supposedly 'small government' Republicans. The remainder of these jobs are low paying service sector jobs. Compared to the millions of jobs created in the high-tech, well paying employment boom of the 1990's, these jobs are pathetic.

There is an AIDs epidemic in Africa. Avian flu has the potential to become a global pandemic that could cost tens of millions of lives and millions in this country and there is almost no preparations being made. Despite the deliberate attempts of the energy industry and their Republican lapdogs to cloud the argument, Global Warming is a potentially catastrophic problem for future generations. It is becoming harder and harder to deny that we need to take serious measures to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions NOW.

This is a laundry list of serious issues involving the health and livelihood of ALL citizens today and even the survival of future generations, that need to be dealt with as soon as possible. With this backdrop, the Republican controlled Senate and the Republican president will be debating and discussing two issues over the next couple of weeks that they think are important: anti-gay marriage and anti-flag burning Constitutional amendments. Yes, it's election time again in the Fall so it's time to trot out all the well-worn wedge issues to fire up their Christian right base (which is neither Christian nor right, by the way).

After all, these people have no reason to be concerned about the real problems in the first three paragraphs, because god will eventually come down from his cloud and fix all that other stuff for us. As long as we don't piss him off by letting gay people get married, that is. So the rest of us intelligent, reasoning and logical people who use our brains (that they believe god gave us in the first place) to actually THINK, will have to sit and wait, while the political equivalent of trying to fly to Hawaii by flapping your arms goes on. By the way, since marriage is a religious institution, an anti-gay marriage amendment would directly contradict the anti-establishment of religion clause in the first amendment. Not that this is a surprise. These are the same people who have been ignoring the entire Bill of Rights for the last 5 years anyway.

It's so bad that even Joe Biden on Meet the Press this past Sunday, actually dropped his finely groomed political facade for a lot of the interview and seemed as pissed off as I am and everyone else should be. It was quite refreshing. For a second, I thought he was going to break down and cry.

What can we do? Call Bill Frist, Senate majority leader at (202-224-3344) or send him a message by clicking this link. Also, Arlen Spector, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee at (202) 224-4254 or send him a message here. If you live in Tennessee (Frist) or Pennsylvania (Spector), even better because you can threaten to vote them out.

Tell them to pack away their fiddles and get to work.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

"Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Cell"

The jury in the trial of Enron CEOs Jeff Skilling, 52 and Ken Lay, 64 came back with with a total of 25 guilty verdicts against the two men in Houston today after less than six days of deliberation. The charges included bank fraud, insider trading and securities fraud. Both men could be facing 25 years in prison and fines that are sure to be in the tens of millions of dollars. The Washington Post reports:

Enron's implosion in late 2001 put substantial pressure on the Bush administration, which had developed close ties to Lay, to distance itself from business malfeasance. Within months, President Bush mobilized federal agencies and launched a corporate fraud task force that has convicted more than 900 people, including 92 corporate presidents, 82 chief executive officers, 40 chief financial officers, 14 chief operating officers, and 17 corporate counsel or attorneys.

The behavior and eventual collapse of Enron has had many far reaching effects. The California energy crisis of 2001, which was proven to be a deliberate market manipulation by Enron to increase profits, cost the consumers and government of the state of California literally billions of dollars. Additionally, it was a contributing factor in the recall of governor Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The eventual collapse of Enron destroyed the retirement account of thousands of its employees, who were encouraged to invest their 401k accounts in Enron stock right up until the bankruptcy. Finally, beyond this, Enron's collapse sent major shockwaves throughout the business economy, resulting in the downfall of their auditing firm, Arthur Anderson and involving many other large banks and investment banking firms.

There was nervousness from many ex-Enron employees that both men may have been exonerated, due the trial being in Houston and the precedence of the innocent verdict in the recent trial of HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Though these guilty verdicts are a great first step, Ken and Jeff won't be fitted for their orange jumpsuits yet. There is a probable years long appeal process soon the be underway:

Daniel M. Petrocelli, the charismatic defense lawyer for Skilling, and Michael W. Ramsey, the lead lawyer for Lay, vowed to mount years-long appeals that they claimed would exonerate their clients. Both defendants have yet to resolve civil lawsuits filed by former shareholders who seek billions of dollars. But they may have to stand in line behind the federal government, which has sought the forfeiture of Lay's $4 million penthouse apartment and Skilling's $5 million Mediterranean-style mansion, among other assets. (from The Washington Times)

