May 31, 2006
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Vice President Dick Cheney is here in California to try and boost the campaigns of several of the Republican candidates out here. Boy, how low are you in the polls when you bring in Cheney to help you get your numbers up? — Jay Leno
May 30, 2006
|No Free Speech Protection For Whistleblowers||Rights, Law|
The Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 that public employees do not have free-speech protections when they speak out as whistleblowers. Justice Alito was the deciding vote. AP:
The Supreme Court scaled back protections for government workers who blow the whistle on official misconduct Tuesday, a 5-4 decision in which new Justice Samuel Alito cast the deciding vote.
In a victory for the Bush administration, justices said the 20 million public employees do not have free-speech protections for what they say as part of their jobs.
Critics predicted the impact would be sweeping, from silencing police officers who fear retribution for reporting department corruption, to subduing federal employees who want to reveal problems with government hurricane preparedness or terrorist-related security. [...]
The ruling was perhaps the clearest sign yet of the Supreme Court's shift with the departure of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the arrival of Alito.
A year ago, O'Connor authored a 5-4 decision that encouraged whistleblowers to report sex discrimination in schools. The current case was argued in October but not resolved before her retirement in late January.
A new argument session was held in March with Alito on the bench. He joined the court's other conservatives in Tuesday's decision, which split along traditional conservative-liberal lines.
Exposing government misconduct is important, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority. "We reject, however, the notion that the First Amendment shields from discipline the expressions employees make pursuant to their professional duties," Kennedy said.
The ruling overturned an appeals court decision that said Los Angeles County prosecutor Richard Ceballos was constitutionally protected when he wrote a memo questioning whether a county sheriff's deputy had lied in a search warrant affidavit. Ceballos had filed a lawsuit claiming he was demoted and denied a promotion for trying to expose the lie.
Kennedy said if the superiors thought the memo was inflammatory, they had the authority to punish him.
"Official communications have official consequences, creating a need for substantive consistency and clarity. Supervisors must ensure that their employees' official communications are accurate, demonstrate sound judgment, and promote the employer's mission," Kennedy wrote.
Stephen Kohn, chairman of the National Whistleblower Center, said: "The ruling is a victory for every crooked politician in the United States." [...]
The ruling upheld the position of the Bush administration, which had joined the district attorney's office in opposing absolute free-speech rights for whistleblowers. President Bush's two nominees, Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, signed onto Kennedy's opinion but did not write separately.
"It's a very frightening signal of dark times ahead," said Tom Devine, legal director for the Government Accountability Project. [...]
The court's decision immediately prompted calls for Congress to strengthen protections for workers. [Emphasis added]
The Bush court. This is just the beginning.
|Their Inexplicable Wrath||Palestine/Middle East|
This is excellent. Don't miss the small print in the bottom right corner.
|Man Writes Poem||Humor & Fun Poetry|
Another gem from Jay Leeming:
Poem: "Man Writes Poem" by Jay Leeming, from Dynamite on a China Plate. © The Backwaters Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Man Writes Poem
This just in a man has begun writing a poem
in a small room in Brooklyn. His curtains
are apparently blowing in the breeze. We go now
to our man Harry on the scene, what's
the story down there Harry? "Well Chuck
he has begun the second stanza and seems
to be doing fine, he's using a blue pen, most
poets these days use blue or black ink so blue
is a fine choice. His curtains are indeed blowing
in a breeze of some kind and what's more his radiator
is 'whistling' somewhat. No metaphors have been written yet,
but I'm sure he's rummaging around down there
in the tin cans of his soul and will turn up something
for us soon. Hang on—just breaking news here Chuck,
there are 'birds singing' outside his window, and a car
with a bad muffler has just gone by. Yes ... definitely
a confirmation on the singing birds." Excuse me Harry
but the poem seems to be taking on a very auditory quality
at this point wouldn't you say? "Yes Chuck, you're right,
but after years of experience I would hesitate to predict
exactly where this poem is going to go. Why I remember
being on the scene with Frost in '47, and with Stevens in '53,
and if there's one thing about poems these days it's that
hang on, something's happening here, he's just compared the curtains
to his mother, and he's described the radiator as 'Roaring deep
with the red walrus of History.' Now that's a key line,
especially appearing here, somewhat late in the poem,
when all of the similes are about to go home. In fact he seems
a bit knocked out with the effort of writing that line,
and who wouldn't be? Looks like ... yes, he's put down his pen
and has gone to brush his teeth. Back to you Chuck." Well
thanks Harry. Wow, the life of the artist. That's it for now,
but we'll keep you informed of more details as they arise.
Meant to be read aloud, for example at breakfast with dear friends on the terrace at Hotel Cheguamegon overlooking Lake Superior. Expect laughter and delight.
[Thanks, Mary and Matt]
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
First Lady Laura Bush flew from Washington to New York and instead of flying Air Force One, she took the Delta Shuttle. The first lady said she did this because unlike Air Force One, commercial airlines are cheaper, they waste less gas, and she doesn't get stuck sitting next to a dumb guy. — Conan O'Brien
May 29, 2006
|Ego||Humor & Fun Poetry|
This morning, at breakfast overlooking Lake Superior with my daughter Molly and a collection of my dearest friends, our friend Mary introduced us all to a wonderful young poet named Jay Leeming. A sample:
Getting rid of your ego
is like trying to throw away a garbage can.
No one believes you’re serious,
and the more you yell at the garbage men
the better the neighbors
remember your name.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Even though it's a little bit controversial, President Bush supports the effort to make English our national language. The president says making English our national language is not "discriminatious." — Conan O'Brien
May 28, 2006
This is excellent.
|The Suburban Fantasy||Peak Oil|
James Howard Kunstler on TomPaine.com:
It's actually kind of funny to hear Americans complain these days about the cost of gasoline and how it is affecting their lives. What did they expect after setting up an easy-motoring utopia of suburban metroplexes that make incessant driving inevitable? And how did they fail to register the basic facts of the world oil situation, which have been available to us for decades?
Those facts are as follows: oil fields follow a simple pattern of production and depletion along a bell curve. Universally, when an oil field gets close to half the amount of oil it originally possessed, production peaks and then declines. This is true for all oil fields in the aggregate, for a nation and even the world.
In the United States, oil production peaked in 1970 and has been declining ever since. We extracted about 10 million barrels a day in 1970 and just under 5 million barrels a day now. Because our consumption has only increased steadily, we’ve made up for the shortfall by importing oil from other countries.
There is now powerful evidence in the production figures worldwide that we have reached global peak oil production. The collective nations of the earth will not make up for this by importing oil from other planets.
Contrary to a faction of wishful thinkers, the earth does not have a creamy nougat center of oil. Oil fields do not replenish themselves. Also contrary to the prevailing wish, no combination of alternative fuels will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World and the other furnishings of what Dick Cheney called our "non-negotiable way of life."
People who refuse to negotiate with the circumstances that the world throws at them automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner: reality. Reality then requires you to change your behavior, whether you like it or not. With global oil production peaking, we are now subject to rising oil prices, as markets are forced to contend with allocating a resource heading in the direction of scarcity. Oil prices are only likely to go higher — though there is apt to be a ratcheting effect as high oil prices depress economic activity and thus dampen demand for oil which will depress prices leading to increased consumption which will then kick prices back up, and so on. The prospects for more geopolitical friction over oil also self-evidently increase, as industrial nations desperately maneuver for supplies.
Mainly though, the danger lies in the resulting instability of the super-sized complex systems that we depend on daily.
Trouble with oil will spell huge problems with how we grow our food, how we conduct trade, how we move around and how we inhabit the terrain of North America. These systems are going to wobble and eventually fail unless some effort is made to reform their scale and their procedures. For example, Wal-Mart's profit margins will disappear as higher diesel fuel prices hit its "warehouse-on-wheels."
Now, in the face of this, you'd think that the national leadership in politics, business and science would prepare the public for substantial necessary changes in the way we do things. What we are seeing across the board, though, is merely a desperate wish to keep the cars running by any conceivable means, at all costs. That is the sole target of our focus. Our leaders don't get it. We citizens have to make other arrangements.
We simply cannot face the fact that time has run out — that our lease is expiring — for the easy-motoring utopia. But we must. We have to live differently. We're going to have to re-inhabit and reconstruct our civic places — especially our small towns — and we're going to have to use the remaining rural places for growing food locally, wherever possible. Our big cities will probably contract, while they densify at their centers and along their waterfronts. Our suburbs will enter a shocking state of economic and practical failure.
