February 28, 2006
|Subsidizing What's Bad For You||Corporations, Globalization Environment Politics|
Why do Americans — especially, poor Americans — eat such unhealthy diets? Why are American obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketing? Partly it's because government policy, policy shaped by the lobbying muscle of agribusiness giants like ADM, makes an unhealthy diet a lot cheaper than a healthy diet. The USDA tells people to eat fruits and vegetables, but it pays farmers to grow corn. Grist:
If you're going to talk about poverty, food, and the environment in the United States, you might as well start in the Corn Belt.
This fertile area produces most of the country's annual corn harvest of more than 10 billion bushels, far and away the world's largest such haul. Where does it all go? The majority — after accounting for exports (nearly 20 percent), ethanol (about 10 percent, and climbing), and excess (another 10 percent) — anchors the world's cheapest food supply in purchasing-power terms.
Our food system is shot through with corn. It feeds the animals that feed us: more than 50 percent of the harvest goes into domestic animal operations. About 5 percent flows into high-fructose corn syrup, adding a sweet jolt to soft drinks, confections, and breakfast cereal. All told, it's a cheap source of calories and taste. Yet all this convenience comes with a price — and not just an environmental one.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the amount Americans spend on food as a percentage of disposable income has fallen from 15.4 percent in 1980 to 10.8 percent in 2004. But while we've spent less money on food, our waistlines have expanded. The obesity rate, after hovering around 15 percent from 1960 to 1980, surged to 31 percent in the last 25 years, USDA figures show. The percentage of overweight children tripled in the same time period. Meanwhile, incidence of type II diabetes, a diet-related condition with a host of health-related complications, leapt 41 percent from 1997 to 2004.
This trend has hit low-income groups particularly hard. The obesity rates for "poor" and "near-poor" people stand at 36 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively, against an overall average of 29.2 percent for "non-poor," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. While the CDC doesn't break down diabetes rates by income, a look at the disease through the lens of ethnicity shows that those rates tend to align with economics: African Americans and Mexican Americans, for instance, have higher diabetes rates than whites, and lower median incomes.
Why do low-income people tend to exhibit more diet-related health problems? Adam Drewnowski, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, posits a simple answer: people are gaining weight and getting sick because unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food — thanks in large part to federal policies.
If the USDA's food pyramid recommends two to five cups of fruits and vegetables per day, its budget — mandated by Congress through the Farm Bill — encourages different behavior altogether.
Under the Farm Bill, the great bulk of USDA largesse flows to five crops: corn, soy, cotton, wheat, and rice. Of the $113.6 billion in commodity subsidy payments doled out by the USDA between 1995 and 2004, corn drew $41.8 billion — more than cotton, soy, and rice combined. By contrast, apples and sugar beets, the only other fruit or vegetable crops that draw federal subsidies, received $611 million over the same period. (The latter are generally processed into sweeteners.)
The huge corn payouts encourage overproduction, and have helped sustain a long-term trend in falling prices. According to figures from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, the inflation-adjusted global commodity price for corn plunged 61 percent between 1983 and 2002. Today a bushel, roughly 56 pounds, fetches about $2.
Cheap corn, underwritten by the subsidy program, has changed the diet of every American. It has allowed a few corporations — including Archer Daniels Midland, the world's largest grain processor — to create a booming market for high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of the caloric sweeteners added to processed food, and is the sole caloric sweetener for mass-market soft drinks. Between 1975 and 1997, per-capita consumption jumped from virtually nothing to 60.4 pounds per year — equal to about 200 calories per person, per day. Consumption has generally hovered around that level since. [...]
From a short-term economic viewpoint, ...Ding Dongs present a better deal [than wild salmon]: 360 calories per dollar, and no need for the time or skill to cook. "If you're on a limited income trying to feed a family, in a sense you're behaving rationally by choosing heavily sweetened and fat-laden foods," Drewnowski says.
The price gap between these two categories is growing. Drewnowski and Monsivais show that the overall cost of food consumed at home, when adjusted for inflation, has been essentially unchanged since 1980. But over the same time, the price of soft drinks plunged 30 percent, and the price of candy and other sweets fell 20 percent. Meanwhile, the price of fresh fruits and vegetables rose 50 percent.
"Energy-dense foods ... are the cheapest option for the consumer," Drewnowski says. "As long as the healthier lean meats, fish, and fresh produce are more expensive, obesity will continue to be a problem for the working poor."
Thus far, government efforts to address diet-related health problems among low-income Americans have done little to reduce incidence of obesity and diabetes. One reason may be that even when they do account for the economics of different types of foods, such programs often neglect other pressures faced by low-income families.
In 1999, for example, the USDA began promoting a revised "Thrifty Food Plan," designed to help people choose low-cost, healthy foods. But as Diego Rose of Tulane University's Department of Community Health Sciences showed in a 2004 study, the plan failed to account for time stresses on working-class families. Rose calculated that it would take an average of 16 hours per week to prepare the meals outlined in the Thrifty plan, and that working women tended to have only about six hours per week to devote to the kitchen at the time the plan was unveiled. [Emphasis added]
It's crazy. We subsidize a diet that makes people sick, then wonder why health care costs are sky-high. Meanwhile, the agribusiness giants and pharmaceutical and health care giants use campaign contributions to keep the juggernaut rolling along. Their profits are built on our disease. Is this any way to run a civilized society?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush is letting an Arab company run ports. President Bush said that the port deal is not a security threat. That's what he said, this is not a security threat. Remember, this is the same guy who said "Mission Accomplished." — David Letterman
February 27, 2006
|Marching Into Quicksand||Iraq War and Peace|
Nobody's going to want to be the one to "lose" Iraq by ordering a US withdrawal, but somebody's going to have to do it. Meanwhile, hubris and pride keep us marching deeper into the quicksand. Two and a half millenia ago, the Greek tragedians already knew how the gods punish hubris: with nemesis — catastrophe and destruction. Stubborn denial solves nothing. The longer we procrastinate, the angrier the gods get. With good reason.
New CBS Poll. How's Bush doing?
Approve Disapprove Overall job performance 34% 59% Iraq 30% 65% Economy 32% 60% Energy 27% 60%
Does Bush care about people like you?
A lot: 17%
Not much/none: 51%
View of George W. Bush
Theoretically, anyway, Bush works for us. Is there any other job where you can get a 29% favorable rating from your employer and not be asked to clean out your desk?
|V for Vendetta — March 17. Go watch the trailers.|
I've got to agree with John Robb: "This movie is going to be a social event."
James Wolcott: "[What] gives the movie its rebel power is the moral seriousness that drives the action, emotion, and allegory. That's what I didn't expect from the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix), this angry, summoning Tom Paine moral dispatch that puts our pundits, politicians, and cable news hosts to shame. V for Vendetta instills force into the very essence of four-letter words like hate, love, and (especially) fear, and releases that force like a fist. Off come the masks, and the faces are revealed."
People know something's been going very wrong, but they've needed a shared language and shared symbols to help them articulate their deep unease.
I thought Eminem's "Mosh" video would have a catalyzing effect. That didn't happen, partly because the video couldn't get air time. V for Vendetta, however, is a whole different animal. It will be a much more intense experience, first of all, and it will be seen by hundreds of millions of people over a very short period of time.
This could be it, the much-needed cultural lightning flash.
|Al Knows||Humor & Fun|
Make your own here.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
More problems for the White House. Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff said he met with President Bush almost a dozen times, contradicting the White House claims that Bush didn't know him. In President Bush's defense, it was pretty dark inside Abramoff's back pocket. — Jay Leno
February 26, 2006
|Dubya's Sales Pitch||Politics|
The Carlyle Group is set to boost its investment in the renewable energy sector as demand from U.S. state entities is rising, the firm's founder and managing director, David Rubenstein, said on Wednesday.
"We intend to be much more active in the wind, power, solar energy, biomass and geothermal areas," Rubenstein said.
"We think it's an extremely attractive area in which to invest, particularly because many states in the U.S. now require that utilities buy a certain percentage of their energy from solar, biomass, geothermal or wind power sources," he told Reuters at a private equity conference in Frankfurt where he also predicted that some buyout firms would go public within the next several years.
To meet the energy demand, Carlyle, one of the world's largest private equity firms, is raising a fund that will invest in renewable energy infrastructure, sources familiar with the matter said.
Carlyle declined to comment on the fund. Rubenstein did, however, say the firm was set to launch a hedge fund within the next several weeks after announcing the move last year. [...]
U.S. President George Bush in his State of the Union address outlined details of a federal initiative to provide a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research.
Viewers of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and readers of Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud will recognize the Carlyle Group as the private equity fund that has lined the pockets of the Bush family, among others. According to Wikipedia:
George W. Bush was appointed in 1990 to the Board of Directors of one of Carlyle's first acquisitions, an airline food business called Caterair, which Carlyle eventually sold at a loss. Bush left the board in 1992 to later become Governor of Texas, where he was responsible for appointing several members of the board which controlled the investment of Texas teachers' pension funds. A few years later, the board decided to invest $100m of public money in the Carlyle Group.
Must to be nice to have the President of the United States pumping your investments.
The peak in oil and gas production is far from the only resource peak confronting industrial civilization. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council calls attention to the fact that the world's fisheries passed peak in the 1980s. The world's wild fish catch has been declining ever since. Excerpt:
The world has passed "peak fish" and fishermen's nets will be hauling in ever diminishing loads unless there's political action to stem the global tide of over fishing, says a fisheries expert based at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Daniel Pauly says the crisis in the world's fisheries is less about scientific proof than about attitude and political will.
And, he says, the world's fish need a dynamic, high-profile political champion like a Bono or Mandela to give finned creatures the public profile of cute and furry ones.
"It's time for leadership on global fisheries issues. It's time to act," says Dr. Pauly, Director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "We don't need more science. This is a message that's different from many of my colleagues. Of course we need to learn more about fish. But research is often publicly funded on the grounds that this is an alternative to other political action. We know enough to act to prevent the continued decimation of global fisheries." [...]
Among its most notable findings, the research has revealed that the world passed "peak fish" – a peak in the biomass, or weight, of fish caught from the world's oceans – in the late 1980s. Since then, while there have been regional variations, the global fish haul has gradually sunk.
"There's no doubt about this," says Dr. Pauly whose findings have been published in the world's leading peer-reviewed journals, including Science and Nature. "We're in a phase where increasing fishing effort produces less catch."
While global catches peaked in the late 1980s, the peak occurred earlier in those parts of the world where industrial fishing developed first. Thus, peak fish occurred in the mid-1970s in the North Atlantic, exploited by European and North American fisheries. In the southern Atlantic, where the industrialization of fishing stated later, peak fish occurred in the mid-1990s.
Dr. Pauly is adamant that pulling back from a global fisheries collapse – one on par with the collapse of various regional fisheries, such as the Atlantic cod fishery off Canada's Newfoundland coast – requires recognizing what he describes as a deep divide between the fishing industry and those who eat fish. He argues that fisheries companies' actions show that they're primarily interested in maximizing short-term profit, with little or no regard for the long-term sustainability of fish stocks.
"The industry is ready to commit suicide at any time," he says. "It's an industry that needs to be reined in for its own good."
He notes that the global fisheries industry is very complex. According to Dr. Pauly, it operates with "one foot deep in illegality," by landing illegal catches, and skirting existing laws through the use of tools such as flags of convenience. And, he says, public policy on marine fish conservation issues is distorted by the fact that most governments view fishing companies, and not their citizens, who actually are the true owners of the resources, as their main constituency.
While the situation is dire, Dr. Pauly believes this situation can be turned around. He believes that a reduction of excess fishing capacity, the creation of "no-take zones" covering about 20 per cent of habitats, and political enforcement of sustainable fishing levels will result not just in pulling back from the brink, but more fish for our tables.
"The irony is that reducing fishing actually increases the catch in the long term," says Dr. Pauly. "Public policy must be downsizing the industry to a level that allows for sustained catch and stocks to rebound."
This past October, Dr. Pauly was awarded the prestigious 2005 International Cosmos Award. The award recognizes exemplary research that "promotes the harmonious co-existence of nature and mankind." [...]
He says receiving the prize was one additional push to move his message from the open sea to the political beachhead. But he emphasizes that research alone won't solve the crisis. It's time for dramatic political leadership to move from a global marine tragedy to a future with bountiful fish.
Says Dr. Pauly: "Reclaiming the ocean and its resources from excessive use will be a key task for humanity in the 21st century." [Emphasis added]
Fans of unrestrained, profit-driven capitalism take note. Unregulated market activity is subject to what Alfred Kahn called the "tyranny of small decisions." By a series of small decisions made by individual actors, society arrives at an end result that no one wants. Everybody involved is doing what the market demands. Everybody is homo economicus, acting in his/her own self-interest. But the end result is suicidal, both for the individual decision-makers and for the rest of us. One of capitalism's fatal flaws.