For those of you who haven't seen the film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room", it provides very good background to the events that precipitated this trial. It also has interviews with many of the insiders from Enron including Sherron Watkins, the whistle blower who set the investigations into motion. She in my opinion, is nothing less than an American heroine. As someone who works in a corporate environment, I know that the courage it took to do what she did, at that level and in that kind of corporate environment, is nothing less than amazing. Now, if the government could only listen to the whistleblowers within in it's own ranks.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A new VA Benefit

Being an active duty serviceman or woman or a U.S. military veteran just got even a little tougher recently. The home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee was broken into in Aspen Hills, Md on May 3 and thieves stole a laptop computer and external hard drive. Normally this wouldn't be big news, but this government employee's laptop computer contained the records of 26.5 million veterans and some veterans spouses which had been taken home, against departmental policy, to work on a project. The records taken include names, birth dates and Social Security numbers. As the Washington Post reported, "The theft represents the biggest unauthorized disclosure ever of Social Security data, and it could make affected veterans vulnerable to credit card fraud if the burglars realize the value of the data, one expert said."

So on top of scores of proposed and planned closures of VA hospitals and shrinking benefits, now being a veteran also means running the very real risk of identity theft. Most likely, the thieves didn't know exactly what they had stolen. However, if they did realize it, or whoever they may have sold the laptop to realized it, the credit histories of literally millions of veterans are at risk. Additionally, this information can provide a large amount of revenue to criminal organizations or, ironically, terrorist organizations.

Predictably, in another great example of closing the barn door after the horse gets out, Sen. Larry Craig, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee is planning to hold hearings. Additionally, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised "zero tolerance" for anyone using this information illegally.

If the first Gulf War, which was over in the blink of an eye, helped spawn the likes of Timothy McVeigh, how many more Timothy McVeighs is this war spawning?

Friday, May 19, 2006

2006 = 1984

"When war becomes literally continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous. When war is continuous there is no such thing as military necessity. Technical progress can cease and the most palpable facts can be denied or disregarded."
"The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy — everything." - G. Orwell, '1984'

If you are the type of person who pays attention to what is happening in the world and this nation over the last five to ten years, then '1984' and 'The Handmaid's Tale' have to be two of the most frightening books you could possibly read. These two novels depict future distopias that our society seems to be approaching with alarming speed.

George Orwell's '1984', written about 60 years ago, has some very startling parallels in the current 'war on terrorism'. A seemingly neverending conflict, that is occurring without any kind of real national sacrifice (the military and their families excepted) with very vague and misleading reasons and goals against a shadowy enemy, that is used as an excuse to invade privacy, jail citizens without due process, manufacture news, manipulate or hide facts and in general keep the populace in a state of fear for political purposes. In the book, the war is basically a forgotten fact of life against an evil, relentless and bloodthirsty enemy (al Qaeda?) with an enigmatic, diabolical and mad leader named Goldstein whose very existence is an unanswered question (bin Laden?).

One has to ask one's self: why wasn't bin Laden captured like we were all promised he would? Because he fits the role. He is the 'shadowy mastermind' that wants to end our way of life. It doesn't seem to matter that in all his recordings and writings he has never stated that his goal is to end our way of life, much less see us all dead. But as long as our leaders keep repeating these apocalyptic statements over and over again against the backdrop of the 9/11 murders, most people buy it.

What would Orwell think if, instead of a dire warning, for some people '1984' was seen as the perfect blueprint to amass power and eliminate Freedom?

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - just so long as I'm the dictator." - George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Whatever Pharma wants, Pharma gets"

It's May 15, which means that if you're a senior citizen, this is your last day to sign up for the new Medicare part D drug "benefit" program without having to pay a 1% per month penalty. This new benefit, that Bush has been touting and promoting for about a year as a shining accomplishment of his administration has been widely criticized as too generous to the drug companies, far too complicated to understand for enrollees and that it doesn't provide enough coverage for certain lower income seniors. To picture what signing up for this part D coverage is like, imagine having to research and select a plan from 30 to 45 different choices from 8 to 12 different providers, each with slightly different rules and drugs that they will and won't cover. On top of this, depending on the income level of the enrollee and the cost and coverage of their current prescription plan, they have to make some rather complicated calculations simply to determine if their out of pocket costs would go up or down if they sign up for the new benefit. As a side note, ironically, many of the large pharmaceutical companies are reducing or eliminating their own independent low income drug assistance programs, citing their participation in the new part D program.