We cannot imagine this scenario because we have invested so much of our collective wealth the past 50 years in the infrastructure for a way of life that simply has no future.
We'd better start paying attention to the signals that reality is sending or we will be living in a very violent, impoverished and demoralized nation. And we have to begin somewhere, which is why I suggest we start by rebuilding the national passenger railroad system. It would have a significant impact on our oil use. It would put a lot of people to work on something meaningful and beneficial to all ranks of American society. The equipment is lying out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. We don't have to re-invent anything to do it.
The fact that we are not even talking about such solutions shows how unserious we are. [Emphasis added]
It really is remarkable how little grownup discussion there is of these issues by our national leadership. Are we a nation of children, after all?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
This [FBI raid] has really unified both parties. House Speaker Dennis Hastert...has attacked the FBI for raiding the congressman's office, saying it was an abuse of power. Imagine the nerve of the FBI treating members of Congress like they are regular Americans. Can you imagine? If there's anything that people who make the laws hate is being treated like the people who have to follow the laws. — Jay Leno
May 27, 2006
|Making Us Safer||Afghanistan Iran Iraq War and Peace|
The International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual global security assessment says Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea threaten a "perfect storm" of simultaneous crises. Guardian:
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the west's growing confrontation with Iran, and efforts to divest North Korea of its nuclear weapons are all approaching crucial turning points that could combine to create a perfect storm of simultaneous international crises, independent defence experts said yesterday.
Launching the International Institute for Strategic Studies' (IISS) annual assessment of global security threats, John Chipman, its director general, said: "Many parts of the world are engaged in brutal combat ... Overall, the dangerous triptych of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran continues to dominate the security agenda as do the wider, iconic problems of terrorism and proliferation." [...]
Dr Chipman said the new Iraqi government faced "fundamental challenges" that could quickly overwhelm its attempts to hold the country together and invite regional intervention. "It is doubtful that a collective sense of Iraqi nationalism can survive in a context of increasing sectarian violence and the continuing security vacuum. Democracy has exacerbated Iraq's ethnic and religious tensions, with voters largely dividing along Sunni, Shia and Kurdish lines." [...]
Presenting the report, entitled The Military Balance, Dr Chipman warned of a rising Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan aimed at British and Nato troops who are replacing some US forces. "This year will be crucial for Afghanistan as well as for Nato as it expands its mission into the south," he said. "The Taliban are likely to increase their operational tempo - not least because they know that casualties among European Nato states may mobilise domestic opinion against the war." [...]
The IISS said North Korea had obtained enough plutonium to build between five and 11 nuclear weapons and long-running talks to induce Pyongyang to disarm were at an impasse.
In an implicit criticism of Washington's policy of ostracism and financial sanctions, Dr Chipman said North Korea had concluded that "the Bush administration is not serious about negotiations and [has] hostile intent". [...]
The report also highlighted growing US concerns about China's military build-up and intentions, quoting the findings of the recent US Quadrennial Defence Review. It said China was "a power at a strategic crossroads that is still pointing largely in the wrong direction and which has the greatest potential to emerge as a military rival to the US". [Emphasis added]
Everything they're doing is making us less safe, not safer. Swat hornets' nests with baseball bats and then wonder why all the stinging: not exactly a sign of intelligence.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Has anybody seen the Al Gore movie about global warming and the environment? Well, the Bush administration has seen it and they are very annoyed about the whole thing. As a matter of fact, earlier today, Dick Cheney shot a projectionist. — David Letterman
May 26, 2006
|Subtropical Warming Leading To Bigger Deserts||Environment|
The steady drumbeat of global warming news continues. Reuters:
Earth's atmosphere is warming faster over the subtropics than anywhere else, which could mean bigger deserts and more drought from Africa to Australia to the Middle East, researchers said on Thursday.
The fast-heating area girdles the globe at about 30 degrees north and south latitude, crossing the southern United States, southern China and north Africa in the Northern Hemisphere, and southern Australia, South Africa and southern South America in the Southern Hemisphere.
Based on 25 years of satellite data, researchers at the University of Washington also determined that the jet streams — a pattern of westerly winds that help drive weather in both hemispheres — have shifted about 70 miles toward their respective poles.
This is important because the jet streams mark the northern and southern boundaries of the tropic climate zones, said John Wallace, an atmospheric scientist and co-author of a research paper in this week's Science journal. The jet streams' shift toward the poles means the zones are expanding. [...]
The dry subtropical climate regions, which contain some of the world's major deserts, could encroach into temperate regions, Wallace said. Areas such as the Mediterranean, southern Europe and the northern part of the Middle East could have a tendency toward more drought, Wallace said.
The same might happen in southern Australia and South Africa, he said.
The study does not address whether this warming is due to the greenhouse effect or some other factor. It is different from previous models, which saw the fastest warming in the tropics, rather than the subtropics. [Emphasis added]
We are all participants in an ongoing experiment at planetary scale. It's up to us to help determine the experiment's outcome.
|African Migratory Birds Dying Off||Environment|
Several bird species that make annual migrations between Africa and Europe have experienced drastic population declines and scientists are not exactly sure why, conservationists said on Friday. [...]
"Scientists fear that their dwindling numbers — well over 50 per cent down in some cases — may be a warning of widespread environmental damage, which could soon affect man as well," the RSPB said in a statement.
"Climate change, drought and desertification in Africa, and massive pesticide use on African farmland may all be to blame for the declines of once common UK birds such as the spotted flycatcher, wheatear, wood warbler and turtle dove," it said.
Researchers were looking at factors such as drought and heavy pesticide use in the Sahel region of Africa, which borders the Sahara desert and is a major stopover point for birds that have made the exhausting journey across the unforgiving sands.
The RSPB said the research, to be published in the journal "Biological Conservation", showed that 54 percent of the 121 long-distance migrants studied have declined or become extinct in many parts of Europe since 1970. [...]
"These migrants are highly evolved and some range over a quarter of the planet's land surface. For species like this to be affected so severely suggests that something pretty serious is going wrong somewhere," said the RSPB's Dr Paul Donald, a co-author of the study. [Emphasis added]
The proverbial canaries in the coal mine.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Well, there's a bright side to this [guilty verdict] for Ken Lay. You know, throughout the years Ken Lay has been a big campaign contributor to the Republican Party. So now, he'll be able to meet with those same people when he goes to prison. — Jay Leno
May 25, 2006
|Ethnic Cleansing On A Massive Scale||Iraq|
To hear Bush and Blair tell it, Iraq has turned some kind of corner. Patrick Cockburn, one of the most courageous Western journalists covering the Iraq war, begs to differ. Independent (via CommonDreams):
Across central Iraq, there is an exodus of people fleeing for their lives as sectarian assassins and death squads hunt them down. At ground level, Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold on a massive scale.
The state of Iraq now resembles Bosnia at the height of the fighting in the 1990s when each community fled to places where its members were a majority and were able to defend themselves. "Be gone by evening prayers or we will kill you," warned one of four men who called at the house of Leila Mohammed, a pregnant mother of three children in the city of Baquba, in Diyala province north-east of Baghdad. He offered chocolate to one of her children to try to find out the names of the men in the family. [...]
The same pattern of intimidation, flight and death is being repeated in mixed provinces all over Iraq. By now Iraqis do not have to be reminded of the consequences of ignoring threats.
In Baquba, with a population of 350,000, gunmen last week ordered people off a bus, separated the men from the women and shot dead 11 of them. Not far away police found the mutilated body of a kidnapped six-year-old boy for whom a ransom had already been paid.
The sectarian warfare in Baghdad is sparsely reported but the provinces around the capital are now so dangerous for reporters that they seldom, if ever, go there, except as embeds with US troops. Two months ago in Mosul, I met an Iraqi army captain from Diyala who said Sunni and Shia were slaughtering each other in his home province. "Whoever is in a minority runs," he said. "If forces are more equal they fight it out." [...]
Salam Hussein Rostam, a police lieutenant in charge of registering and investigating people arriving in terror from all over Iraq, gestured to an enormous file of paper beside him. "I've received 200 families recently, most of them in the last week," he said. This means that about one thousand people have sought refuge in one small town. Lt Rostam said that the refugees were coming from all over Iraq. [...]