Detailed data on the world's fisheries can be found at SeaAroundUs.org.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
George Bush now wants to end our dependency on foreign oil. Nice to see him nippin' that in the bud. — David Letterman
February 25, 2006
|Honda To Launch Hybrid Under $12,000||Energy Peak Oil|
A Japanese paper reports Honda will launch a gas-electric hybrid version of its Fit subcompact with a price tag under $12,000, as early as next year. Reuters:
Honda Motor Co. plans to sell a low-cost hybrid car, a version of its popular Fit subcompact, a Japanese daily reported, signaling the auto maker's long-term commitment to the fuel-sipping powertrain.
Japan's third-biggest auto maker aims to sell the Fit hybrid as early as next year for around ¥1.4 million ($11,790), or about ¥200,000 more than the gasoline-only version, likely making it the world's first hybrid to cost less than ¥2 million ($16,840), the leading Japanese business daily said Wednesday.
The model could be launched in the business year starting April 2007 and would be sold globally, the paper said. [...]
A decision to offer a hybrid version of the mass-volume Fit — Honda's best-selling model in Japan and due to debut in the United States soon — would suggest the auto maker is a step closer to committing to the powertrain longer-term.
Good news. Hybrids aren't the ultimate answer, but anything that helps us conserve fuel helps us buy a little time. Considering the colossal scale and urgency of the transition confronting humanity, time is in desperately short supply. Conservation is the only thing that can buy us time, and every little bit helps.
|Pack Of Lies||9/11, "War On Terror" Iraq|
Jay Bookman, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via CommonDreams), reminds us how many of the Bush administration's lies about Iraq have since been exposed by people who were there at the time:
For example, take the claim that the administration decided to invade Iraq because "Sept. 11 changed everything."
Paul O'Neill, President Bush's first treasury secretary, long ago revealed that administration officials were intent on invading Iraq from the moment the president took office.
"It was all about finding a way to do it," O'Neill says of Cabinet meetings he attended before Sept. 11. "That was the tone of it. The president saying, 'Go find me a way to do this.'"
In his new book "State of War," James Risen confirms that account by reporting that in April 2002 — long before most Americans had even heard war was a possibility — CIA officers in Europe were summoned by agency leaders and told an invasion was coming.
"They said this was on Bush's agenda when he got elected, and that 9/11 only delayed it," one CIA officer recalled to Risen. "They implied that 9/11 was a distraction from Iraq."
Then there were those weapons of mass destruction. The administration now implies it was misled into war by bad U.S. intelligence, but that's not true. While the CIA was indeed wrong about Iraq possessing at least some WMD, those faulty reports played no role whatsoever in the administration's decision to invade. WMD was the administration's excuse for a war it had already decided upon for other reasons.
The head of the CIA's Middle East bureau from 2000 to 2005 makes that clear in a new article in Foreign Affairs magazine. Paul Pillar writes that under the Bush administration, "official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions." Instead, "intelligence was misused to justify decisions already made," citing Iraqi WMD as a prime example.
In his article, Pillar also confirms that Bush told a monumental whopper in claiming that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had informally allied against us.
Pillar is not the first to expose that fact. The Sept. 11 commission concluded back in June 2004 that there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and bin Laden. But Pillar, who saw every scrap of intelligence about the Middle East, takes it further, saying the claim by Bush and others "did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed."
In other words, they made it up.
It is yet another example of how we were deceived into war by Bush, a man in whom Americans of both parties had put enormous amounts of faith in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Of course, accusing Bush of deliberately lying to the country still sets off a contentious counterattack. Historians, though, will have no qualms whatsoever about reaching that same conclusion; the evidence is that overwhelming.
And then there was the incompetence. The claims that Iraq would pay for its own reconstruction, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that there were no serious ethnic splits in Iraq, that we had enough troops...the list is lengthy. How could the administration have been so wrong?
Well, there are none so blind as those who will not see.
If you're contemplating invading and occupying another country — and risking much of your own country's future on the outcome — your first step would be to request an assessment of the situation from your experts, right?
"As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq," Pillar writes. "The first request I received from any administration policy-maker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war." [Emphasis added]
When the US finally admits defeat and withdraws from Iraq, as it inevitably must, there will be a revisionist tendency, as we saw with Vietnam, to characterize it all as a well-intentioned but tragic "mistake." US motives were (as always) pure, but some people just refuse to be helped.
We need to do everything we can to resist that kind of interpretation. US foreign policy is like that of any great power: amoral, self-serving, and ruthless. As long as Americans live in a fantasy world where the US is always on the side of good, where US motives cannot be questioned, there will be more Vietnams, more Iraqs.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
A firm owned by Dubai's government has purchased the rights to operate sea ports in six major American cities. A move the White House approved without telling Congress. Even worse, everyone found out about the sale from that Texas quail hunt rancher lady. — Jon Stewart
February 24, 2006
|The Myth Of Fingerprints||9/11, "War On Terror" Rights, Law|
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair write in Counterpunch that fingerprint analysis is not the science people think it is (excerpt):
In 1995, [a] Chicago Tribune [investigation] discovered, "one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not — the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests." [...]
[P]art of the [FBI's fingerprint identification] mystique stems from the "one discrepancy rule" which has supposedly governed the FBI's fingerprint analysis. The rule says that identifications are subject to a standard of "100 per cent certainty" where a single difference in appearance is supposed to preclude identification. [...]
Now at last, in 2006, the FBI's current inspector general, Glenn Fine, has grudgingly administered what should properly be regarded as the deathblow to fingerprint evidence as used by the FBI and indeed by law enforcement generally.
The case reviewed by Inspector General Fine, at the request of U.S. Rep John Conyers and U.S. Senator Russell Feingold, concerns the false arrest by the FBI of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer from Beaverton, Oregon.
On March 11, 2004, several bombs exploded in Madrid's subway system with 191 killed and 1,460 injured. Shortly thereafter the Spanish police discovered a blue plastic bag filled with detonators in a van parked near the Acala de Heres train station in Madrid, whence all of the trains involved in the bombing had originated on the fatal day.
The Spanish police were able to lift a number of latent prints off the bag. On March 17 they transmitted digital images of these fingerprints to the FBI's crime lab in Virginia. The lab ran the images through its prized IAFIS, otherwise known as the integrated, automated, fingerprint identification system, containing a database of some 20 million fingerprints.
The IAFIS computer spat out twenty "candidate prints", with the warning that these 20 candidates were "close non-match". Then the FBI examiners went to work with their magnifying glasses, assessing ridges and forks between the sample of 20 and the images from Spain. In a trice the doubts of the IAFIS computer were thrust aside, and senior fingerprint examiner Terry Green determined that he had found "a 100 per cent match" with one of the Spanish prints of the fourth-ranked print in the IAFIS batch of 20 close non-matches. Green said this fourth ranked print came from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield. Mayfield's prints were in the FBI's master file, not because he had been arrested or charged with any crime, but because he was a former U.S. Army lieutenant.
Green submitted his conclusions to two other FBI examiners who duly confirmed his conclusions. But as the inspector general later noted, these examiners were not directed to inspect a set of prints without knowing that a match had already asserted by one of their colleagues. They were simple given the pair of supposedly matched prints and asked to confirm the finding. (These two examiners later refused to talk to the FBI's inspector general.)
The FBI lost no time in alerting the U.S. Prosecutor's office in Portland, which began surveillance of Mayfield with a request to the secret FISA court which issued a warrant for Mayfield's phone to be tapped on the grounds, laid out in the Patriot Act, that he was a terrorist, and therefore by definition a foreign agent.
Surreptitious tapping and surveillance of Mayfield began. On April 2, 2004, the FBI sent a letter to the Spanish police informing them that they had a big break in the case, with a positive identification of the print on the bag of detonators.
Ten days later the forensic science division of the Spanish national police sent the FBI its own analysis. It held that the purported match of Mayfield's print was "conclusively negative". (The inspector general refers to this as the "negativo Report".)
The next day, April 14, the U.S. Prosecutor in Portland became aware of the fact that the Spanish authorities were vigorously disputing the match with Mayfield's left forefinger. But by now the Prosecutor and his team were scenting blood. Through covert surveillance they had learned that Mayfield was married to an Egyptian woman, had recently converted to Islam, was a regular attendee at the Bailal mosque in Portland, and had as one of his clients in a child custody dispute an American Muslim called Jeffrey Battle. Battle, a black man, had just been convicted of trying to go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.
Armed, so they thought, with this arsenal of compromising detail, the U.S. Prosecutor and the FBI had no patience with the pettifogging negativism of the Spanish police. So confident were the Americans of the guilt of their prey that they never went back to take another look at the supposedly matching prints. Instead, on April 21, they flew a member of the FBI's latent print unit to Spain for on-the-spot refutation of the impertinent Madrid constabulary.
The Inspector General's report makes it clear that the FBI man returned from Spain with a false account of his reception, alleging that the Spanish fingerprint team had bowed to his superior analytic skills. The head of the Spanish team, Pedro Luis Melida-Weda, insists that his team remained entirely unconvinced. "At no time did we give our approval. We refused to validate the FBI's conclusions. We kept working on the identification." [...]
Mayfield had no idea that the FBI had been tapping his phones and secretly rummaging through his office. The first time he became aware that he was a citizen under suspicion was on the afternoon of May 6. On that day eight FBI agents showed up at his law office, seized him, cuffed his hands behind his back, ridiculed his protestations. As they approached the door, Mayfield implored them to take the handcuffs off, saying he didn't want his clients or staff to see him in this condition. The FBI agents said derisively, "Don't worry about it. The media is right behind us." [...]
Judge Jones finally compelled the U.S. Prosecutor to say what evidence he had against Mayfield. A fingerprint, said the U.S. Prosecutor, withholding from the court the fact that this fingerprint was highly controversial and had been explicitly disqualified by the Spanish police. [...]
Judge Jones allowed as how he had sent people to prison for life on the basis of a single fingerprint. Mayfield's attorneys asked to see a copy of the allegedly matched fingerprints and have them evaluated by their own expert witness. Knowing he was on thin ice the U.S. Prosecutor refused, claiming it was an issue of national security. Under pressure from Judge Jones, himself pressured by the assiduous federal defenders, the U.S. Prosecutor finally agreed he would give the prints to an independent evaluator selected by Judge Jones.
The prints were given to Kenneth R. Moses of San Francisco, an SFPD veteran who runs a company called Forensic Identification Services which, among other things, proclaims its skills in "computer enhancement of fingerprints". It was "quite difficult", Moses said, because of "blurring and some blotting out", but yes, the FBI had it right, and there was "100 per cent certainty" that one of the prints on the blue bag in Madrid derived from the left index finger of Brandon Mayfield.
Moses transmitted this confident opinion by phone to Judge Jones on the morning of May 19. Immediately following Moses' assertion, the U.S. attorney stepped forward to confide to Judge Jones dismaying news from Madrid from the Spanish police that very morning. The news "cast some doubt on the identification". This information, he added, "was classified or potentially classified".
The prosecutors then huddled with the judge in his chambers. After 20 minutes, Judge Jones stormed back out and announced that the prosecutors needed to tell the defense lawyers what they had just told him. The prosecutor duly informed the courtroom that the Spanish police had identified the fingerprint as belonging to the right middle finger of Ouhnane Daoud, an Algerian national living in Spain. Daoud was under arrest as a suspect in the bombing. Judge Jones ordered Mayfield to be freed. The U.S. prosecutor said he should be placed under electronic monitoring, a request which the judge turned down.
Four days later, on May 24, the warrant for his detention was dismissed. [...]
The FBI lab fought an increasingly desperate rearguard battle, eventually claiming that it had been the victim of an excessive reliance on technology. The inspector general points out that the only investigator in the FBI's lab to emerge with any credit is in fact the IAFIS computer that had stated clearly, "close, no match". [Emphasis added]
This story is interesting for several reasons. For one, it's got all the Kafkaesque elements we've unfortunately come to expect from cases associated with the Patriot Act. For another, it demonstrates how forensic "experts" allow non-forensic factors to prejudice their analytical conclusions. And, it shows conclusively that fingerprint evidence needs to be treated with a whole lot more skepticism in the future. It's not the scientific proof it's claimed to be.
What interests me most about the story, though, is that it's an example of a kind of story that has always fascinated me: a story where something that "everybody knows" is true is shown, in fact, to be false. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are unique. "Everybody knows" a person's fingerprints can be used to give 100 percent certain identification. "Everybody knows" fingerprints are, next to DNA, the best forensic evidence there is. But if nearly a quarter of US crime labs claim fingerprint "matches" that are in fact false positives, then everything "everybody knows" about fingerprints is bunk.
What else does "everybody know" that's just flat wrong?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush has okayed a deal to let the government of Dubai control six of our major ports. Boy, first Dick Cheney shoots a guy in the face, now President Bush shoots himself in the foot. — Jay Leno
We're turning our ports over to the Arabs. We can't even turn Iraq over to the Arabs. — Jay Leno
February 23, 2006
|What's At Stake||Future Iraq Palestine/Middle East|
Yesterday's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra triggered widespread sectarian violence and prompted the withdrawal of Sunnis from talks aimed at forming a new Iraqi government. There can be little doubt that the bombers, whoever they may be, intended to spark a massive escalation in sectarian fighting, perhaps all-out civil war.