When the new plan was still being debated in Congress, many Democrats were up in arms over the fact that the proposal didn't use a 'single payer' system. In other words, the proposal refuses to use the huge buying power of the federal government to 'buy in bulk' and lower the cost of the program both to the participants and to tax payers as a whole. Michigan, Vermont and South Carolina participate in a buying cooperative and have been able to reduce their drug expense buy 25-50%. The fact that the new part D coverage doesn't do this is simply another example of this administration and the Republican Congress enacting legislation that is basically written by the industries that the legislation involves. This new plan is clearly a benefit for the large pharmaceutical companies. The "Healthy Forests" initiative, The Energy Policy act of 2005 and the "Clear Skies" act of 2003 are other examples. Famously, the indentities of the oil industry executives who helped Dick Cheney craft the legislation - the "Energy Task Force" - are still not known. This is despite a suit that was brought to reveal the names and meeting transcripts, which went all the way to the Supreme Court before being lost.

So after today, enrollees are penalized for late enrollment. The fact is, we were all penalized the moment this industry subsidy disguised as actual legislation was passed.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

America's Addictions

This coming Monday evening, George Bush is addressing the nation on the important subject of immigration reform. It has been said that he will announce a plan to station national guard units along the border with Mexico to "secure the border" from illegal immigrants. An economic 'Berlin Wall' if you will. However, the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in; basically turning half of that city into a prison. Many other walls have been built throughout history: Hadrian's wall, The Great Wall of China, even a palisade wall of tall timbers along what is now known as Wall St in New York City. These walls were all built for protection against marauding native peoples or warrior tribes. What are our walls protecting us from, the economic devastation of cheap labor?

All this recent wringing of hands over the issue of illegal immigration reminds me of worries over another unwanted import from south of the border. The 'war on drugs' was and is fought to suppress the supply, just as building a fence and stationing soldiers on the border is done to suppress the supply of cheap labor. Similarly, much of the blame for the two problems lies with the demand half of the equation. Just as Americans have a demand or an addiction for drugs, they also have a demand, even an addiction, for cheap labor. Without the cheap labor that immigrants - documented or not - provide, almost everything would cost more. Do you eat at restaurants? I can guarantee you that your dirty dishes are washed by an immigrant and there's a good chance that your food is prepared and cooked by one as well. Do you shop for food? Purchases in the produce and meat departments will be made easier because of the cheap labor that immigrants provide. Have you bought a house in the last 5 or 10 years? That house was made more affordable because of the cheap labor pool of immigrants, legal or not. Immigrants, build our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, even babysit our children. These people who hardly ever receive benefits or workplace protections, are hard working, decent people who simply want a better life for their children and they're being turned into enemies of the state. Sadly, a lot of this attitude comes from the fact that, though they enjoy the bounties of this cheap labor pool, many Americans want these people to disappear when they finish work. To disappear from our neighborhoods and towns and their children not be in the same schools with ours.

I work in a hundred year old downtown Manhattan skyscraper that has windows about four by eight feet in size that can be opened. About a month ago, a crew of workers, who I will assume were immigrants, came around to wash the windows. The man who washed the window in my office quickly washed the inside of the window. Next, my stomach dropped as I watched him, with no safety harness, climb out of the window and stand on a 1 foot wide ledge to wash the outside of the window, 150 feet above the street. Then I realized that he would be repeating this procedure perhaps more than a hundred times in a week, maybe a few thousand times in a year. All this for how much money? Probably just enough to be able to simply afford to feed and shelter himself and his family, or to send a couple of hundred dollars back to his family in their home country. These people are the bad guys? What about the maintenance company that's charging the building management thousands of dollars for this service and paying these people a fraction of that? This kind of thing is exploitation, pure and simple, and it happens everywhere in this country, everyday. Furthermore, the average American doesn't care.

People don't make the connection when they have their "fashion line" that collectively, they are the real reason that countries such as Colombia are practically owned and operated by violent drug cartels. Similarly, when someone hires the lawn care service to cut their grass for $30 a week, which then turns around and pays the immigrant who actually does the work $5, they collectively are one of the millions of Americans responsible for the current 'immigration crisis'. If this person has a teenage son at home who isn't told that it's his job to mow the lawn or simply won't, illegal immigration is the least of that person's problems.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

What's Your Share?