The flight of the middle class started about six months after the invasion in 2003 as it became clear Iraq was becoming more, not less, violent. They moved to Jordan, Syria and Egypt. The suicide bombing campaign was largely directed against Shias who only began to retaliate after they had taken over the government in May last year. Interior Ministry forces arrested, tortured and killed Sunnis.
But a decisive step towards sectarian civil war took place when the Shia Al-Askari shrine in Samarra was blown up on 22 February this year. Some 1,300 Sunni were killed in retaliation. [...]
Every community has its atrocity stories. The cousin of a friend was a Sunni Arab who worked in the wholly Shia district of Qadamiyah in west Baghdad. One day last month he disappeared. Three days later his body was discovered on a rubbish dump in another Shia district. "His face was so badly mutilated," said my friend, that "we only knew it was him from a wart on his arm."
Since the destruction of the mosque in Samarra sectarian warfare has broken out in every Iraqi city where there is a mixed population. In many cases the minority is too small to stand and fight. Sunnis have been fleeing Basra after a series of killings. Christians are being eliminated in Mosul in the north. Shias are being killed or driven out of cities and towns north of Baghdad such as Baquba or Samarra itself.
Dujail, 40 miles north of Baghdad, is the Shia village where Saddam Hussein carrying out a judicial massacre, killing 148 people after an attempt to assassinate him in 1982. He is on trial for the killings. The villagers are now paying a terrible price for giving evidence at his trial.
In the past few months Sunni insurgents have been stopping them at an improvised checkpoint on the road to Baghdad. Masked gunmen glance at their identity cards and if under place of birth is written "Dujail" they kill them. So far 20 villagers have been murdered and 20 have disappeared. [Emphasis added]
If Iraq has turned a corner, it's a corner in Hell.
|If You've Used A Telephone In The Last Five Years...||Rights, Law|
They've got a point.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Today the Republicans said this [FBI] raid [on Congressman Jefferson's office] may have violated protections for congressmen that are spelled out in the Constitution. The Constitution? All of a sudden they found a copy? Where was it when they were spying on our phone calls? — Jay Leno
May 24, 2006
|Earth To Tom DeLay: Comedy Central Is, Uh, Comedy|
This really is too bizarre. Tom DeLay's legal defense web site is featuring a video clip from Stephen Colbert's show on Comedy Central. They seem to be a little confused. Colbert, you see, is not actually a conservative, Mr. DeLay. He only pretends to be. It's what people sometimes refer to as a joke.
Go check it out quick before they remove it.
|James Yee On Democracy Now||9/11, "War On Terror"|
James Yee, West Point graduate, the former Muslim military chaplain at Guantanamo who was supposed to have been guilty of espionage and other crimes but was ultimately exonerated, gave a lengthy interview Monday to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now. It's worth reading at length, but here are a few excerpts:
I can go on with things that happened in Guantanamo, like the ages of some of the prisoners down there, as young as 12 to 14 years old. Prisoners as young as 12 to 14 years old were being held down in Guantanamo when I was there. I had access to them on a weekly basis, and I recall distinctly meeting with these youngsters and my conversations with the guards who oversaw the detention of these youngsters. I recall how sometimes — or once a guard said, "Chaplain, these youngsters, these preteens, sometimes they do get out of hand, and they're like any other preteens. They gang up on each other, they make fun of each other. And sometimes they do have to be disciplined." Well I said, "Well, what do you do?" He said, "Chaplain, we give them a time-out."
A time-out. Now what's a time-out? A time-out is something I use with my own 6-year-old daughter when she's naughty, or when she's had too much chocolate. I give her a time-out to have her calm down and go to her room and be silent. This is what was being used on these youngsters, who senior military officials said of them, “They're not individuals on a little league team. These are individuals on a major league team called 'terrorism.'” Now, I questioned the logic on whether or not a time-out would be effective on a hardcore terrorist. Would a time-out be effective on someone like Osama bin Laden? The reality is, these individuals, these youngsters, these 12-year-olds, were not hardcore terrorists. They were there for over a year, and they've been, I believe, subsequently released. [...]
I had received a stellar officer evaluation report, the best that I had ever received, dated two days before I would be arrested and then charged and accused of things like spying, espionage, aiding the enemy. And I want to talk to you about that. [...]
I was thrown in jail for which it ultimately would be for 76 days in isolation.
I was arrested in secret, held incommunicado. I never showed up at the airport in Seattle like I was supposed to have, where my wife and daughter were waiting. They didn't know what happened to me. My parents in New Jersey had no idea what had happened. I essentially disappeared from society, from the face of the earth. But my family would learn of what happened to me ten days later, when government leaks to the media were then reported, first by the Washington Times, that I was now arrested and charged with these heinous crimes of spying, espionage, aiding the enemy, and mutiny and sedition, which is like trying to overthrow the government. All of these capital crimes, and, yes, I was threatened with the death penalty days after my arrest by a military prosecutor. [...]
I was taken from Jacksonville, shackled like prisoners are shackled down in Guantanamo, at the wrist and at the waist and at the ankles in what we call in the military, a three-piece suit, not a three-piece suit like you buy at the mall, made by Armani, a three-piece suit of chains. This is how I was shackled and then thrown in the back of a truck next to an armed guard, two other armed guards in the front. And down on the way, on this trip to Charleston, the guard pulls out of this bag these goggles — they're blackened out, opaque — puts them on my eyes so now I can't see a thing. He takes out these heavy industrial type ear muffs, the likes that you might see a construction worker wearing when he's jack hammering in the middle of the street, puts them on my ears, and now I can't hear a thing. We call this tactic "sensory deprivation." Sensory deprivation, it's something that I recently read that the American Psychiatric Association has included in a draft of their definition of torture.
Sensory deprivation. I was subjected to sensory deprivation, but I knew about this tactic, because that's, of course, how I saw prisoners being treated and subjected to when they are in-processed into Guantanamo when they are flown in from Afghanistan under this very same tactic of sensory deprivation; its purpose, which is meant to instill fear and intimidation. You, yourselves, maybe have seen the pictures with the prisoners wearing the hoods on their head. Well, I feared also that a hood would be then thrown on my head, but fortunately for me, that practice of hooding had just been stopped months before my arrest. I also feared of being kicked and beaten violently, especially after hearing some of the prisoners when I spoke with them down in Guantanamo, how they were kicked and beaten during their transport down to Guantanamo. [...]
[Eventually] I was returned to full duty back at Fort Lewis, reinstated as a Muslim chaplain. My record was wiped clear, after which I, of course, tendered my resignation, received an honorable discharge in January of 2005, and upon separation, I would receive another, a second Army commendation medal for exceptional meritorious service.
I didn't receive an apology. Yes, I am an eternal optimist, and I hope one day that I will receive an official apology, and I believe that by speaking out, speaking the truth, and making people aware of what's going on in Guantanamo and letting others know what happened to me, as a U.S. citizen held in this so-called war on terrorism, that one day all of this will lead to a well-deserved apology. Thank you. [Emphasis added]
12- to 14-year-olds held for more than a year in that hellhole. Will we ever wake up from this nightmare?
|Congress Discovers Civil Liberties||Politics Rights, Law|
Congress is all upset because the FBI, who had a search warrant, raided the office of Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson. Funny how they suddenly become champions of civil liberties when they're the ones in the crosshairs. CNN's Jack Cafferty says it well (video):
Congress seems to think it's fine for the NSA to spy on all of us without any sort of a warrant whatsoever. But it's not OK for the FBI to conduct a raid on Congressman William Jefferson's office with a warrant after finding 90 grand in his freezer and after waiting weeks for him to comply with a subpoena to turn over evidence in an ongoing corruption investigation, evidence which he has refused so far to turn over.
Now, members of both parties are all worked up about this. They positively have their shorts in a knot over this. You see, they want the Capitol police to handle their stuff, you know, the same ones who failed to give Congressman Patrick Kennedy a breathalyzer after Kennedy crashed his car into a stationary barrier a couple of weeks ago. Instead, they just drove Kennedy home and said, "Good night, Congressman, and have a nice evening." You see, the Capitol police answer to Congress. The speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert even complained personally to President Bush about the raid on Congressman Jefferson's office. It's believed this was the first raid of a congressman's office in 219 years. Well, judging by the reaction on Capitol Hill, maybe the FBI ought to raid their offices more often. What is it do you suppose they're hiding in those offices?