Since the target was a Shiite shrine, everyone seems to assume the attackers were Sunnis, but there are any number of possible candidates. All-out sectarian civil war would bring Iraq a giant step closer to partition into three statelets along sectarian lines — a happy outcome, for example, for neocons here and abroad. Are they pulling the strings? I have no idea. But it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that the whole Iraq campaign has had, from the outset, the unstated goal of Iraq's partition. Pretty much everything that's happened has furthered that end. But it's perhaps even harder to believe that the people managing the war are secret (evil) geniuses — given that they still can't manage, for example, to armor their own troops. Meanwhile, who knows what other actors are working for Iraq's partition to further their own ends.
Dark days in Iraq.
A longtime reader of PastPeak who sends me thought-provoking emails from time to time wrote me late last night (excerpt):
The destruction of Iraq cannot be undone. The bombing today of the Shiite shrine, which serves no conceivable Sunni insurgent purpose, but brings much closer the final breakup of what was once a modernizing, secular and economically equitable country, cannot be undone. And of course an attack on Iran, by what will, given current European rhetoric, be viewed by Muslims everywhere as an attack by the West, will finally make real the "Clash of Civilizations" the neocons have been dreaming of.
You are right about the overarching importance of Global Warming, and the consequences of the end of the oil economy. In the meantime though all possibility of a rational response to these things will be destroyed by war with the Islamic world.
That last paragraph brought me up short. Of course, he's right. Should the Middle East continue its downward spiral into a far wider war, the war's deadliest consequence would be that the world would miss a critically important window in time, perhaps our last best chance to avert catastrophe on the climate and peak oil fronts.
As we slide towards war in Iran or Syria, let us remember this: peace is a prerequisite for rational and constructive action on the real problems facing humanity. The stakes couldn't be higher. We need peace.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The White House has given permission for a company owned by the government of Dubai to run six US ports, including the Port of New York. Now Dubai was accused of supporting the September 11th attacks and was one of only three countries to support the Taliban. Now they're going to run the Port of New York. What's next, we'll put Mexico in charge of immigration? How about Dick Cheney in charge of gun safety? Courtney Love in charge of Olympic drug testing? — Jay Leno
President Bush now is apparently giving an Arab country control of American ports. Does that seem like a good idea? He's going to give control of American ports to an Arab country. If he keeps this up, people are going to start questioning his judgment. — David Letterman
February 22, 2006
|"We Have To Get Smart Fast"||Environment Essays Future|
The Long Now Foundation seeks to foster the long view, looking ahead to the next 10,000 years of human society. It sponsors monthly lectures by some of the West's most original thinkers, the audio for which is archived here. It's an extraordinary collection. Go explore. (The talk by Bruce Sterling is a hoot.)
I want to touch on just one of the lectures here, a recent talk by anthropologist Stephen Lansing, who has studied the planting and water management practices of Balinese rice farmers. From Stewart Brand's summary of the talk:
With lucid exposition and gorgeous graphics, anthropologist Stephen Lansing exposed the hidden structure and profound health of the traditional Balinese rice growing practices. The intensely productive terraced rice paddies of Bali are a thousand years old. So are the democratic subaks (irrigation cooperatives) that manage them, and so is the water temple system that links the subaks in a nested hierarchy.
When the Green Revolution came to Bali in 1971, suddenly everything went wrong. Along with the higher-yield rice came "technology packets" of fertilizers and pesticides and the requirement, stated in patriotic terms, to "plant as often as possible." The result: year after year millions of tons of rice harvest were lost, mostly to voracious pests. The level of pesticide use kept being increased, to ever decreasing effect.
Meanwhile Lansing and his colleagues were teasing apart what made the old water temple system work so well....
The universal problem in irrigation systems is that upstream users have all the power and no incentive to be generous to downstream users. What could account for their apparent generosity in Bali? Lansing discovered that the downstream users also had power, because pests can only controlled if everybody in the whole system plants rice at the same time (which overloads the pests with opportunity in one brief season and starves them the rest of the time). If the upstreamers didn't let enough water through, the downstreamers could refuse to synchronize their planting, and the pests would devour the upstreamers' rice crops.
Discussion within the subaks (which dispenses with otherwise powerful caste distinctions) and among neighboring subaks takes account of balancing the incentives, and the exquisite public rituals of the water temple system keep everyone mindful of the whole system.
The traditional synchronized planting is far more effective against the pests than pesticides. "Plant as often as possible" was a formula for disaster.
It seems clear how such "perfect order" can maintain itself, but how did it get started? Was there some enlightened rajah who set down the rules centuries ago? Working with complexity scientists at Santa Fe Institute, Lansing built an agent-based computer model of 172 subaks planting at random times, seeking to maximize their yields and paying attention to the success of their neighbors. The system self-organized! In just ten years within the model the balanced system seen in Bali emerged on its own. No enlightened rajah was needed. (Interestingly, the very highest yields came when the model subaks paid attention not just to their immediate neighbors but to the neighbors' neighbors as well. If they paid attention primarily to distant subaks, however, the whole system went chaotic.)
There's a lot more in the talk. It's a great little introduction to complex adaptive systems. It's a deeply thought-provoking look at the role of religious and other stable cultural systems in maintaining social norms over time. It's an extraordinary look at ecological interconnections and the disastrous unintended consequences that can result when Western development models are jammed down people's throats. And much more besides.
The thing I wanted to emphasize, though, is this. The planners and development "experts" thought they knew better than the knowledge and wisdom that was stored in systems that had had a thousand years to reach a stable optimum. Much of that thousand-year-old knowledge was unconscious knowledge in the sense that it was woven into the very fabric of systems and social arrangements. It's likely that no one participating in it had a conscious, analytical grasp of how it all worked. No experts could articulate it. And yet it was very real and very profound. It was the kind of knowledge that is stored in the fabric of any healthy ecosystem.
But the development "experts" were so sure of the superiority of their own brand of knowledge that they didn't hesitate to upset the whole apple cart, all at once, with disastrous effect.
Wendell Berry has a wonderful essay, "The Way of Ignorance," in which he writes:
The experience of many people over a long time is traditional knowledge. This is the common knowledge of a culture, which it seems that few of us any longer have. To have a culture, mostly the same people have to live mostly in the same place for a long time. Traditional knowledge is knowledge that has been remembered or recorded, handed down, pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined over a long time.
To think you know better than people who have "pondered, corrected, practiced, and refined" their knowledge over many, many generations, that you know so much better that you can just uproot a way of life, all at once, with scarcely so much as a pilot project, you really have to be ignorant, arrogantly ignorant. As Berry says:
We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk. It fails to foresee bad consequences not only because some of the consequences of all acts are inherently unforeseeable, but also because the arrogantly ignorant often are blinded by money invested; they cannot afford to see bad consequences.
In this century, humanity is faced with global-scale challenges that will require global-scale action. The people at WorldChanging, for example, whose work I mostly admire, and who are determined to maintain an optimistic view of humanity's chances (which is a good thing), go so far as to talk a lot about "terraforming" and "mega-engineering", i.e., humans needing to engineer planetary systems on a planetary scale, literally re-forming the Earth.
It may come to that. That is, it may turn out that our only hope is to take the reins of Earth's systems and risk it all on a few rolls of the dice. But I have to confess that it all strikes me as crazy hubris, the very epitome of the "willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk," the last wild perturbations in a system that's growing increasingly chaotic. If we can't interfere with a thousand-year-old system of rice paddies without ruining it, what makes us think we can manage the planet?
As Lansing said at the very end of his talk: with the challenges that face us, "We have to get smart fast."
Part of getting smart is knowing the limits of one's knowledge. Part of getting smart is working on an appropriate scale. And part of getting smart is to realize that there's enormous knowledge and wisdom woven into living systems, including traditional human societies, that have had millenia and more to arrive at solutions whose surface we have only barely begun to scratch. They have to much to teach us. We have much to learn.
(Note: Lansing's got a book coming out in a few weeks. I've already ordered my copy.)
|A "Critical Moment For Iraq"||Iraq|
Iraq took a giant step toward all-out civil war today with the bombing, in Samarra, of one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines, followed by reprisal attacks on scores of Sunni mosques. Canadian Press:
Insurgents detonated bombs inside one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines Wednesday, destroying its golden dome and triggering more than 90 reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques. The president warned that extremists were pushing the country toward civil war.
With the gleaming dome of the 1,200-year-old Askariya shrine reduced to rubble, leaders on both sides called for calm and many Shiites lashed out at the United States as partly to blame.
The unprecedented spasm of sectarian violence seemed to push Iraq closer to all-out civil war than at any point in the three years since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
"We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq's unity," said President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd. "We should all stand hand in hand to prevent the danger of a civil war."
U.S. President George W. Bush pledged American help to restore the mosque after the bombing north of Baghdad, which dealt a severe blow to U.S. efforts to keep Iraq from falling deeper into sectarian violence. [...]
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, called the attack a deliberate attempt to foment sectarian strife and warned it was a "critical moment for Iraq."
No one was reported injured in the bombing of the shrine in Samarra.
But at least 19 people, including three Sunni clerics, were killed in the reprisal attacks that followed, mainly in Baghdad and predominantly Shiite provinces to the south, according to the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group.
Many of the attacks appeared to have been carried out by Shiite militias that the United States wants to see disbanded. [...]
The new tensions came as Iraq's various factions have been struggling to assemble a government after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.
The Shiite fury sparked by Wednesday's bombings, the third major attack against Shiite targets in as many days, raised the likelihood that Shiite religious parties will reject U.S. demands to curb militias. [...]
In the hours after the attack, more than 90 Sunni mosques were attacked with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, burned or taken over by Shiites, the Iraqi Islamic Party said.
Large protests erupted in Shiite parts of Baghdad and in cities throughout the Shiite heartland to the south. In Basra, Shiite militants traded rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire with guards at the office of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Smoke billowed from the building. [Emphasis added]
Martin van Creveld, one of the world's leading military thinkers, has called Bush's war "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C sent his legions into Germany and lost them."
And it's a long way from over.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Mardi Gras starts this week in New Orleans. Talk about perfect timing. Those truckloads of ice from FEMA just showed up. — Bill Maher
February 21, 2006
|Thanks A Million More|
PastPeak passed three million "hits" yesterday. Thanks, everyone, for your continued support!
It took a year to get the first million, five months to get the second, 16 weeks to get the third. Visitors have come from 157 different nations and territories: this list, plus Micronesia.
It always amazes me when I check the Recent Visitors link (top right on the home page) and see visitors coming from all corners of the world. The world truly is shrinking. Thanks to you all.
Rabid anti-gay crusader Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers have switched from picketing funerals of AIDS victims to staging protests at military funerals. AP:
Phelps believes American deaths in Iraq are divine punishment for a country that he says harbors homosexuals. His protesters carry signs thanking God for so-called IEDs — explosives that are a major killer of soldiers in Iraq. [...]
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of Fred Phelps and an attorney for the Topeka, Kansas-based church, said [nothing] can silence their message that God killed the soldiers because they fought for a country that embraces homosexuals.
"The scriptures are crystal clear that when God sets out to punish a nation, it is with the sword. An IED is just a broken-up sword," Phelps-Roper said. "Since that is his weapon of choice, our forum of choice has got to be a dead soldier's funeral." [...]
During the 1990s, church members were known mostly for picketing the funerals of AIDS victims... [Emphasis added]
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
To the vice president's credit, he did own up to it. On FOX News he said the fault was his, he can't blame anybody else. Boy, it's amazing. The only time you get accountability out of this administration is when they are actually holding a smoking gun. — Bill Maher
February 20, 2006
|Bush: Energy Breakthroughs Coming||Energy Politics|
Bush has taken his show on the road to talk up the energy proposals he outlined in the State of the Union. AP:
Saying the nation is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would "startle" most Americans, President Bush on Monday outlined his energy proposals to help wean the country off foreign oil. [...]
One of Bush's proposals would expand research into smaller, longer-lasting batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including plug-ins. He highlighted that initiative with a visit Monday to the battery center at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc. [...]
While Bush is highlighting his budget proposals to help wean America from foreign oil, the lab he visited is meeting a $28 million shortfall by cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers. [...]
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned Bush's energy policies Monday, saying the administration also supports subsidies for luxury SUVs.
"This single tax subsidy dwarfs anything being done for hybrid batteries," Markey said in a news release. [Emphasis added]
More inadvertent irony, as he makes his big speech at a lab that's cutting back for lack of funding.