The data here is from this document on and this document on

In 2005, the total U.S. Federal budget was $2.472 trillion dollars. Total revenue was $2.154 trillion dollars, leaving a budget deficit for 2005 of $318 billion dollars. This brought the total amount of public treasury debt to $7.879 trillion dollars. The net interest paid to service this debt in 2005 was $184 billion dollars. In other words, over half of the current deficit can be attributed to interest the government has to pay on the debt already outstanding. To use the analogy of a credit card, the government took a $318 billion dollar cash advance in 2005, used $184 billion of it to pay the interest on the bill and spent the rest.

In 2005, there were 132 million individual federal tax returns filed. Roughly 132 million 'households' paid a total of $927 billion dollars in federal income tax. These households also paid a total of $794 billion dollars to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Corporations paid a total of $278 billion in income tax. Estate taxes, excise taxes, custom duties and miscellaneous receipts accounted for another $154 billion.

So the average household paid the federal government a total of $13,037 in 2005. The net interest paid by the government on Treasury securities per household was $1,394. This $1,394 represents the dollar amount that is transferred from the average household to holders of U.S. government Treasury securities. It should be noted that almost all of these securities holders are either banks, financial firms, wealthy individuals or foreign governments. This $1,394 per household doesn't provide any national benefit whatsoever. It doesn't clothe or feed poor children, it doesn't go toward education, it doesn't pay more policeman or airport security screeners and it doesn't go toward providing war veterans with better healthcare. This money represents a wealth distribution from the middle class to the rich. In other words, it's a back door that makes our progressive tax system, less so. Additionally as has been publicized lately, a large portion of this Treasury interest is going to Pacific Rim countries, primarily China. Right now China is our nation's MasterCard. So far they've allowed us to run up our balance, but that can't go on forever.

Finally, so far the Iraq war has cost us about $1 trillion dollars, or about $300 billion per year. So for the Iraq War and reconstruction in 2005 the average household paid about $2,272. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel like they haven't gotten their money's worth?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fundamentalist Pen Pals

Over the weekend, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sent a 19 page, single spaced letter, to George Bush, President of the (soon to be) Christian States of America. I would say United Christian States of America, but I don't think that's how it will play out. Now, I'm sure that Ahmadinejad, a former teacher, thought that Bush would read the entire letter and reflect on it. I say it's 50/50 that he even got past page 5 - his first quote about it below is a dead giveaway.

I read the whole letter and it uses very calm, reasoned, logical and non-'kill the infidels' language to present many arguments and valid points of view about history and the current state of the world. Some topics discussed are world poverty, the 1953 coup, healthcare, Israel, the importance of tolerant religious faith, Iran's nuclear program as a peaceful technological advancement, etc. Interestingly, he didn't address our "addiction to oil" - hmmm, let's see, Iran sells oil to make money... ah, yes. Overall, the letter reads like an amalgation of almost every article I've ever read on or in The New Yorker: thoughtful, reasoned, sincere and very aware of history.

Read the original scan here in PDF format - from the Wall Street Journal. Kind of interesting, it looks like a mimeograph from 1978....

html format here - from the Hindustan Times.

George Bush said of the letter, "It looks like it did not answer the main question that the world is asking and that is, 'When will you get rid of your nuclear program?'". Though it seems that that's not exactly what the 'world' is saying (nor that rudely), because he went on to say that, "Britain, France, Germany - coupled with the United States and Russia and China have all agreed that the Iranians should not have a weapon or the capacity to make a weapon... There is a universal agreement toward that goal and the letter didn't address that question". Well, not having the capacity to make a weapon doesn't really mean that they couldn't have a peaceful nuclear program. Indeed, Japan has a peaceful nuclear program, with a current total of 55 reactors that in 2003 produced 25% of their electricity.

With enough monitoring and controls, a peaceful Iranian program is perfectly feasible. A large majority of the Iranian people are in favor of a peaceful program - a military nuclear program, not nearly as many. Iran is a nationally proud country that grew out of the Persian empire. Her culture and cities pre-date Jesus Christ by about 2,000 years and the founding of Islam by about 3,000 years. To say that Iran shouldn't be allowed to produce nuclear energy, even with thorough monitoring, is a little insulting. We could even agree to publicly call it "safety monitoring", to allow them to save face. After all, we don't want another Chernobyl.