Once again, Congress is demanding a different set of standards for themselves. [Emphasis added]
Seems they're learning the hard way the lesson of Pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
Congress has spent the last five years letting the Executive Branch trample on the Constitution and basic civil liberties, with scarcely a peep of protest. What did they think was going to happen?
Hey, Congress: welcome to our world.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush said today he has nothing but respect for Mexico and its people and he will always speak the truth to them. Here's my question: When can we get that deal? — Jay Leno
May 23, 2006
|Justice As Fairness||Essays Ethics Musings|
At the time of the first Gulf War, I called into a local left-wing radio show to voice my oppostion to the impending war, and I was taken by surprise when the host asked me if war is ever morally justified. I didn't have a satisfactory answer at the time, but it's a question that has stayed with me ever since.
The standard I've come to is the following. It is (barely) possible to imagine a war fought to advance a cause so overwhelmingly important, so critically urgent, that I would support it even knowing that one of my own daughters might be killed — indeed, that I would still support it even if I knew one of my own daughters would be killed. Then, and only then, I think, could I say the war is justified. After all, every war means the death of someone's children. If I am not willing to accept that the child might be my own, I don't see any possible moral basis for supporting a war.
That's what makes the following story so distasteful (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of last August):
Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.
It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect's mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.
"I want you to know we support you," she gushed.
Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.
"Military service isn't for our son. It isn't for our kind of people," she told him. [Emphasis added]
We recoil instinctively at the hypocrisy of the mother in the story. It is all too clear that the mother is able to "support" the war because she knows up front that no child of hers is at risk. It is that knowledge that makes her stance an empty one. Put her son at risk and watch how quickly her "support" will evaporate.
Some time after arriving at my standard for a just war, I happened across the work of American philosopher John Rawls, who worked out a beautiful generalization of what is at bottom the same idea, except that Rawls extended it to cover issues of justice generally, not only the issue of just war.
Rawls asks the question, what constitutes a just set of relationships in society? To answer, he suggests the following thought experiment. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which no one knows where he/she fits in the overall pecking order in terms of class or social status. No one knows whether he/she is more or less intelligent, talented, attractive, or capable than anyone else. No one knows if he/she is better educated or better connected than anyone else. No one even knows his/her conceptions of what is good and fair. Everyone is, as Rawls puts it, situated behind a "veil of ignorance". Under those (hypothetical) conditions, the relationships and rules that one would accept as fair are those that are truly fair.
For if there is anything human beings are good at, it's rationalizing their own self-interest. Wealthy people support tax cuts for the rich. Poor people favor welfare. Smart, well-educated people say let's abolish the social safety net and have a straight meritocracy. Healthy people see no reason why they should have to contribute to universal health care. Well-off people have no problem supporting a war poor people are going to have to fight.
Ah, but suppose for all you knew you were one of the poor, one of the infirm, one of the untalented. Surely, then, you would insist on a conception of justice as fairness, where society cares for all its members, rich or poor, healthy or sick, talented or not, equitably balancing their interests.
Rawls' standard is a hypothetical one, but I think it's an excellent yardstick to use when mentally evaluating the morality of a social arrangement: is it an arrangement you'd agree to even if you didn't know up front whether you were one of the lucky ones. Which is another way of asking, is it fair.
Last night, I posted a link to a video interview with Jessie Macbeth, regarding atrocities he says he participated in while serving in Iraq. It appears, however, that there are a number of reasons to question his veracity, so I've pulled the post. I should have been more skeptical. My apologies.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
As you know, the National Guard stands by, ready to go into action any time the president of the United States feels there's a big enough of a disaster, like a major earthquake, a huge flood, a 29% approval rating. Any one of those things could trigger movement. — Jay Leno
May 22, 2006
|AT&T Whistleblower: NSA Taps Internet Trunk Lines At Telecom Sites||Politics Rights, Law|
As I've been saying here for a while, the little that we've been told about NSA snooping on electronic communications inside the US is just the tip of a very large iceberg. It's axiomatic: what gets released publicly is always just a small glimpse of the whole ugly reality. We will likely never know the full extent of what they've been up to, but every new story enlarges the scope.
Now, from Wired, here's an affadavit by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who says the NSA is tapped into the main trunk lines of the Internet, from where they can monitor literally everything that goes over the Net: email, IM, chat, web site usage, file uploads and downloads, you name it. Excerpt:
In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardware installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities. [...]
The essential hardware elements of a TIA [Total Information Awareness]-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into "real world" telecommunications offices.
In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.
The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. In practice this has meant that only one management-level technician works in there. Ironically, the one who set up the room was laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's endless "downsizings," but he was quickly replaced by another.
Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber-optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber-optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.
This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: Circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform — in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter — its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the internet. [Emphasis added]
On the one hand, it's not surprising. One always assumed they were listening in. But on the other hand, it's outrageous. Treasonous, in fact. They've crumpled the Constitution into a little ball and tossed it out the window. If laws don't apply to the government, all bets are off.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Conservative Republicans are very worried that there's no way to keep track of these illegal aliens. Yeah, we can't keep track of them unless they start making phone calls. — Jay Leno
May 21, 2006
|The Big Chill||Politics Rights, Law|
The shredding of the Constitution — what's left of it — continues. Attorney-General Gonzales now says journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, and he won't hesitate to track their phone calls in leak investigations. AP:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes journalists can be prosecuted for publishing classified information, citing an obligation to national security.
The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.
"There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility," Gonzales said, referring to prosecutions. "We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected." [...]
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said she presumed that Gonzales was referring to the 1917 Espionage Act, which she said has never been interpreted to prosecute journalists who were providing information to the public.
"I can't imagine a bigger chill on free speech and the public's right to know what it's government is up to — both hallmarks of a democracy — than prosecuting reporters," Dalglish said.
Gonzales said he would not comment specifically on whether The New York Times should be prosecuted for disclosing the NSA program last year based on classified information. [...]
But he added that the First Amendment right of a free press should not be absolute when it comes to national security. If the government's probe into the NSA leak turns up criminal activity, prosecutors have an "obligation to enforce the law."
"It can't be the case that that right [the First Amendment] trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity," Gonzales told ABC's "This Week." [Emphasis added]
How's that for legal reasoning: the Constitution does not trump what "Americans would like to see." It's embarrassing.
Whether they prosecute or not, whether they track reporter's phone calls or not, the purpose of these kinds of pronouncements is clear: to create a chill that will keep sources from talking to reporters and keep reporters from publishing what the White House doesn't want published. It's disgusting what they're doing to this country.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Remember the president of the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa? Well, he vanished and there were all these rumors and stories and myths about where he may be buried. It turns out now that the FBI got a tip and now they're looking everywhere for Jimmy Hoffa. Everywhere. The FBI is looking everywhere. And I'm thinking, "That's great, but what about Osama bin Laden?" — David Letterman
May 20, 2006
|Peak Food||Environment Future Peak Oil|
The world is eating grains faster than farmers can grow them, and the problem is only going to get worse, with rising oil prices and global climate change both playing a significant part. CommonDreams:
The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years. Rising population, water shortages, climate change, and the growing costs of fossil fuel-based fertilisers point to a calamitous shortfall in the world's grain supplies in the near future, according to Canada's National Farmers Union (NFU).
Thirty years ago, the oceans were teeming with fish, but today more people rely on farmers to produce their food than ever before, says Stewart Wells, NFU's president.
In five of the last six years, global population ate significantly more grains than farmers produced.
And with the world's farmers unable to increase food production, policymakers must address the "massive challenges to the ability of humanity to continue to feed its growing numbers", Wells said in a statement.
There isn't much land left on the planet that can be converted into new food-producing areas, notes Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. And what is left is of generally poor quality or likely to turn into dust bowls if heavily exploited, Brown told IPS.
Unlike the Green Revolution in the 1960s, when improved strains of wheat, rice, maize and other cereals dramatically boosted global food production, there are no technological magic bullets waiting in the wings.
"Biotechnology has made little difference so far," he said.
Even if the long-promised biotech advances in drought, cold, and disease-resistance come about in the next decade, they will boost yields little more than five percent globally, Brown said.
"There's not nearly enough discussion about how people will be fed 20 years from now," he said.