It's a good thing, I guess, that Bush is calling attention to energy issues. But if he were a serious-minded grownup, he'd be pushing conservation as our highest priority. Raising CAFE standards. Ending subsidies on gas-guzzlers. Incentivizing fuel efficiency. But it's more expedient politically to tell people that technology will wave a magic wand and somehow make our problems go away, painlessly, no behavior changes required. Unfortunately, that's the exact wrong message to be sending.
The idea that technology will save us even if we do nothing — let alone do the wrong thing — is an idea that could prove fatal.
|CIA And The Science Of Torture||9/11, "War On Terror" Iraq|
Alfred McCoy, history professor at UW here in Madison, made his reputation exposing CIA complicity in the international drug trade. Now he's written a new study of the CIA's history of perfecting and applying techniques of psychological coercion and torture.
What follows are excerpts from an interview McCoy gave to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. It's very important material.
[I]f you look at the most famous of photographs from Abu Ghraib, of the Iraqi standing on the box, arms extended with a hood over his head and the fake electrical wires from his arms...In that photograph you can see the entire 50-year history of CIA torture. It's very simple. He's hooded for sensory disorientation, and his arms are extended for self-inflicted pain. And those are the two very simple fundamental CIA techniques, developed at enormous cost.
From 1950 to 1962, the CIA ran a massive research project, a veritable Manhattan Project of the mind, spending over $1 billion a year to crack the code of human consciousness, from both mass persuasion and the use of coercion in individual interrogation. And what they discovered — they tried LSD, they tried mescaline, they tried all kinds of drugs, they tried electroshock, truth serum, sodium pentathol. None of it worked. What worked was very simple behavioral findings, outsourced to our leading universities — Harvard, Princeton, Yale and McGill — and the first breakthrough came at McGill. [...]
Dr. Donald O. Hebb of McGill University, a brilliant psychologist, had a contract from the Canadian Defense Research Board, which was a partner with the CIA in this research, and he found that he could induce a state of psychosis in an individual within 48 hours. It didn't take electroshock, truth serum, beating or pain. All he did was had student volunteers sit in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, earmuffs, so that they were cut off from their senses, and within 48 hours, denied sensory stimulation, they would suffer, first hallucinations, then ultimately breakdown.
And if you look at many of those photographs, what do they show? They show people with bags over their head. If you look at the photographs of the Guantanamo detainees even today, they look exactly like those student volunteers in Dr. Hebb’s original cubicle.
Now, then the second major breakthrough that the CIA had came here in New York City at Cornell University Medical Center, where two eminent neurologists under contract from the CIA studied Soviet KGB torture techniques, and they found that the most effective KGB technique was self-inflicted pain. You simply make somebody stand for a day or two. And as they stand — okay, you're not beating them, they have no resentment — you tell them, "You're doing this to yourself. Cooperate with us, and you can sit down." And so, as they stand, what happens is the fluids flow down to the legs, the legs swell, lesions form, they erupt, they separate, hallucinations start, the kidneys shut down.
Now, if you look at the other aspect of those photos, you'll see...people are standing with their arms extended, that's self-inflicted pain. And the combination of those two techniques — sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain — is the basis of the CIA's technique. [...]
What they found time and time again is that electroshock didn't work, and sodium pentathol didn't work, LSD certainly didn't work. You scramble the brain. You got unreliable information. But what did work was the combination of these two rather boring, rather mundane behavioral techniques: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain.
And in 1963, the CIA codified these results in the so-called KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual. If you just type the word KUBARK into Google, you will get the manual, an actual copy of it, on your computer screen, and you can read the techniques. But if you do, read the footnotes, because that's where the behavioral research is. Now, this produced a distinctively American form of torture, the first real revolution in the cruel science of pain in centuries, psychological torture, and it's the one that's with us today, and it's proved to be a very resilient, quite adaptable, and an enormously destructive paradigm.
Let's make one thing clear. Americans refer to this often times in common parlance as "torture lite." Psychological torture, people who are involved in treatment tell us it's far more destructive, does far more lasting damage to the human psyche than does physical torture. As Senator McCain said, himself, last year when he was debating his torture prohibition, faced with a choice between being beaten and psychologically tortured, I'd rather be beaten. Okay? It does far more lasting damage. It is far crueler than physical torture. This is something that we don't realize in this country.
Now, another thing we see is those photographs is the psychological techniques, but the initial research basically developed techniques for attacking universal human sensory receptors: sight, sound, heat, cold, sense of time. That's why all of the detainees describe being put in dark rooms, being subjected to strobe lights, loud music...That's sensory deprivation or sensory assault. Okay, that was sort of the phase one of the CIA research. But the paradigm has proved to be quite adaptable.
Now, one of the things that Donald Rumsfeld did, right at the start of the war of terror, in late 2002, he appointed General Geoffrey Miller to be chief at Guantanamo, alright, because the previous commanders at Guantanamo were too soft on the detainees, and General Miller turned Guantanamo into a de facto behavioral research laboratory, a kind of torture research laboratory. And under General Miller at Guantanamo, they perfected the CIA torture paradigm. They added two key techniques. They went beyond the universal sensory receptors of the original research. They added to it an attack on cultural sensitivity, particularly Arab male sensitivity to issues of gender and sexual identity.
And then they went further still. Under General Miller, they created these things called "Biscuit" teams, behavioral science consultation teams, and they actually had qualified military psychologists participating in the ongoing interrogation, and these psychologists would identify individual phobias, like fear of dark or attachment to mother, and by the time we're done, by 2003, under General Miller, Guantanamo had perfected the CIA paradigm, and it had a three-fold total assault on the human psyche: sensory receptors, self-inflicted pain, cultural sensitivity, and individual fears and phobia. [...]
In mid-2003, when the Iraqi resistance erupted, the United States found it had no intelligence assets; it had no way to contain the insurgency, and they — the U.S. military was in a state of panic. And at that moment, they began sweeping across Iraq, rounding up thousands of Iraqi suspects, putting many of them in Abu Ghraib prison. At that point, in late August 2003, General Miller was sent from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, and he brought his techniques with him. He brought a CD, and he brought a manual of his techniques. He gave them to the MP officers, the Military Intelligence officers and to General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. Commander in Iraq.
In September of 2003, General Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452, and if you look at those techniques, what he's ordering, in essence, is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation, and if you look at the 1963 CIA KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, you look at the 1983 CIA Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then twenty years later, you look at General Sanchez's 2003 orders, there's a striking continuity across this forty-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence, okay? And the specific techniques, the way of achieving that, through the attack on these sensory receptors. [...]
When [Rumsfeld] was asked to review the Guantanamo techniques in late 2003 or early 2004, he scribbled that marginal note and said, you know, "I stand at my desk eight hours a day." He has a designer standing desk. "How come we're limiting these techniques of the stress position to just four hours?" So, in other words, that was a clear signal from the Defense Secretary. Now, one of the problems beyond the details of these orders is torture is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. There's an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal, and once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control.
So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders for, basically, techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaeda suspects, but within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul, and a few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. And you can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we've described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That's why it's necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that's impossible. That cannot operate. It will inevitably spread. [...]
I looked at those photos, I didn't see individual abuse [by "bad apples"] . What I saw was two textbook trademark CIA psychological interrogation techniques: self-inflicted pain and sensory disorientation.
[O]ne of the problems of talking about this topic in the United States, is that we regard all of this panoply of psychological techniques as "torture lite," as somehow not really torture...And we're the only country in the world that does that. The UN convention bars – defines torture as the infliction of severe psychological or physical pain. The UN convention which bans torture in 1984 gives equal weight to psychological and physical techniques. We alone as a society somehow exempt all of these psychological techniques. That dates back, of course, to the way we ratified the convention in the first place.
Back in the early 1990s, when the United States was emerging from the Cold War, and we began this process of, if you will, disarming ourselves and getting beyond all of these techniques, trying to sort of bring ourselves in line with rest of the international community, when we sent that — when President Clinton sent the UN Anti-Torture Convention to the US Congress for ratification in 1994, he included four detailed paragraphs of reservation that had, in fact, been drafted by the Reagan administration, and he adopted them without so much as changing a semicolon. And when you read those detailed paragraphs of reservation, what you realize is this, is that the United States Congress ratified the treaty, but basically we outlawed only physical torture. Those paragraphs of reservation are carefully written to avoid one word in the 26 printed pages of the UN convention. That word is "mental." Basically, we exempted psychological torture. [...]
[T]he White House had Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina amend McCain's amendment by inserting language into it, saying that for the purposes of this act, the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay is not on US territory...[T]hen in the last month, the Bush administration has gone to federal courts and said, "Drop all of your habeas corpus suits from Guantanamo." There are 160 of them. They've gone to the Supreme Court and said, "Drop your Guantanamo case." They have, in fact, used [the McCain] law to quash legal oversight of their actions. [Emphasis added]
Key points to take away: There is a continuous history of CIA research in and use of torture spanning four decades or more. The torture techniques being used at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, techniques that Rush Limbaugh compared to innocuous fraternity hazing, are actually the most destructive techniques uncovered in CIA research. They were not invented by a few "bad apples." They are not "torture lite." And the McCain torture amendment isn't the end of the story. The Bush administration succeeded in building in loopholes that made the amendment, at best, a fig leaf, at worst, a means of ending legal oversight of operations at Guantanamo.
And now for something completely different. Go here. Run your cursor over her face.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The comic book makers of 'Batman' have announced that Batman will go after Osama bin Laden. So you see Bush does have a plan after all. — David Letterman
February 19, 2006
|Dude, What Were You Thinking?||Peak Oil|
iPod owners, take note. Venerable audiophile speaker manufacturer Klipsch has a ridiculously good deal on a factory refurbished speaker system with iPod dock and remote for $200. I bought some and liked the sound quality so much I bought some more. Then I bought some for my daughter. It makes your iPod sound better than the typical home stereo, for a lot less than you paid for the iPod. Making recommendations for consumer electronics products is not exactly my métier, but IMHO this is too good a deal to pass up.
|Sign Of The Times||Environment|
Is global warming increasing the frequency and severity of storms, floods, etc? Insurance companies provide a market-oriented barometer. Hertz has now changed its car rental contracts to make the renter responsible for damage resulting from hurricanes, floods, and other "acts of nature or God".
As of Jan. 1, Hertz's voluminous contract for its core customer base of millions of "Gold Club" members has been changed in several eye-opening ways that place a far greater onus on customers to make good for any unforeseen mishaps.
The changes also allow Hertz to reach deeper into customers' pockets by placing larger holds on credit cards when a car is rented. [...]
[Renters now are] accountable for accidental fires or "acts of nature or God."
This is a change that, had it been in effect at the time, would have been potentially troublesome for any Hertz customer caught in Hurricane Katrina, say, or the recent flooding in Northern California... [...]
Another change to Hertz's contract says that if the company decides a damaged car has been totaled, it can bill customers for the "fair market value" even if this "is greater than the cost that Hertz would have incurred to repair the car." [...]
Hertz also now says that when a hold is placed on customers' credit or debit cards to cover all anticipated costs — a routine transaction for car-rental firms and hotels, among others — it may lay claim to as much as $200 "greater than the estimated charges." [...]
Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for Washington's U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said it's clear that Hertz is taking a leadership position in shifting greater responsibility for damage, and a greater financial burden, onto customers.
Even if other rental-car firms aren't doing exactly the same, he said it may be just a matter of time before they're all rewriting their contracts.
"Generally, companies in this industry keep testing to see how much they can gouge customers for every ding or what have you," Mierzwinski said. "They quickly copycat each other.
"It's a race to the bottom," he said.
Handwriting on the levee wall.
|© Kent Tenney|
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Dick Cheney gave an interview to Fox News. Some are accusing Fox of giving softball questions. My answer to that is, "Hey, does a vice president shoot in the woods?" — David Letterman
February 18, 2006
|Sleep On It||Science/Technology|
This is interesting: researchers have confirmed the wisdom of "sleeping on it" when a complex decision needs to be made. BBC News:
A Dutch study suggests complex decisions like buying a car can be better made when the unconscious mind is left to churn through the options.
This is because people can only focus on a limited amount of information, the study in the journal Science suggests.
The conscious brain should be reserved for simple choices like picking between towels and shampoos, the team said.
Psychologists from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands divided their participants into two groups and devised a series of experiments to test a theory on "deliberation without attention".
One group was given four minutes to pick a favourite car from a list having weighed up four attributes including fuel consumption and legroom.
The other group was given a series of puzzles to keep their conscious selves busy before making a decision.
The conscious thought group managed to pick the best car based on four aspects around 55% of the time, while the unconscious thought group only chose the right one 40% of the time.
But when the experiment was made more complex by bringing in 12 attributes to weigh up, the conscious thought group's success rate fell to around 23% as opposed to nearly 60% for the unconscious thought group. [Emphasis added]
More examples in the article. As we moderns have grown increasingly dependent on conscious analysis and reason, it would seem that we've put ourselves in the position of making increasingly bad decisions, decisions that take too few variables into account. We think traditional methods of decision-making that leverage things like dreams, visions, meditation, hunches, aesthetic judgment, intuition, and "feel" are inferior. The laugh's on us.
|Bush Unpopular Pretty Much Everywhere||Politics|
Bush's approval rating is back in the 30s, but that only tells part of the story. State by state polling data (via Glenn Greenwald) shows Bush's disapproval beats his approval in all but 10 states.
The states with a negative net approval rating include the following red states where Bush won in 2004: SC (1%), KY (-2%), MS (-3%), ND (-3%), LA (-4%), IN (-5%), GA (-6%), TN (-6%), VA (-7%), WV (-7%), AZ (-8%), NC (-10%), SD (-10%), NM (-11%), FL (-13%), AR (-15%), NV (-16%), MO (-18%), CO (-19%), IA (-19%), and OH (-23%).
The November elections will be interesting. Assuming the votes are counted fairly.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Here's my favorite part of this whole incident. After Cheney shot the guy, the police later showed up at the ranch where Cheney was staying and wanted to talk to him, but was told to come back the next morning. And that's what they did, they came back the next morning. Kev, that ever happen in the hood? — Jay Leno
Cheney now says he can't blame the shooting on the guy who got shot. He said we tried that for three days. It didn't work. — Jay Leno
February 17, 2006
|Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any More Grotesque||Environment Politics|
From Fred Barnes' laudatory Rebel-in-Chief (via Chris Mooney):
The president later provoked worldwide protests when he formally withdrew the United States from the Kyoto global warming treaty. The environmental lobby in this country fumed, but Bush didn't flinch. The treaty had never been ratified and stood little chance of winning Senate approval. Though he didn't say so publicly, Bush is a dissenter on the theory of global warming. To the extent it's a problem, Bush believes it can be solved by technology. He avidly read Michael Crichton's 2004 novel State of Fear, whose villain falsifies scientific studies to justify draconian steps to curb global warming. Crichton himself has studied the issue extensively and concluded that global warming is an unproven theory and that the threat is vastly overstated. Early in 2005, political adviser Karl Rove arranged for Crichton to meet with Bush at the White House. They talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement. The visit was not made public for fear of outraging environmentalists all the more. [Emphasis added]
With the health and well-being — and quite possibly the lives — of millions of people in the balance, we've got a know-nothing president getting briefed in secret by a novelist.
Bush's greatest sin is that he never stops to consider that he's completely unqualified to be president and to make the judgments he makes. Here's a man who is utterly ignorant of science, as of most things, who yet imagines himself to be in a position to overrule the near-unanimous consensus of the scientific community. I believe the term is narcissistic personality disorder.
As Josh Marshall says, a headline for the time capsule:
The Bush years, in a nutshell.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Rumors are that the reason Dick Cheney didn't say anything about the hunting accident for about 24 hours was because he had been drinking. And I'm thinking, well jeez, he was probably drinking when we planned the invasion of Iraq. — David Letterman
Dick Cheney finally answered questions about the hunting accident on Fox News. You know, I think Fox News is a little biased. They called it "Interview with a Marksman." — Jay Leno
February 16, 2006
|What's It Worth?||Science/Technology|
Look up the estimated value of pretty much any home in the country, complete with satellite photo and values of surrounding homes. Amazing.
|Halliburton Stock Split||Iraq Politics|
At Halliburton, war is our business, and business is good. MarketWatch:
Halliburton Co., coming off a banner year in the energy sector and flush with Pentagon contracts abroad, announced Thursday a series of measures to share the spoils with shareholders.
The Houston-based company said its board of directors approved a two-for-one stock split that would double its shares outstanding to 2 billion. Stockholders must still sign off on the split.
The quarterly dividend for Halliburton stock was also raised 20% to 15 cents a share. The higher payout is set for March 23 for shareholders as of March 2.
A $1 billion share buyback is also in the works, the company said.
The moves come as Halliburton is gearing up to spin off part of its KBR division, which last year became the U.S. Army's biggest contractor. In terms of defense contracts with all branches of the military, Halliburton now ranks sixth overall. [Emphasis added]
The country may be circling the drain, but Halliburton shareholders are raking it in.
|Feingold Filibusters Patriot Act||Politics|
Russ Feingold is filibustering the extension of the USA Patriot Act, all by himself. AP:
In a case of legislative deja vu, Sen. Russell Feingold launched another lonely filibuster against the USA Patriot Act, but sponsors predicted enough support to overcome the objection and extend parts of the law set to expire March 10.
Feingold, D-Wis., said protracted talks with the White House over the law's protections for civil liberties produced only a "fig leaf" to cover weaknesses that leave people vulnerable to government intrusion.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had the 60 votes required to overcome Feingold's filibuster, as soon as this week. He agreed, though, that any revisions to a House-Senate accord blocked last year were "cosmetic.
"But sometimes cosmetics will make a beauty out of a beast and provide enough cover for senators to change their vote," Specter told reporters Wednesday.
Indeed, the filibuster seemed doomed. No Democrats were expected to join Feingold, according to officials of both parties. Several senior senators of his party have said they would vote for the bill, including Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard Durbin of Illinois. [Emphasis added]
The thing is, Feingold's a man of principle. I don't what Harry Reid is. We need a third party.
|55%: Iraq War A Mistake||Iraq Politics|
"In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?"Made a mistake: 55%
Did not: 42%
"Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war with Iraq?"Favor: 40%
I've commented on this before, but it's a remarkable feature of politics in America (and probably elsewhere) that as the majority comes around to agreeing with the position that progressives took from the outset, it never occurs to them that maybe progressives are people they ought to listen to in the future. They now find themselves agreeing with something that was transparently obvious to many of us, but it's as if they think we didn't come by the position honestly, that first you have to be wrong before you can be right. And so the next time we'll go through the whole process again. And the time after that.
Funny creatures, humans.
|Greenland Glaciers Melting Faster Than Expected||Environment|
Greenland's southern glaciers have accelerated their march to the Atlantic Ocean over the past decade and now contribute more to the global rise in sea levels than previously estimated, researchers say.
Those faster-moving glaciers, along with increased melting, could account for nearly 17 percent of the estimated one-tenth of an inch annual rise in global sea levels, or twice what was previously believed, said Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
An increase in surface air temperatures appears to be causing the glaciers to flow faster, albeit at the still-glacial pace of eight miles to nine miles a year at their fastest clip, and dump increased volumes of ice into the Atlantic. [Emphasis added]
When the full realization of global warming finally hits, we're not going to be able to say we had no warning. There are alarms bells going off everywhere you look. They're just being ignored.
|Faster Than ADSL||Humor & Fun|
If you're familiar at all with Internet protocol terminology and concepts, this is just hilarious. I especially loved the description of the PUSH router. Too funny.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Everybody is in the Valentine's mood. For example, earlier today Dick Cheney shot his buddy in the ass with an arrow. — David Letterman
The real question now is, is this a one-time thing, or will the vice president try to kill again. — David Letterman
If this story gets any bigger, pretty soon they're going to have to tell the president. — David Letterman
February 15, 2006
Dave Anderson of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) and his team have developed technology that lets millions of personal computers chip in (so to speak) their spare processing power to tackle some of the truly huge computational problems, problems much too big even for supercomputers.
BOINC lets you donate computer time to study everything from global warming, to protein folding, disease cures, and the search for ET. I myself have had a number of computers cranking away on these things for a while (over 6 years in the case of SETI), but up til now it's been kind of a geeks-only thing.
climateprediction.net, one of the BOINC projects, has now joined forces with the BBC to bring voluntary distributed computing into the mainstream. If you're not already BOINC-ing, go check out the BBC's jazzed-up, simplified process for getting involved. It costs you nothing and only uses your computer when you're not. I love it myself; makes me feel useful. Plus you get a really cool screensaver, if you want, that shows the progress of the computation.
From the BBC site:
Take part in the largest climate experiment ever
We need the computer power you're not using. Join in the largest climate prediction experiment ever, developed by climate scientists for the BBC using the Met Office climate model.
Go do it. Chip in. Be a part of the solution.
|325,000||9/11, "War On Terror"|
The administration's database of names of international terrorism suspects and their allies includes 325,000 names and is growing rapidly. WaPo:
The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials.
The list kept by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) — created in 2004 to be the primary U.S. terrorism intelligence agency — contains a far greater number of international terrorism suspects and associated names in a single government database than has previously been disclosed. [Emphasis added]
As John Robb points out, this can mean a variety of things, none of them good. Either the list is bogus, including a lot of people who shouldn't be on it, in which case US counterterrorism efforts are unfocused, flailing, and clueless, or the list isn't bogus, in which case the pool of prospective adversaries has achieved critical mass and then some. Or maybe it's all of the above: they've got a garbage list that manages to mostly miss what is by now a very large pool of adversaries. That seems more in character with administration performance on everything else.
In any case, with numbers like these, how can anyone still believe that the NSA wiretapping program is a focused program involving only a relatively small number of people?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
I don't know what all the fuss is about, what's more American than shooting your buddy in the ass? — David Letterman
February 14, 2006
Dick Cheney's a weird guy. There's no shortage of evidence, but the thing that always stands out for me is this photo of Cheney, Vice President of the United States, officially representing the US last year in Auschwitz at the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation:
That's the president of Israel to Cheney's right, Lynne Cheney to his left. Everyone else is in somber, dress attire, befitting the occasion. Cheney's in hiking boots, a knit cap that says "Staff 2001" and — well, you see the rest. There are few places on Earth where symbolism matters more than at Auschwitz, and he shows up like this.
He's either sulking because he got sent to an event he didn't want to attend (my first reaction, given his body language), or he's too dysfunctional to be allowed out in public, or he's being deliberately disrespectful. In any case, it's weird.
|Battleground: Thumbs Way Up||Iraq|
While laid up with the flu the last couple of days, I watched GNN's documentary Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge on DVD. It's available from Netflix if you don't find it at your lcoal video store.
Very highly recommended. It's a low-key and humane portrayal of a cross-section of Iraqis and Americans caught up in the invasion and its aftermath. Filming took place in 2003, when the insurgency was getting underway but had yet to become a full-blown war, but that only adds to the tragic inevitability of it all: as you meet the people, you know what awaits them.
The film doesn't take an in-your-face position, it just lets the events and the personalities speak for themselves, and it really gets under your skin. Michael Moore, take note. The Iraqis, in particular, are quite unforgettable. There is a warmth, intimacy, and nobility in their relations that most Americans would envy. Very, very moving.
|Holy Sh*t||Peak Oil|
[Originally posted 2/13, 11:12 PM]
Kenneth Deffeyes, Princeton emeritus professor of geology, author of Hubbert's Peak and Beyond Oil, has worked in and studied the oil industry his whole life. This weekend he wrote the following (excerpt):
In the January 2004 Current Events on this web site, I predicted that world oil production would peak on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2005. In hindsight, that prediction was in error by three weeks. An update using the 2005 data shows that we passed the peak on December 16, 2005. [...]
Compared to 2004, world oil production was up 0.8 percent in 2005, nowhere near enough to compensate for a demand rise of roughly 3 percent. The high prices did not bring much additional oil out of the ground. Most oil-producing countries are in decline. The rise in production was largely from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Angola. The Saudi production for 2005 was 9.155 million barrels per day. On March 6, 2003 Saudi Aramco and the government of Saudi Arabia announced by way of the Dow Jones newswire that they were maxed out at 9.2 barrels per day. [...]
Could some new discovery come along and reverse the global oil decline? The world oil industry is a huge system: Annual production worth 1.7 trillion dollars. I don't see anything on the horizon large enough to turn it around.
So what are the policy implications? Numerous critics are claiming that the present world economic situation is a house of cards: built on trade deficits, housing price bubbles, and barely-adequate natural gas supplies. Pulling any one card out from the bottom of the pile might collapse the whole structure.
There are calls for embargoing Iranian oil because of the nuclear weapons situation. Pulling four million barrels per day out from under the world energy supply might trigger a severe worldwide recession. In the post-peak era, we're playing a new ball game and we don't yet know the rules.
Ghawar, the supergiant Saudi oilfield, is producing increasing amounts of water along with the oil. When Simmons sent Twilight in the Desert to the printer, the water cut at Ghawar was around 30 percent. There are later reports on the Internet (home.entouch.net/dmd/ghawar.htm) of water cuts as high as 55 percent. Ghawar has been producing 4 million barrels per day; when the Ghawar field waters out, you can kiss your lifestyle goodbye.
Since we have passed the peak without initiating major corrective measures, we now have to rely primarily on methods that we have already engineered. Long-term research and development projects, no matter how noble their objectives, have to take a back seat while we deal with the short-term problems. Long-term examples in the proposed 2007 US budget...include a 65 percent increase in the programs to produce ethanol from corn, a 25.8 percent increase for developing hydrogen fuel cell cars, and a 78.5 percent increase in spending on solar energy research...[S]olar energy today supplies one percent of US electricity; the hope is to double that to 2 percent by the year 2025. By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age.
By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age.