Hunger is already a stark and painful reality for more than 850 million people, including 300 million children. How can the number of hungry not explode when one, two and possibly three billion more people are added to the global population?
The global food system needs fixing and fast, says Darrin Qualman, NFU's research director.
"Many Canadian and U.S. farmers are going out of business because crop prices are at their lowest in nearly 100 years," Qualman said in an interview. "Farmers are told overproduction is to blame for the low prices they've been forced to accept in recent years."
However, most North American agribusiness corporations posted record profits in 2004. With only five major companies controlling the global grain market, there is a massive imbalance of power, he said.
"The food production system is designed to generate profits, not produce food or nutrition for people," Qualman told IPS. [...]
Shifting from a global food production system to local food for local people would go a long way towards addressing inequity, Qualman believes.
"The 100-mile diet, where people obtain their food from within a 100-mile radius of their homes, makes good sense for most of the world," he said.
The whole fabric of the food production system needs to change, or hunger and malnutrition will only get much worse.
"North America's industrial-style agricultural system is a really bad idea and maybe the worst on the planet," Qualman concluded. [Emphasis added]
And people want to take a big chunk of the grain harvest and burn it (turning it into ethanol for that purpose). What's wrong with this picture?
|Bonds And The Babe||Musings|
Barry Bonds tied Babe Ruth's career home run total today. A remarkable achievement, but people forget what a giant Ruth was in his day. Home runs were nowhere near as common when Ruth played as they are now.
In 1927, the year Ruth hit 60 home runs, 60 home runs was more home runs than any other team in the American League hit that season. The Red Sox, for example, as a team, combined for only 28 homers. To put it another way, Ruth single-handedly hit 14% of all the home runs in the American League in 1927. After correcting for the fact that the league has more teams and they play more games now than then, 14% of the league total works out to about 182 home runs in today's terms. That's how Ruth's 60 home run season looked to his contemporaries: like one of today's players hitting 182 home runs in a season. Unimaginable.
Bonds is a great player, and he dominates his era. But I doubt if any player in any sport has so dominated his era the way Ruth did.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush said we'll have 6,000 troops on the border for one year, preferably an election year. — Jay Leno
May 19, 2006
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush called for the National Guard to patrol the US/Mexican border. The guards will track down and find illegals. That's not their job. They're trained to defend our country — not track down and find people. Let's be honest, the Guard couldn't even track down and find President Bush when he was in the National Guard. — Jay Leno
May 18, 2006
|Good News, Bad News||Future Peak Oil Science/Technology|
On Point radio had an interesting show yesterday about tiny, high-mileage cars, some electric, some not. If you go to their page, you can see a gallery of photos. Some of them are concept cars, but others are already on the road.
The stackable cars are especially cool. The idea is that people would use them kind of like you use luggage carts at the airport. You use it, then put it back in the queue for someone else. The cars are electric, and recharge while they're waiting in the queue. A car is returned at the end of the queue (these queues would be positioned at strategic places around the city), and by the time it reaches the front it's had a chance to charge up. If you go look at the photo, it'll be clearer what I'm talking about. To deal with the fact that people like their cars to have some individuality, the inventors are thinking of giving the car a means of recognizing you, so it could set up various features the way you like them. The car could have your radio station settings, for example, or your iTunes. They're for city use, obviously, but it shows people are thinking innovatively.
Cause for some optimism, but this post at the Oil Drum puts things in a rather bleaker perspective. It describes the author's ongoing car trip cross country from Boulder to Pittsburgh. Everybody's speeding (which of course kills their fuel efficiency), there's exurban and suburban sprawl and traffic jams surrounding every city, the highways themselves are in rough shape. All in all, no signs yet of meaningful change out there on America's highways. And given the long lead times needed to make changes on the required scale, it's not looking good.
US troops killed in Iraq as of today: 2450.
And God knows how many Iraqis. For what?
No end in sight.
Peak Energy's Big Gav left the following comment:
"Source Watch" is always a good site to check out when you want to know an organisation's track record, associates and funding history:
They describe the CEI thusly:
"It postures as an advocate of "sound science" in the development of public policy. In fact, it is an ideologically-driven, well-funded front for corporations opposed to safety and environmental regulations that affect the way they do business."
If you look at the list of funders (which they aren't very transparent about) you will notice a few oil companies - Exxon seemingly being their primary funder (surprise, surprise)...
"CEI does not publish a list of its institutional donors, but the following companies and foundations are known to have given $10,000 or more:
* Aequus Institute
* Amoco Foundation, Inc.
* Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
* Carthage Foundation Scaife Foundations
* Coca-Cola Company
* E.L. Craig Foundation
* ExxonMobil ($405,000 during 2002)  (http://www2.exxonmobil.com/files/corporate/public_policy1.pdf)
* CSX Corporation
* Earhart Foundation
* Fieldstead and Co.
* FMC Foundation
* Ford Motor Company Fund
* Gilder Foundation
* Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (Koch Family Foundations)
* David H. Koch Charitable Foundation (Koch Family Foundations)
* Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation (Koch Family Foundations)
* Philip M. McKenna Foundation, Inc.
* Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
* Philip Morris Companies, Inc.
* Pfizer Inc.
* Precision Valve Corporation
* Prince Foundation
* Rodney Fund
* Sheldon Rose
* Sarah Scaife Foundation (Scaife Foundations)
* Texaco, Inc.
* Texaco Foundation
Other known CEI funders include:
* American Petroleum Institute
* ARCO Foundation
* Armstrong Foundation
* Burlington Northern Railroad Co.
* Cigna Corporation
* Detroit Farming Inc.
* Dow Chemical
* EBCO Corp.
* General Motors Corporation
* Jacqueline Hume Foundation
* JM Foundation
* Vernon K. Krieble Foundation
* John William Pope Foundation
* Smith Richardson Foundation
* Roe Foundation
* Alex C. Walker Foundation " [Emphasis added]
Ye shall know them by the company they keep.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
A British scientist has built a car he claims can get 8,000 miles on a gallon of gas. And today, Dick Cheney invited the guy to go hunting with him. — Jay Leno
May 17, 2006
|"Carbon Dioxide...We Call It Life"||Environment Politics|
Not an April Fool's joke, apparently, nor satire. Reuters:
A little girl blows away dandelion fluff as an announcer says, "Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution; we call it life," in an advertisement targeting global warming "alarmists," especially Al Gore.
The television ads, screened for the press on Wednesday and set to air in 14 U.S. cities starting on Thursday, are part of a campaign by the Competitive Enterprise Institute to counter a media spotlight on threats posed by worldwide climate change.
The spots are timed to precede next week's theatrical release of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary film on global warming that features Gore, the former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate.
Against backdrops of a park, a beach and a forest, one celebrates the benefits of greenhouse gas-producing fuels.
"The fuels that produce CO2 (carbon dioxide) have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor, lighting up our lives, allowing us to create and move the things we need, the people we love," the ad runs. "Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed — what would our lives be like then?"
The other ad questions media reports of the threat of climate change, especially a Time magazine issue devoted to the topic, and shows film of a glacier melting and then runs in reverse to show the glacier reconstituting itself.
"We had started work on this several months back, but we sort of changed course once the flood of glacier-melting stories began," said Sam Kazman, an institute lawyer who worked on the ads. "So we did want to get out there before the Al Gore film got into national opening." [...]
"They fly in the face of most of the science," Charlie Miller of Environmental Defense said of the institute ads. "The good news is that there's not a trade-off here between prosperity, jobs, growth and protecting the Earth. We can do both." [Emphasis added]
Kinda takes your breath away. What dimwits.
|The Inelasticity Of Supply||Peak Oil|
The cornucopian economists assure us that when oil prices rise, more oil will get pumped out of the ground. Policy Pete begs to differ. Consider the following graph:
Policy Pete explains:
OK, superimpose over the above a second mental chart showing crude oil prices. (Hint, two spikes on either side centered on 1980 and 2005 and a deep valley in the middle). Now go back to the long production slide and decide whether the dual peaks, which made a tremendous difference to lots of non-petroleum things in the world, made any difference at all to US oil production. Answer: they didn't. The market was willing to reward marginal increments in domestic production up the wazoo, but no amount of revenue and profit, big or small, made any perceptible difference in US production. [...]
Message to Congress: with near zero supply elasticity, it makes no sense to let the domestic oil patch capture all the oil rents. Those funds are needed elsewhere: no, not as a sop to the people to pay for a couple of fill-ups just before the election...They should be recaptured and redirected in a massive way toward the first phase of The Transition Away From Petroleum. [Emphasis added]
That's quite a graph. Remember it. The price spike around 1980 was huge — prices were actually much higher then, adjusted for inflation, than prices today — and it lasted for several years. As you can see from the graph above, the effect on US output was negligible: no amount of money will put more oil in the ground.
People want to believe that rising prices will magically cause supply to increase so they can keep doing what they're doing now, painlessly. It's not going to happen. We have to learn to use less oil. Period.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Last night was the season finale of "West Wing." "West Wing" is gone. And ABC has cancelled "Commander In Chief." So, now the only fictional president is Bush. — David Letterman
|Keeping Reality At Bay||Humor & Fun Politics|
Defending the border with Reality. Bob Harris. Funny stuff.
May 16, 2006
|CO2 Growth "Unprecedented"||Environment|
In the past, the oceans and the biosphere have modulated CO2 increases by absorbing CO2. There are now signs, however, that the Earth's capacity for CO2 absorption may be getting overwhelmed. SMH (via Big Gav at Peak Energy):
The global level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has alarmed scientists by growing strongly for the last four years in a row.
"That's unprecedented," said Paul Fraser, chief research scientist at the CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric Research division.
Describing the trend as "a clear manifestation" of the world's increasing hunger for fossil fuels, Dr Fraser said: "We are in line for the carbon dioxide future that we hope to avoid, a one-to-three degree rise in temperatures over the next century."
Last year carbon dioxide levels grew by two parts per million, or 0.54 per cent, twice the rate of the early 1980s. Atmospheric nitrous oxide, produced by fertilisers and land clearing, also soared last year, rising one part per billion, or 0.3 per cent.
And artificial greenhouse gases, including hydrofluoro-carbons, introduced during the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons, set a growth record, up seven parts per trillion, a 5.3 per cent increase.
The CSIRO said 2005 "was a record for increases in green-house gas heating, the main driver of increasing surface temperatures". Dr Fraser said that with carbon dioxide emissions, "normally we have one or two years of high growth, followed by one or two years of lower growth". This comes from the oceans and the biosphere - including trees and plants - soaking up enough of the gas to take the edge off increases.
However, sampling by the Bureau of Meteorology in Tasmania showed the normal pattern of higher and lower growth rates, called modulation, had failed to appear in the last four years. Instead, annual carbon dioxide increases had been consistently above average. "That's a surprise," said Dr Fraser, adding it would be extraordinary if the modulating effect of the oceans and the biosphere failed to kick in this year. However, the environment's ability to absorb the gas could eventually be overwhelmed. The only solution was "emitting less carbon dioxide", he said. [Emphasis added]
Yet another sign that harmful feedback loops are kicking in: global warming is only going to accelerate if we don't cut CO2 emissions, and quickly. We can all do what we can as individuals, but the essential missing ingredient is leadership. We should have elected Al Gore when we had the chance. No wait — we did.
|What's So Great About Blogs||Media Quotes|
99 percent of blogs are about what someone has to say. 99 percent of traditional media is about making money. — Mark Cuban
Can I get that as a tattoo?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
A German publication did an interview with the president and asked Mr. Bush what was his best moment of his presidency, and he said it was the day that he caught a 7.5 pound perch. I couldn't make that up. Now, he leaves out the part that he was fishing in downtown New Orleans. No, he was fishing on his ranch. He has a manmade lake that is artificially stocked with fish, and let's not forget the scuba divers who are under there who actually put the fish on the hook for him. And then Cheney comes over and they literally shoot fish in a barrel. The part I love is that he says he caught a 7.5 pound perch, when the biggest perch on record is 4.3 pounds. Bush lied and a fish died, that's all I have to say. And Cheney went even further. He said when they pulled the fish out of the water it greeted them as liberators. — Bill Maher
May 15, 2006
|Big-System Hysteresis||Environment Essays Peak Oil|
I've just started reading Elizabeth Kolbert's global warming book Field Notes From a Catastrophe (excellent so far), and I came across this arresting passage:
The effect of adding CO2 to the atmosphere is to throw the earth out of "energy balance." In order for the balance to be restored — as, according to the laws of physics, it eventually must be — the entire planet has to heat up, including the oceans, a process, [a panel of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences] noted, that could take "several decades." Thus, what might seem like the most conservative approach — waiting for evidence of warming to make sure the models were accurate — actually amounted to the riskiest possible strategy: "We may not be given a warning until the CO2 loading is such that an appreciable climate change is inevitable." [Emphasis added]
The fundamental problem is the scale of the Earth's global climate system. Because it's huge, it moves slowly. It has built-in time lags — what scientists and engineers call hysteresis — that mean that by the time global warming effects become pronounced the system is already in a critical phase. Effects are delayed, but when they begin, the transition to a new equilibrium is likely to be quite sudden. This is especially true of the climate system because of the suddenness of phase changes — e.g., ice to water.
It has taken a long time to get this enormous ocean liner moving on its current course, and it will take a long time to turn it around. The time to start easing off the throttle is long before the icebergs come into view. When Bush et al talk about the jury still being out on global warming and about the need to wait until it's obvious to everyone that the problem is serious and human activity is the cause (as if we don't know that already), he is like the captain of the Titanic, barreling full tilt through the icy North Atlantic. The downside of slowing down would have been nothing compared to the downside of hitting an iceberg and sinking. And we know how that turned out.
Roughly analogous considerations apply to peak oil. Many of the same people who downplay the seriousness and urgency of the global warming threat blithely assert that when oil gets scarce, rising prices will naturally prompt people to conserve and develop alternatives.
But again the problem is the scale of the system and its built-in time lags. Shrinking below-ground reserves don't cause oil prices to go higher. Prices depend on how much oil is coming out of the spigot. Prices won't go substantially higher until the below-ground situation has become so critical that oil can no longer be pumped out of the ground fast enough: i.e., price signals, when they come, will come too late. Switching to new energy technologies in transportation will take years, no matter what. The time to ease off the throttle is now. As with global warming, the seemingly conservative wait-and-see approach is actually the riskiest strategy possible. The cost of showing some self-restraint now will be nothing compared to the cost of letting the system crash.
|Government Tracking Reporters' Phone Records||Politics|
A senior federal law enforcement official tells us the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.
"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.
We do not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.
Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation. [...]
Under Bush Administration guidelines, it is not considered illegal for the government to keep track of numbers dialed by phone customers. [...]
A pattern of phone calls from a reporter...could provide valuable clues for leak investigators. [Emphasis added]
People who think they can trust the government to use phone records solely for combatting terrorism are fools.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The House of Representatives passed the $70 billion tax cut on capital gains, and it's all part of President Bush's "No Millionaire Left Behind" program. — David Letterman
May 14, 2006
|Live From New York||Humor & Fun|
And while we're on the subject of Al Gore, check out this video from SNL. A funny bit, but also kind of heart-breaking. What could have been: an actual clued-in grownup in the White House.
|An Inconvenient Truth||Activism Environment Media|
I know what I'll be doing June 16.
|© Kent Tenney|
Happy Mother's Day.
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Mother's Day is the busiest long distance phone calling day of the year. Over 300 million long distance calls. And those are just the ones being monitored by the White House. — Jay Leno
May 13, 2006
|A Plug For Big Gav||Peak Oil|
Just a short note to plug the blog Peak Energy by an Australian who goes by the nom de web "Big Gav." He links to all kinds of stuff, not just peak energy related material, and I never fail to learn something interesting when I go there. Check it out.
|Bill Of Particulars||Politics|
A dear friend recently asked for a list of the Bush administration's most egregious high crimes and misdemeanors. Via Big Gav, I see that the Angry Liberal Guy (C. B. Shapiro) has already done it for me. It's quite a list:
You might be saying "Man, what are you so angry about, Angry Liberal Guy?"