Ethanol, fuel cells, and solar cells are not the only shimmering dreams. Methane hydrates, oil shale, and the Yucca Mountain radioactive waste depository would be better off forgotten. There are plenty of solid opportunities. Energy conservation is by far the most important. Initiatives that are already engineered and ready to go are biodiesel from palm oil, coal gasification (for both gaseous and liquid fuels), high-efficiency diesel automobiles, and revamping our food supply. Every little bit helps, but even if wind energy continues its success it will still be a little bit.
That's it. I can now refer to the world oil peak in the past tense. My career as a prophet is over. I'm now an historian. [Emphasis added]
Deffeyes is as solid as they come. He's an academic, but he grew up in the oil fields. If you've read him or heard him speak, you know he's a supremely down-to-earth, practical, hands-on guy with the kind of wisdom (and self-deprecating humor) that comes from long experience.
Given the exponential rate of technological change (at least, in information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology), I'm not sure we know what solutions may present themselves (when the pace of change is exponential, stuff seems to come out of nowhere, practically overnight — cf., the World Wide Web), but still, this statement from Deffeyes scares me more than a hundred statements from James Kunstler.
An enormous transformation has to happen, and in an impossibly short amount of time. Starting now.
Meanwhile, conservation is the low-hanging fruit. Conservation we can do today. Conservation can buy us time, and there is nothing we need, at this point, more than time.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction: It's Dick Cheney. — David Letterman
Something I just found out today about the incident. Do you know that Dick Cheney tortured the guy for a half hour before he shot him? — Jay Leno
Now, this story certainly has its humorous aspects...But it also raises a serious issue, one which I feel very strongly about...Moms, dads, if you're watching right now, I can't emphasize this enough: Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted — it's just not worth it. — Jon Stewart
The Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now, according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78- year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Wittington's face. — Rob Corddry
The big scandal apparently is that they didn't release the news for 18 hours. I don't think that's a scandal at all. I'm quite pleased about that. Finally there's a secret the vice president's office can keep. — Craig Ferguson
But all kidding aside, and in fairness to Dick Cheney, every five years he has to shed innocent blood or he violates his pact with the devil. — Jimmy Kimmel
February 13, 2006
Tonight should be fun, as Jon Stewart and the late night comics get to tee off on Cheney for his Elmer Fudd moment. (If you can't wait that long, DallasDem at Kos has the Top Ten Cheney Excuses For Shooting that Guy. My favorite: "Pheasants? I thought we were hunting peasants.")
That aside, the whole episode's pretty fishy, the way they kept a lid on the story for a day. It could be that secrecy's just a reflex with these people. It could be, as John Robb points out, that these kinds of hunting accidents usually involve drinking. Maybe they needed time to sober Cheney up. Or, it could be that they were trying to decide whether to claim somebody else pulled the trigger.
None of which is terribly important on its own, but it is telling that their first instinct, as always, was to cover up, hide, lie.
Update: [7:22 PM] Go watch Scott McClellan's press briefing of today here, starting especially at around the 5:20 mark. No way this passes the smell test. To hear McClellan tell it, the telegraph lines were down. What, Cheney's Secret Service detail doesn't have, you know, cell phones?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush is taking this very, very seriously. He's now asking all cartoon characters not to travel to the Middle East. — Jay Leno
February 12, 2006
Not feeling well. Came down last night with what feels like the flu, so it's back to bed.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
I'm sure you know by know Muslim groups are outraged and are rioting over cartoons that are appearing in European newspapers that they say are offensive. Now they have attacked something very important to President Bush. The comics. — Jay Leno
February 11, 2006
|CIA's Top Iraq Analyst: White House Ignored Intelligence||Iraq Politics|
Somehow, the White House continues to get away with claiming that the decision to invade Iraq was based on "flawed intelligence", an "intelligence failure," when it's long been clear that they came into office already looking for a pretext to justify an attack. Iraq was in their crosshairs from the outset.
Now the CIA's leading counterterrorism analyst, the man who was responsible for coordinating all Iraq assessments for the entire intelligence community, confirms that the administration requested no strategic assessments and paid little attention to the intelligence that was available to it. WaPo:
The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.
"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting — and evidently without being influenced by — any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."
"It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between [Bush] policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized," Pillar wrote.
Pillar's critique is one of the most severe indictments of White House actions by a former Bush official since Richard C. Clarke, a former National Security Council staff member, went public with his criticism of the administration's handling of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and its failure to deal with the terrorist threat beforehand.
It is also the first time that such a senior intelligence officer has so directly and publicly condemned the administration's handling of intelligence.
Pillar, retired after 28 years at the CIA, was an influential behind-the-scenes player and was considered the agency's leading counterterrorism analyst. By the end of his career, he was responsible for coordinating assessments on Iraq from all 15 agencies in the intelligence community. He is now a professor in security studies at Georgetown University.
It's remarkable that over, and over, and over again, the left's critique of administration actions and policies is proven right — but nobody notices. Politics is driven by psychology, not rational judgments. When you pick your auto mechanic, say, or your doctor, you want somebody who usually gets it right. But in politics, people tend to go with the person who confirms their prejudices and resonates with them on an irrational, psychological level. Even if they're wrong about absolutely everything. It's hard not to conclude that we are just superstitious primates, after all. Superstitious primates with guns.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
It's time for me to give out an award to newly elected Majority Leader John Boehner. Mr. Boehner was elected just a few days ago to reform House Republicans, who are feeling the heat from lobbyist scandals. Well, CNN found out that he rents his two-bedroom apartment from a lobbyist who had clients who had interests in legislation that Boehner sponsored. And for that, Mr. Boehner, you've just won a pair of Stephen Colbert's Big Brass Balls. — Stephen Colbert
February 10, 2006
|Who You Gonna Believe?||Politics|
At the end of a column at Salon that looks at the importance of a highly educated populace in the 21st century and Bush's announced initiative to boost support for R&D and education, Andrew Leonard makes an arresting point:
[T]he truly odd thing is that when the leaders of China, who are not in the least bit accountable to the people and have no love for a free press or dissent of any kind, pledge to vastly increase spending on R&D and continue to upgrade their educational systems, I believe every word. But when the President of my own country addresses his citizens and makes bold promises, I don't buy it for a second.
And of course he's right. Any one of us would have the same reaction. Astonishing, when you think about it. That it's come to this.
|Report: Russia Selling Missile Defence To Iran||Iran|
Amid the escalating crisis around Iran's nuclear programme, Russia said on Thursday that it will still arm Tehran with missiles that can secure nuclear facilities from attacks.
"We concluded a contract for the supply of air-defence systems to Iran and there is no reason not to fulfil it," Mikhail Dmitriyev, the head of Russia's military-technical cooperation agency, said.
Worth an estimated $700 million, the deal for up to 30 Tor M-1 surface-to-air missiles is the largest since Russia in 2000 withdrew from an agreement with the US restricting the supply of military hardware to Iran.
Dmitriyev rejected media reports that talks were underway for the additional supply of heavier S-300 air-defence missiles. [Emphasis added]
It's a free-for-all out there.
|Cantarell Facing "Precipitous" Decline||Peak Oil|
We noted a few weeks back that Cantarell, Mexico's largest oil field and the second most productive oil field in the world, is in decline. Further confirmation comes in an AFX report (via John Robb) that suggests the production decline may be "precipitous." Excerpt:
Mexico's huge state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, may be facing a steep decline in output that would further tighten global oil supply and add to global woes over high oil prices, the online edition of the Wall Street Journal reported.
The potential decline faced by Pemex, also could undermine US efforts to reduce dependence on Middle East oil, and complicate Mexican politics and financial stability.
An internal study reviewed by The Wall Street Journal shows water and gas are encroaching more quickly than expected in Cantarell, Mexico's biggest oil field, and might cause output to drop precipitously over the next few years.
Currently, Cantarell produces 2 mln barrels of oil a day, or six of every 10 barrels produced by Mexico, and is the world's second-biggest-producing field after Saudi Arabia's Ghawar.
Pemex says it is confident it can make up for any decline at Cantarell by squeezing more output from other fields, but some analysts outside the company are far less sanguine. The study was carried out last year by Pemex experts. [Emphasis added]
Technology lets producers empty a reservoir more efficiently, keeping the pressure up and pushing the oil out, even as the reservoir empties. Everything seems fine, and then suddenly you're in free fall. Remember this amazing picture.
|Genius At Work|
Drop what you're doing and go check out the sidewalk art of Julian Beever. "Mind-boggling" doesn't begin to do it justice. Be sure to scroll all the way down — as if you could stop looking once you start, as reader Charyn says.
Seeing is believing, I guess, but you've never seen anything like this.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
As for what exactly a bad day for Bush might look like, oh, how about being a captive audience member at the funeral of a civil rights pioneer in front of thousands of people, none of whom voted for you except the woman sitting right next to you and possibly your dad. But I'm not even sure he's buying it anymore. — Jon Stewart
|White House Was Informed Of Levee Breach On Day It Happened||Disasters|
Congressional investigators have found that the White House was informed of the levee breach and large-scale flooding in New Orleans on the day Katrina hit, contradicting White House claims that they were taken by surprise the following day. NYT:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.
"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."
Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.
White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.
But the alert did not seem to register. Even the next morning, President Bush, on vacation in Texas, was feeling relieved that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet," he later recalled. Mr. Chertoff, similarly confident, flew Tuesday to Atlanta for a briefing on avian flu. With power out from the high winds and movement limited, even news reporters in New Orleans remained unaware of the full extent of the levee breaches until Tuesday. [...]
On Friday, Mr. Brown, the former FEMA director, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He is expected to confirm that he notified the White House on that Monday, the day the hurricane hit, that the levee had given way, the city was flooding and his crews were overwhelmed.
"There is no question in my mind that at the highest levels of the White House they understood how grave the situation was," Mr. Brown said in the interview. [Emphasis added]
Is there anything they haven't lied about? Anything at all?
February 09, 2006
|Don Evans Acknowledges Peak Oil||Peak Oil|
EVANS: The world is producing oil, the Middle East, every country at its full capacity and it's very unlikely that we're going to be able to see supply in the world grow from the levels where we are right now. There's a debate about that. I'm one that falls in the camp that says it's going to be very, very hard to do that. But what I do know is China needs to continue to grow, India needs to continue to grow, America needs to continue to grow. So what that simply says is we've got to develop new forms of energy for the United States and the world. [Emphasis added]
Well, there you have it. The world's never going to produce more oil than it is right now. Which is to say, peak oil is happening. Right now. This is as good as it's going to get, and it won't ever get this good again.
And Bush knows it.
|William Bennett's Hate Speech||Media|
William Bennett's always been a pompous, bigoted gasbag, but these comments of his in his new gig at CNN are appalling, even by his standards. Worse still, they are gasoline thrown on the fire of Islamic outrage. CNN's an international network. What are they thinking?
|Libby Fingers Cheney||Politics|
Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.
Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
Beyond what was stated in the court paper, say people with firsthand knowledge of the matter, Libby also indicated what he will offer as a broad defense during his upcoming criminal trial: that Vice President Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials had earlier encouraged and authorized him to share classified information with journalists to build public support for going to war. Later, after the war began in 2003, Cheney authorized Libby to release additional classified information, including details of the NIE, to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case for war. [...]
The new disclosure that Libby has claimed that the vice president and others in the White House had authorized him to release information to make the case to go to war, and later to defend the administration's use of prewar intelligence...significantly adds to a mounting body of information that Cheney played a central and personal role in directing efforts to counter claims by Wilson and other administration critics that the Bush administration had misused intelligence information to go to war with Iraq. [...]
Libby's legal strategy in asserting that Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized activities related to the underlying allegations of criminal conduct leveled against him, without approving of or encouraging him to engage in the specific misconduct, is reminiscent of the defense strategy used by Oliver North, who was a National Security Council official in the Reagan administration. [...]
If Libby's defense adopts strategies used by North, it might be in part because the strategies largely worked for North and in part because Libby's defense team has quietly retained John D. Cline, who was a defense attorney for North. [Emphasis added]
Not sure what this means for Cheney, so I'm not getting my hopes up just yet.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
There was a tribute to the Dance Theater of Harlem down there in Washington at the White House, and after dinner, Bush and his wife got up and danced for the crowd. And I was thinking about this. I believe the last time Bush danced for a black audience was when he tried to explain FEMA's response. — David Letterman
February 08, 2006
|Military Budget Growing Like Cancer||Politics War and Peace|
In the White House budget for the fiscal year ending in October 2007, Pentagon funding would increase by nearly 7 percent and, for the first time in Bush's presidency, claim more than half the government's expenditure on discretionary programs, those that get set each year. The $439.3 billion that the plan devotes to the military is 45 percent greater than the Pentagon budget when Bush took office five years ago. [Emphasis added]
But that's only a portion of military spending. WaPo:
The proposed budget is only a part of the costly national defense picture. It does not include $120 billion in planned new funding for military and other operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, $70 billion for this year and $50 billion for 2007.