I've compiled a short (and by no means complete) list just so I could see it all in one place:
I'm angry about the shredding of the constitution...illegal wiretaps...falsified intelligence...secret prisons...use of torture as an accepted means of interrogation...Terry Schiavo...the war on science...denial of Global Warming...the fascistic secrecy of our elected officials...presidential signings that declare the President above the law...the breakdown of the wall between church and state...the outing of a clandestine CIA agent for purely partisan political gain...the corrupting influence of K Street...the total sell-out of the legislative process to corporate interests...appointments of unqualified cronies at every level of government...Harriet Miers...Brownie...Abu Ghraib...Scooter...the complete mismanagement of the war in Iraq...the lies about the complete mismanagement of the war in Iraq...the grotesque budget deficits...the pathetic response to Katrina...a civil rights division dedicated to undermining civil rights...an environmental protection agency that refuses to protect the environment... (Take a breath, Angry Liberal Guy.)
And I'm angry about a smug, simple-minded, incompetent, unqualified President, and a press that denies the obvious fact that we have a smug, simple-minded, incompetent unqualified President.
If these things don't make you angry, I have to ask — what the hell is the matter with you?
There you go, Nan. Read it and weep.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush's approval rating has dropped to a new low, 31% [now 29%]. In recent memory, only four presidents have had lower approval ratings: the president of Exxon, the president of Chevron, the president of Conoco, the president of Shell. — Jay Leno
May 12, 2006
|More On The Data-Mining Iceberg||Politics Rights, Law|
Greg Palast, writing for BuzzFlash, on the revelations that major telco and other corporations are assisting NSA/CIA/FBI/DHS in their surveillance of Americans, focuses on one of those companies, CheckPoint, Inc.:
[T]he snooping into your phone bill is just the snout of the pig of a strange, lucrative link-up between the Administration's Homeland Security spy network and private companies operating beyond the reach of the laws meant to protect us from our government. You can call it the privatization of the FBI — though it is better described as the creation of a private KGB.
The leader in the field of what is called "data mining," is a company, formed , called, "ChoicePoint, Inc," which has sucked up over a billion dollars in national security contracts.
Worried about Dick Cheney listening in Sunday on your call to Mom? That ain't nothing. You should be more concerned that they are linking this info to your medical records, your bill purchases and your entire personal profile including, not incidentally, your voting registration. Five years ago, I discovered that ChoicePoint had already gathered 16 billion data files on Americans — and I know they've expanded their ops at an explosive rate.
They are paid to keep an eye on you — because the FBI can't. For the government to collect this stuff is against the law unless you're suspected of a crime. (The law in question is the Constitution.) But ChoicePoint can collect if for "commercial" purchases — and under the Bush Administration's suspect reading of the Patriot Act — our domestic spying apparatchiks can then BUY the info from ChoicePoint.
Who ARE these guys selling George Bush a piece of you?
ChoicePoint's board has more Republicans than a Palm Beach country club. It was funded, and its board stocked, by such Republican sugar daddies as billionaires Bernie Marcus and Ken Langone — even after Langone was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission with abuse of inside information.
I first ran across these guys in 2000 in Florida when our Guardian/BBC team discovered the list of 94,000 "felons" that Katherine Harris had ordered removed from Florida's voter rolls before the election. Virtually every voter purged was innocent of any crime except, in most cases, Voting While Black. Who came up with this electoral hit list that gave Bush the White House? ChoicePoint, Inc.
And worse, they KNEW the racially-tainted list of felons was bogus. And when we caught them, they lied about it. [...]
And now ChoicePoint and George Bush want your blood. Forget your phone bill. ChoicePoint, a sickened executive of the company told us in confidence, "hope[s] to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States...linked to all the other information held by CP [ChoicePoint]" from medical to voting records.
And ChoicePoint lied about that too. The company publicly denied they gave DNA to the Feds — but then told our investigator, pretending to seek work, that ChoicePoint was "the number one" provider of DNA info to the FBI.
"And that scares the hell out of me," said the executive (who has since left the company), because ChoicePoint gets it WRONG so often. We are not contracting out our Homeland Security to James Bond here. It's more like Austin Powers, Inc. Besides the 97% error rate in finding Florida "felons," Illinois State Police fired the company after discovering ChoicePoint had produced test "results" on rape case evidence...that didn't exist. And ChoicePoint just got hit with the largest fine in Federal Trade Commission history for letting identity thieves purchase 145,000 credit card records.
But it won't stop, despite Republican senators shedding big crocodile tears about "surveillance" of innocent Americans. That's because FEAR is a lucrative business — not just for ChoicePoint, but for firms such as Syntech, Sybase and Lockheed-Martin — each of which has provided lucrative posts or profits to connected Republicans including former Total Information Awareness chief John Poindexter (Syntech), Marvin Bush (Sybase) and Lynn Cheney (Lockheed-Martin).
But how can they get Americans to give up our personal files, our phone logs, our DNA and our rights? Easy. Fear sells better than sex — and they want you to be afraid. Back to today's New York Times, page 28: "Wider Use of DNA Lists is Urged in Fighting Crime." And who is providing the technology? It comes, says the Times, from the work done on using DNA fragments to identity victims of the September 11 attack. And who did that job (for $12 million, no bid)? ChoicePoint, Inc. Which is NOT mentioned by the Times. [Emphasis added]
As I noted last night, reports that they've assembled the largest database in the world imply that it's a whole lot more than phone records. Phone companies, after all, already have databases of phone records. This has to be much, much more. I think Palast's right, they're tying everything together: your phone records, your medical records, your credit card payments and bank statements, your Internet use, your political affiliations — who knows what else.
|Tip Of The Iceberg||Politics|
This could be huge. Watch for it next week. From ThinkProgress:
CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg.A former intelligence officer for the National Security Agency said Thursday he plans to tell Senate staffers next week that unlawful activity occurred at the agency under the supervision of Gen. Michael Hayden beyond what has been publicly reported, while hinting that it might have involved the illegal use of space-based satellites and systems to spy on U.S. citizens. [...]
[Tice] said he plans to tell the committee staffers the NSA conducted illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of U.S. citizens while he was there with the knowledge of Hayden..."I think the people I talk to next week are going to be shocked when I tell them what I have to tell them. It's pretty hard to believe," Tice said. "I hope that they'll clean up the abuses and have some oversight into these programs, which doesn’t exist right now." [...]
Tice said his information is different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program that Bush acknowledged in December and from news accounts this week that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone call records of millions of Americans. "It's an angle that you haven't heard about yet," he said...He would not discuss with a reporter the details of his allegations, saying doing so would compromise classified information and put him at risk of going to jail. He said he "will not confirm or deny" if his allegations involve the illegal use of space systems and satellites. [Emphasis added]
Tice has a history for blowing the whistle on serious misconduct. He was one of the sources that revealed the administration' warrantless domestic spying program to the New York Times. [Emphasis added]
They've basically thrown the Constitution in the dumpster. They're data-mining everything they can aggregate. If they're also using space-based surveillance systems and satellites to sweep up data on all of us, well, it's a whole new world. One way they may have miscalculated: powerful elites don't want the government snooping into their affairs, nor do powerful corporations. The administration may be about to be slapped down, hard.
|The Free Fall Continues||Politics|
President Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to 29%, its lowest mark of his presidency, and down 6% in one month, according to a new Harris poll. And this was before Thursday's revelations about NSA phone surveillance.
Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and 43% in January.
Roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults say "things in the country are going in the right direction," while 69% say "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track."
Some 28% of Americans said they consider Iraq to be one of the top two most important issues the government should address, up from 23% in April. Interest has faded slightly in the immigration issue.
Other recent major polls have pegged Bush's approval rating from 31% to 37%. [Emphasis added]
Just wait until the Foggo scandal erupts for real, Karl gets indicted, more NSA lawlessness comes out in next week's hearings, etc., etc. Bush is toast.
The FBI today raided the home of the just-resigned Executive Director of the CIA. CNN:
The FBI searched the home and office of former CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo on Friday, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Foggo, who was the spy agency's third-ranking official, is part of a broad law enforcement investigation into allegations of corruption, according to officials familiar with the probe.
Search warrants were executed Friday at his CIA office and home in northern Virginia.
"As part of an ongoing joint investigation by the CIA's Office of Inspector General and law enforcement agencies into allegations of misconduct by the former Executive Director Dusty Foggo, the FBI and CIA's Office of Inspector General this morning executed search warrants for his agency workplace and residence," said CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise Dyck.
"The agency is cooperating fully with the Department of Justice and the FBI."