That money is included in separate legislation and would come on top of the $320 billion the White House budget office said has been allocated for the wars so far, pushing costs since the start of the conflicts through early next year to about $440 billion.
The Pentagon budget also does not include $9.3 billion in the Energy Department's budget for maintaining the nuclear arms stockpile. [Emphasis added]
These people are bankrupting the country, and to what end? It's insanity. Literally.
Suppose this were put to a vote: Do you want the country to spend well over a half trillion dollars on war while social programs, environmental programs, health and education are being cut across the board? I don't think there's a snowball's chance that voters would opt for pissing the country's wealth away like this. The fact that it happens anyway tells you all you need to know about the health of American democracy.
|Record Warmth In US||Environment Peak Oil|
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that the US has had a very unusually warm winter. Otherwise, natural gas and heating oil prices would have risen far more than they have, with significant economic consequences.
How warm has it been? January was the warmest January ever recorded in the US. National average temperature was 39.5°F (4.2°C), a rather startling 8.5°F (4.7°C) warmer than average.
The past three months were the third warmest November-January on record, 3.8°F (2.1°C) warmer than average.
The past six months were the warmest August-January ever recorded in the US, 2.8°F (1.6°C) warmer than average.
So the good news is that the US dodged a bullet this winter. The (post-Katrina) natural gas situation, in particular, would have been very dicey if the winter had just been normal, let alone colder than normal.
The bad news, of course, is that these record temperatures didn't occur in a vacuum. The world is changing, and the pace of change is quickening.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Just 24 hours after President Bush promised to reduce America's dependence on oil on Tuesday, his Energy Secretary and national economic advisor said he didn't really mean it. They're blaming it on his new speechwriter, "A Million Little Pieces" author James Frey. — Jay Leno
February 07, 2006
|"I've Talked To Bolton's Speechwriter"||Iran|
Scott Ritter, former Marine intelligence officer and chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, who told everyone who would listen — before the war — that Iraq had no WMD, is a man with a track record. Here's what he said the other day on US plans vis-a-vis Iran. Santa Fe New Mexican (via ICH):
The former U.N. weapons inspector who said Iraq disarmed long before the U.S. invasion in 2003 is warning Americans to prepare for a war with Iran.
"We just don't know when, but it's going to happen," Scott Ritter said...Sunday night.
Ritter described how the U.S. government might justify war with Iran in a scenario similar to the buildup to the Iraq invasion. He also argued that Iran wants a nuclear energy program, and not nuclear weapons. But the Bush administration, he said, refuses to believe Iran is telling the truth.
He predicted the matter will wind up before the U.N. Security Council, which will determine there is no evidence of a weapons program. Then, he said, John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, "will deliver a speech that has already been written. It says America cannot allow Iran to threaten the United States and we must unilaterally defend ourselves."
"How do I know this? I've talked to Bolton's speechwriter," Ritter said.
Ritter also predicted the military strategy for war with Iran. First, American forces will bomb Iran. If Iranians don't overthrow the current government, as Bush hopes they will, Iran will probably attack Israel. Then, Ritter said, the United States will drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.
The only way to prevent a war with Iran is to elect a Democratically controlled Congress in November, said Ritter, a lifelong Republican. He later said he wasn't worried his advice would be seen as partisan because, "It's a partisan issue." He said the problem is one party government and if Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress, he would advise people to elect Republicans. [...]
Throughout the 1990s, Ritter said, America's real policy for Iraq was regime change — not forcing Iraq to disarm and destroy chemical-, biological- and nuclear-weapons programs. The U.S. insisted on regime change, he said, because it believes transforming the Middle East countries into democracies will help ensure American access to oil.
The policy, he said, was borne from a political problem, not a threat to national security.
Ritter said the CIA knew Iraq had no ballistic, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by 1995. "We knew there were no WMDs in Iraq," he said.
Ritter blamed Americans' apathy for allowing Bush to claim there was an intelligence failure. Presidents can lie to the public too easily about national security issues because Americans aren't paying attention, he said.
Ritter has a habit of being right. Unfortunately.
Russ Feingold gave a kick-ass speech in the Senate today on President Bush's illegal wiretapping program. CSPAN-2 carried it, and hopefully they'll post the video online. It's well worth watching. In the meantime, the text is online here. I urge you to read it in full, but here's an excerpt:
[L]ast week the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address, where he spoke of America's leadership in the world, and called on all of us to "lead this world toward freedom." Again and again, he invoked the principle of freedom, and how it can transform nations, and empower people around the world.
But, almost in the same breath, the President openly acknowledged that he has ordered the government to spy on Americans, on American soil, without the warrants required by law.
The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then he admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment — to be free from unjustified government intrusion.
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA's domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.
The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed.
Congress has lost its way if we don't hold this President accountable for his actions. [...]
To find out that the President of the United States has violated the basic rights of the American people is chilling. And then to see him publicly embrace his actions — and to see so many Members of Congress cheer him on — is appalling.
The President has broken the law, and he has made it clear that he will continue to do so. But the President is not a king. And the Congress is not a king’s court. Our job is not to stand up and cheer when the President breaks the law. Our job is to stand up and demand accountability, to stand up and check the power of an out-of-control executive branch.
That is one of the reasons that the framers put us here — to ensure balance between the branches of government, not to act as a professional cheering section.
Feingold then examined each of the White House's justifications and claims regarding the legality of the wiretaps, and demolished them one by one. He resumed with this:
None of the President's arguments explains or excuses his conduct, or the NSA's domestic spying program. Not one. It is hard to believe that the President has the audacity to claim that they do. It is a strategy that really hinges on the credibility of the office of the Presidency itself. If you just insist that you didn't break the law, you haven't broken the law. It reminds me of what Richard Nixon said after he had left office: "Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal." But that is not how our constitutional democracy works. Making those kinds of arguments is damaging the credibility of the Presidency.
And what's particularly disturbing is how many members of Congress have responded. They stood up and cheered. They stood up and cheered. [...]
In a nation built on freedom, the President is not a king, and no one is above the law. [Emphasis added]
That's what a patriot sounds like. That's what the rest of the Democrats ought to sound like. That's how it's meant to be done.
Today, I'm very proud to say that I'm from Wisconsin, and Russ Feingold is my Senator.
|Blackmailing Their Own||Politics|
Go read Digby, including the punchline.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The president said we must continue to find new sources of oil. The only place he doesn't want any drilling, "Brokeback Mountain." — Jay Leno
February 06, 2006
|A Different Take On The Danish Cartoons||Palestine/Middle East|
Yesterday, I posted a link to an account that said the outrage over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed surfaced only months later because the issue was being exploited by the Saudi government.
Middle East expert Juan Cole says that's wrong:
It is being alleged in some quarters that the controversy over the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is somehow artificial or whipped up months later by the Saudis. This is not true. The controversy began in Denmark itself among the 180,000 Danish Muslims. It was taken up by the ambassadors of Muslim states in Copenhagen. Then the Egyptian foreign minister began making a big deal of it, as did Islamist parties in Turkey and Pakistan. The crisis has unfolded along precisely the sort of networks one would have expected, and become intertwined with all the post-colonial crises of the region, from the foreign military occupation of Iraq to the new instability in Syria and Lebanon.
Cole lays out the chronology and makes a convincing case. I've no idea who's right, but I'd be inclined to go with Cole. He's the expert.
|2005 Worst Year Since Great Depression For US Savings||Economy|
2005 was not a good year. On the global warming front, NASA says 2005 was the latest in the recent string of warmest years on record. And as we saw on Saturday, in just the last few years the rate at which atmospheric CO2 increases has been acclerating sharply, indicating that feedback loops are kicking in.
Economic news seems inconsequential in comparison, but there are ominous signs there, as well: 2005 saw a negative savings rate in the US for the first time since the Great Depression. People are trying to get by on borrowing. AP:
Consumer spending rose at a rapid pace in December, far outpacing income growth, a development that helped to push the savings' rate for the year down to the lowest level since the Great Depression.
The Commerce Department said Monday that consumer spending rose by 0.9 percent in December, more than double the 0.4 percent rise in incomes.
To finance the increased spending, Americans dipped further into their savings, pushing the savings rate for all of 2005 into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent. That was the lowest annual savings rate since a decline of 1.5 percent in 1933, a year in which the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression. [...]
A negative savings rate means that Americans spent all their disposable income, the amount left over after paying taxes, and dipped into their past savings to finance their purchases. For the month, the savings rate fell to 0.7 percent, the largest one-month level since a decline of 3.4 percent in August.
The 0.5 percent decline in savings for the year followed a savings rate of 1.8 percent in 2004. There have only been three years that the savings rate has fallen into negative territory. The savings rate dipped by 0.9 percent in 1932 and the record 1.5 percent decline in 1933, years when Americans exhausted their savings to try to meet expenses in the face of soaring unemployment as the country struggled with the worst economic crisis in its history. [Emphasis added]
The worst savings year since the depths of the Great Depression, but we're supposed to believe everything's just fine. People are taking equity out of their homes at a furious pace, and now the housing market's starting to cool. It's not going to be pretty.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
If you didn't catch the speech, President Bush said we must move beyond a petroleum-based economy, then Dick Cheney clutched his heart and said "No, no!" — Jay Leno
February 05, 2006
|Why The Outrage Now Over Cartoons Published Last September?||Religion|
The cartoons of Mohammed that have angered many Muslims were published last September. Why the outrage now? A post at EuroTrib offers what seems like a plausible explanation.
|Bush's Dangerous Ignorance||Iraq Politics|
There was also a discussion of what might happen in Iraq after Saddam had been overthrown. President Bush said that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups". [Emphasis added]
Bush apparently thought he was competent to make such a judgment — he's President, after all — but we know from other sources that only five days earlier Bush had no idea that there was a difference between Sunni and Shiite. According to Peter Galbraith:
January 2003 the President invited three members of the Iraqi opposition to join him to watch the Super Bowl [on January 26]. In the course of the conversation the Iraqis realized that the President was not aware that there was a difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. He looked at them and said, "You mean...they're not, you know, there, there's this difference. What is it about?"
There's ignorant, and there's so ignorant you don't know you're ignorant. Or maybe he just doesn't care: he's President, so he thinks he can just follow his gut.
|Somebody Please Make It Stop||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics Rights, Law|
A high Justice Dept. official argues that Bush has the power to order assassinations on US soil. See firedoglake.
|New Leaked Memo On Bush-Blair Prewar Discussions||Iraq Politics|
In the unlikely event that there's anybody out there who still doubts that Bush's (and Blair's) kabuki with UN Resolutions, WMD claims, etc., came long after the decision to attack Iraq had already been made, you might want to read this.
Bush wanted, among other things, to paint a U2 spy plane in UN colors and fly it over Iraq in hopes the Iraqis would take a potshot at it. Foreign policy à la Inspector Clouseau.
|The Worst Problem You Never Heard Of: Coal Fires||Environment|
It's astonishing — and somewhat disheartening — that a problem this important remains largely unknown: enormous underground coal fires, some of which have burned for decades or even centuries, emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the cars and light trucks in the US combined. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via WorldChanging):
Underground coal fires are relentlessly incinerating millions of tons of coal around the world.
The blazes spew out huge amounts of air pollutants, force residents to flee their homes, send toxic runoff flowing into waterways, and leave the land above as scarred as a battlefield.
"A global environmental catastrophe" is how geologist Glenn B. Stracher described the situation. [...]
[S]ome of the fires have been burning for centuries with few people aware of the problem.
Concern and action is needed...because of the environmental impact — especially of mega-fires burning in India, China and elsewhere in Asia. One coal fire in northern China, for instance, is burning over an area more than 3,000 miles wide and almost 450 miles long.
"The direct and indirect economic losses from coal fires are huge," said Paul M. van Dijk, a Dutch scientist who is tracking the Chinese blazes via satellite.
He estimated that the Chinese fires alone consume 120 million tons of coal annually. That's almost as much as the annual coal production in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois combined.
The Chinese fires also make a big, hidden contribution to global warming through the greenhouse effect, scientists said. Each year they release 360 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as much as all the cars and light trucks in the United States.
Soot from the fires in China, India and other Asian countries are a source of the "Asian Brown Haze." It's a 2-mile thick cloud of soot, acid droplets and other material that sometimes stretches across South Asia from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka.
The cloud causes acid rain that damages crops, cuts sunlight reaching the ground by 10 to 15 percent, and has been implicated in thousands of annual lung disease deaths.
Mine fires are frustratingly difficult and costly to extinguish, panelists said.
Weapons range from backfilling mine shafts to cutting off the oxygen supply with a new foam-like grout that's squirted into mine shafts like shaving cream and then expands to sniff out the fire.
Most are simply left alone to burn until they eventually exhaust their fuel supply. [Emphasis added]
Simply amazing. A fire over an area 3000 miles by 450 miles, underground, obviously poses a staggering fire-fighting problem. But ignoring it gets us nowhere. The emissions of CO2 and other pollutants make these fires a global problem. Fighting them needs to be an international priority.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
There was one awkward moment when the president's SOTU speech was interrupted by a standing ovation from crooked lobbyists. — David Letterman
I have to say I was a little disappointed. Not once did Bush apologize to Oprah for lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. — Jay Leno
February 04, 2006
|Quote For Today||Quotes|
It's never really one or the other
There's a paradox in every paradigm
— Ani DiFranco
|Global Warming Feedback Loops Having Measurable Effect||Environment|
The truly alarming aspect of global warming news in recent years has been the various indications that feedback loops are kicking in, feedback loops that will make global warming self-reinforcing. Some examples:
- Research indicates that global warming will kill phytoplankton in the sea. Less phytoplankton implies that less CO2 will be absorbed, which implies more global warming, which implies less phytoplankton, etc.
- The artic ice cover is melting, exposing more open ocean, which absorbs heat better, warming the ocean, causing more ice to melt, etc.
- Siberian permafrost is melting, which will begin to release enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas some twenty times more potent than CO2. That will mean higher temperatures, which will melt more permafrost, which will release more methane, etc.
A recent report in the Independent (via FTW) should set off alarm bells in a big way, then. It appears to be direct confirmation that feedback loops are, in fact, starting to produce the feared acceleration in the rate of atmospheric change:
Global warming is set to accelerate alarmingly because of a sharp jump in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Preliminary figures, exclusively obtained by The Independent..., show that levels of the gas — the main cause of climate change — have risen abruptly in the past four years. Scientists fear that warming is entering a new phase, and may accelerate further. [...]
The climb in carbon dioxide content showed up in readings from the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken at the summit of Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The measurements have been taken regularly since 1958 in the 11,400ft peak's pristine conditions, 2,000 miles from the nearest landmass and protected by unusual climatic conditions from the pollution of Hawaii, two miles below.
Through most of the past half-century, levels of the gas rose by an average of 1.3 parts per million a year; in the late 1990s, this figure rose to 1.6 ppm, and again to 2ppm in 2002 and 2003. But unpublished figures for the first 10 months of this year show a rise of 2.2 ppm.
Scientists believe this may be the first evidence that climate change is starting to produce itself, as rising temperatures so alter natural systems that the Earth itself releases more gas, driving the thermometer ever higher. [Emphasis added]
Feedback loops are the source of exponential rates of growth. We may be entering a phase in which global warming becomes a runaway train. If not now, then soon. We must act. Given the scale of what needs to happen, we need to start immediately.
Here's where we in the US get our energy from (source):
As you can see, it's pretty much all coal (gray), oil (green), and natural gas (red): carbon-based fuels, the burning of which produces CO2. A little tweaking around the edges won't cut it.
For more on the urgency of the situation, listen to On Point's interview yesterday with James Hansen, chief climate scientist at NASA. I hope to have more to say about it in a future post. Bottom line: Hansen says we've got about a decade to make significant changes, or things are going to spin out of control.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The State of the Union address was stopped 72 times for applause and another 30 for subpoenas. — David Letterman
One of the big topics was all the new jobs that have been created. A lot of new jobs have been created. They're all in India. — Jay Leno
February 03, 2006
|No More Telegrams||Science/Technology|
As of January 27, Western Union discontinued telegram service. No fanfare, hardly any notice, but the age of the telegram is over. WU does still offer wire transfer of funds.
|Write A Book, Get Banned From Flying||Politics Rights, Law|
James Moore, bestselling author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential discovers he's now on the No Fly list:
I have been on the No Fly Watch List for a year. I will never be told the official reason. No one ever is. You cannot sue to get the information. Nothing I have done has moved me any closer to getting off the list. There were 35,000 Americans in that database last year. According to a European government that screens hundreds of thousands of American travelers every year, the list they have been given to work from has since grown to 80,000.
Nixon's enemies list was small potatoes. These people have way too much power, and they're way too eager to misuse it. It's maddening to think that if you get on the list you've got no recourse. Kafka meets Orwell.
|Iraq: The Musical||Activism Humor & Fun Iraq|
The Scarlet Pimpernel of freewayblogger.com has posted an animated musical bit on Iraq, dancing Abu Ghraib figures and all.
Go here and click on Iraq: The Musical.
|What Happened To Journalism||Media|
At a recent conference on the Clinton Administration at Hofstra University, ex-press secretary Jake Siewart made a point that had previously eluded me: It was during the early days of Clinton's presidency that the democratization of instant information made the insider press corps obsolete. To retain their importance and self-regard, these journalists had to invent a new function for themselves, and they did: interpreting, not reporting, the news. But instead of doing the hard work of researching the historical, economic, sociological and political contexts of a given story and then finding a way to explain these in lay terms, they preferred to rely on what came most easily to them: cocktail party gossip, green room small talk, semiofficial leaks and unconfirmed rumor, almost always offered up as if the source had no interest in pushing a point of view. [Emphasis added]
Most of the big-time journalists have decided their métier is to get the juicy insider quote, so it's small wonder they curry favor so assiduously. If access is the only thing that matters, you gotta do whatever it takes to preserve access. Like never pointing out the constant stream of lies issuing out of Washington.
It's as if they're all doing celebrity coverage for People magazine. If they stop getting invited to the big, fashionable parties, they're finished.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush talked about the need to work hard on the economy, to work hard on health care, and to fight nonstop against terrorism. Then he left to go on a long weekend at his ranch to watch the Super Bowl. — Jay Leno
Yesterday was Groundhog Day. That might not mean much to you, but to President Bush it means a month off at the ranch. — David Letterman
|Wind Blah, Ethanol Blah, Alternative Energy Blah Blah Blah||Energy Politics|
There's talk, and there's action. Buried at the very bottom of a NYT article today on Bush's energy talk in the SOTU, we find this:
The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.
A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation's oil imports.
The budget for the laboratory, which is just west of Denver, was cut by nearly 15 percent, to $174 million from $202 million, requiring the layoff of about 40 staff members out of a total of 930, said a spokesman, George Douglas. The cut is for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. [Emphasis added]
Of course, we knew it was just speechifyin', but still. This is kinda, shall we say, ironical.
|Assorted Links Of Interest||Economy Politics|
Crazy deadline pressure at work, but here are a few links of interest...
- Some people don't know how not to cheat. House Republicans rig their own internal election.
- According to this analysis (via John Robb), GDP growth has been negative for the past five years if housing construction is subtracted out. If the numbers are right, it corroborates James Kunstler's assertion that suburban sprawl is pretty much the only engine driving the US economy lately.
- Now that I've ordered my Prius, Peugeot has announced diesel/electric hybrids that will get 80 mpg. Still in the prototype stage, however, so I don't feel too bad yet.
- A new book claims broadband companies have outright stolen $200 billion of our money by not delivering on already paid-for upgrades. That's $2000 per household involved. The US has fallen to 16th in broadband, with DSL rates 100 times slower than countries like Japan and Korea.
That's it for now. Gotta run.
February 02, 2006
|Good Ol' Onion||Humor & Fun Politics|
The Onion proves once again why it deserves to call itself America's Finest News Source (the Daily Show aside):
President Creates Cabinet-Level Position To Coordinate Scandals
In his State of the Union address to the nation last night, President Bush announced a new cabinet-level position to coordinate all current and future scandals facing his party.
"Tonight, by executive order, I am creating a permanent department with a vital mission: to ensure that the political scandals, underhanded dealings, and outright criminal activities of this administration are handled in a professional and orderly fashion," Bush said.
The centerpiece of Bush's plan is the Department Of Corruption, Bribery, And Incompetence, which will centralize duties now dispersed throughout the entire D.C.-area political establishment.
The Scandal Secretary will log all wiretaps and complaints of prisoner abuse, coordinate paid-propaganda efforts, eliminate redundant payoffs and bribes, oversee the appointment of unqualified political donors to head watchdog agencies, control all leaks and other high-level security breaches, and oversee the disappearance of Iraq reconstruction funds. He will also be responsible for issuing all official denials that laws have been broken.
"Many of the current scandals in Washington are crucial to the success of my priorities for the nation," Bush said. "The Department of Corruption will safeguard these important misdeeds."
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card characterized the president's announcement as part of a larger effort to usher in a "new era of scandal management." [...]
The Scandal Secretary will choose the elected official or business leader who will assume full responsibility for each scandal once it reaches fruition. His department will pen all tearful apologies and plea agreements and make all necessary arrangements for the designated scapegoat's transition to a think tank, consultancy, law-partner position, or, if unavoidable, cursory stint in a minimum-security prison.
Leading candidates for Scandal Secretary include Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Scooter Libby, and FEMA's Brownie. Formidable competition indeed.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush gave his State of the Union address...Did you notice, a lot of Republican congressmen were not applauding President Bush. It's hard when you're wearing handcuffs. — Jay Leno
February 01, 2006
I've been getting pounded with comment spam lately. Spammers use automated scripts to leave comments on blog posts. The comments contain links to a website whose search engine ranking the spammer is trying to boost. (The more sites that link to a given site, the higher the rank assigned to it by search engines.)
Comment spam is a pain because I have to go through and delete the comments manually. To block most such spam, I'm instituting a new policy. Comments will be closed on posts that are older than some specified number of days. I'll have to experiment a bit to find the right interval. At the moment, it's set to 30 days.
So the upshot is: if you try to comment on an old post, you may be blocked. Now you know why.
|On Reducing US Dependence On Middle East Oil||Energy Peak Oil Politics|
Bush has gotten a lot of press today for his SOTU vow to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by 75% by 2025. Except, the White House now hastens to add, he didn't really mean it. Knight-Ridder:
One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.
What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025.
But America still would import oil from the Middle East, because that's where the greatest oil supplies are.
The president's State of the Union reference to Mideast oil made headlines nationwide Wednesday because of his assertion that "America is addicted to oil" and his call to "break this addiction."
Bush vowed to fund research into better batteries for hybrid vehicles and more production of the alternative fuel ethanol, setting a lofty goal of replacing "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025."
He pledged to "move beyond a petroleum-based economy and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."
Not exactly, though, it turns out.
"This was purely an example," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said.
He said the broad goal was to displace foreign oil imports, from anywhere, with domestic alternatives. He acknowledged that oil is a freely traded commodity bought and sold globally by private firms. Consequently, it would be very difficult to reduce imports from any single region, especially the most oil-rich region on Earth.
Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.
Presidential adviser Dan Bartlett made a similar point in a briefing before the speech. "I think one of the biggest concerns the American people have is oil coming from the Middle East. It is a very volatile region," he said. [Emphasis added]
So it was bull, and they knew it was bull, but they said it anyway because it was something "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands". How you "understand" something that's not true is left as an exercise for the reader.
On the other hand, oil geologist Byron King notes, a 75% reduction in US oil imports from the Middle East is really a prophesy, not a goal. It's going to happen, but not for the reasons Bush cited:
Replace 75% of US oil imports from the Mideast by 2025? Viewed in another way, this is not a "goal," it is a prophesy. There is no way that the US will be importing as much oil from the Mideast in 2025 as it imports today. And there is no way that the nations of the Mideast will be exporting as much oil in 2025 as they are exporting today.
Whether or not the Bush statement is a "goal," in 2025 the US will not be importing much in the way of petroleum from the Mideast, nor from anyplace else. The oil just will not be there for one side to export, nor for the other side to import. Welcome to the future. [Emphasis added]
Bush had nothing to say about coal other than a mention of "zero-emission coal-fired plants" — the idea here is to store carbon dioxide emissions below ground. No mention at all of natural gas, which is likely to become a critical problem even sooner than oil.
|Cindy Sheehan's Side Of The Story||Activism Politics Rights, Law|
You've probably heard that Cindy Sheehan was arrested in the House chamber last night before the SOTU address, and you may have heard various versions of what happened.
Cindy tells what actually happened, here.
Glenn Greenwald explains that US law is clear — wearing a t-shirt on Capitol grounds is specifically called out as not constituting a "demonstration":
In Bynum v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd. (Dist. D.C. 1997) (.pdf), the District Court found the regulations applying 140 U.S.C. § 193 — the section of the U.S. code restricting activities inside the Capitol — to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Bynum involved a Reverend who was threatened with arrest by Capitol Police while leading a small group in prayer inside the Capitol. The Capitol Police issued that threat on the ground that the praying constituted a "demonstration."
That action was taken pursuant to the U.S. Code, in which Congress decreed as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons wilfully and knowingly...to parade, demonstrate or picket within any Capitol Building." 140 U.S.C. § 193(f)(b)(7).
As the Bynum court explained: "Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a 'demonstration,' the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets 'demonstration activity,'" and that regulation specifically provides that it "does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message. Traffic Regulations for the Capitol Grounds, § 158" (emphasis added).
I wish I had a t-shirt for every time Bush mouthed the words "liberty" and "freedom" in his speech last night. Orwell lives.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Whenever I see George Bush speak while Dick Cheney drinks a glass of water, I can't help but silently applaud. — Will Durst