Whoa. The junta's unraveling.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The president said his brother Jeb "would be a great president." I guess we voted for the wrong one then. — Jimmy Kimmel
May 11, 2006
UK's Mirror reports that 200,000 AK-47 assault rifles that were supposed to be shipped from a US base to Iraqi security forces have apparently disappeared, possibly into the hands of insurgents. Excerpt:
Some 200,000 guns the US sent to Iraqi security forces may have been smuggled to terrorists, it was feared yesterday.
The 99-tonne cache of AK47s was to have been secretly flown out from a US base in Bosnia. But the four planeloads of arms have vanished. [...]
It follows a separate probe claiming that thousands of guns meant for Iraq's police and army instead went to al-Qaeda. [...]
A coalition forces spokesman confirmed they had not received "any weapons from Bosnia" and added they were "not aware of any purchases for Iraq from Bosnia". NATO and US officials have already voiced fears that Bosnian arms - sold by US, British and Swiss firms - are being passed to insurgents. A Nato spokesman said: "There's no tracking mechanism to ensure they don't fall into the wrong hands. There are concerns that some may have been siphoned off." This year a newspaper claimed two UK firms were involved in a deal in which thousands of guns for Iraqi forces were re-routed to al-Qaeda. [Emphasis added]
Fools or knaves? You decide. Not good either way.
|"The Largest Database Ever Assembled"||Politics Rights, Law|
You're no doubt aware that USA Today is reporting that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth have, since shortly after 9/11, been supplying the NSA with detailed information on every phone call made by any of its customers, private or commercial. From USA Today's article:
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
If it's really the largest database ever assembled, it's a hell of a lot more than phone records. The phone companies, after all, already have databases of phone records. This would have to be something much bigger. It would have to be data-mining on a colossal scale. As I wrote immediately after it was revealed that NSA was listening in on calls without getting FISA warrants:
The reason the White House didn't just go get FISA warrants for their wiretaps is almost certainly because they weren't doing wiretaps in the usual sense of the word. They were doing automated, broad-based scanning of enormous numbers of calls. For all we know, they were scanning every phone call in the country. Think Echelon and Total Information Awareness. Think data mining.
Is this normal government practice? Reed Hunt at TPMCafe:
No one should imagine that what NSA has done, if reports are accurate, is normal behavior or standard procedure in the interaction between a private communications network and the government. In an authoritarian country without a bill of rights and with state ownership of the communications network, such eavesdropping by people and computers is assumed to exist. But in the United States it is assumed not to occur, except under very carefully defined circumstances that, according to reports, were not present as NSA allegedly arm-twisted telephone companies into compliance. That is a topic that can't be avoided in [General Hayden's] hearing, if he gets that far. [Emphasis added]
We better all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because he might be all that is standing between us and a full-blown dictatorship in this country.
He's vowed to question these phone company executives about volunteering to provide the government with my telephone records and yours and tens of millions of other Americans. Shortly after 9/11, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth began providing the super-secret NSA with information on phone calls of millions of our citizens. All part of the war on terror, President Bush says.
Why don't you go find Osama bin Laden and seal the country's borders and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports? The president rushed out this morning in the wake of this front page story in "USA Today" and declared the government is doing nothing wrong and all this is just fine.
Is it? Is it legal? Then why did the Justice Department suddenly drop its investigation of the warrantless spying on citizens? Because the NSA said Justice Department lawyers didn't have the necessary security clearance to do the investigation.
Read that sentence again. A secret government agency has told our Justice Department that it's not allowed to investigate it. And the Justice Department just says, OK, and drops the whole thing. We're in some serious trouble here, boys and girls.
Here's the question: Does it concern you that your phone company may be voluntarily providing your phone records to the government without your knowledge or your permission? If it doesn't, it sure as hell ought to. [Emphasis added]
And the thing is, you know this isn't all of it. Probably not even close. They're probably data-mining everything they can get their hands on: credit card records, bank statements, Internet usage.
And Cafferty's right. The fact that the NSA told the Justice Department to take a hike because it didn't have a sufficient security clearance to investigate them — and the fact that the Justice Department agreed — is the stuff of dictatorships.
Anybody who says it's ok that the government has completely shredded all civil liberties guarantees with respect to privacy and search and seizure, who says that it's ok because they've got nothing to hide, just doesn't have a clue what the US Constitution and the rule of law are all about. No one can be trusted with unchecked power. No one. Ever. That is why we have a Constitution and a body of laws that limit governmental power. Civics 101. This was the bedrock principle on which the Founders built the nation. People who want to consent to let all that go are just sheep voluntarily marching to slaughter.
Perhaps the most ludicrous thing of all is that Bush and his ilk declare themselves to be conservatives, when they are destroying every fundamental check and balance, every basic right, that a real conservative would be trying to conserve.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The bird flu movie, here's what it is. The bird flu is coming, and government officials are slow to react to the coming disaster. Where do they get this stuff? — David Letterman
May 10, 2006
|Fritjof Capra On Sustainability, Part I||Activism Environment|
From Transition Culture via Energy Bulletin, a two-part interview with Fritjof Capra, author of The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point, The Web of Life, and, most recently, of The Hidden Connections. Excerpts from part one:
The key to [sustainability] is that we can use ecosystems as models. They are adaptive and sustainable, they support life, they recycle, they are solar powered.
In terms of creating sustainable human communities, our aim has to be to redesign them so that they don't interfere with Nature's inherent ability to sustain life. Our first step is to understand how Nature sustains life. The second step is then to introduce these principles into design, which we call "eco-design," to redesign our technologies, social institutions, commerce and so on. [So the] first step is that we have to help communities become what I call "eco-literate," there is really no way round this. It needs to happen at a very early stage in a relocalisation process. [Emphasis added]
On networks and community:
The 6 [basic principles of all living systems] are;
Networks is...the first principle because it is it the defining characteristic of life. Wherever there is life there are networks, be they metabolic networks, food webs, human social networks...Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities. We all know what a community is, even if we don't have it...Community is visceral and real, and that is why I think it is central to a definition of sustainability. The experience of a living network is the experience of a living community. The network concept is important, as sustainability is the quality of a community, an individual cannot be sustainable. Creating communities is creating sustainability. [Emphasis added]
On economic globalization:
[E]conomic globalisation [does not have a future]. It has peaked, in much the same way oil has. The current global capitalism has created a number of interconnected problems — increased poverty, alienation and pollution, destroyed communities, environmental destruction. In the human political realm, we have seen diminished democracy. Within the last year we have seen a turning point in perception. The model no longer works, even within its own perameters, never mind those that you or I might use. Opinion polls in the US show that people don't believe in it anymore. South America appears to be turning away from it as a continent. [Emphasis added]
Can technology save the day?
Technology has a big part to play, but if technology could solve the problems they'd already be solved. If it was only technology that is the problem we would already be there. I drive a Toyota Prius, and if everyone in the US drove one too, the US would be self-sufficient in oil, and not need to import anything from the Middle East. Wind power and biofuels are there and ready when we decide to use them. In the supermarket the organic food costs more than the non-organic, of course it should be the other way round. This is a question of taxes and subsidies. As a scientist I believe in human creativity and human discoveries, but the problem is not a matter of technology, but one of short-termist politics, vested interests, and so on. The solutions exist and make sense, sense that is clear to most people. If we feed our children good food they won't become obese, if they grow the food too they will be healthier and more cooperative, with the added benefit that they will be building soils which will be locking up carbon. There is no downside to this. [Emphasis added]
I love his emphasis that the way to a sustainable life is to learn from and mimic natural ecosystems. I.e., the way to be a successful life form is to act like successful life forms act. Makes sense, eh? What are ecosystems like? "They are adaptive and sustainable, they support life, they recycle, they are solar powered." And, above all, they are networks, they are communities.
As Capra says, we already know much of what has to be done, and it's not rocket science. We just have to do it. A better life awaits.
(Capra is also a founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy. One of their projects is a program called "Rethinking School Lunch," which I'll have more to say about in a future post. Great stuff.)
Part two tomorrow.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush said catching a 7.5 pound fish was his best moment since becoming president. You know the sad thing, a lot of historians would agree with that. — Jay Leno
May 09, 2006
|James Hansen: A Point Of No Return Is Looming||Economy Environment|
James Hansen, perhaps the country's most senior climate scientist, has posted a talk he gave in February at the New School (link via Energy Bulletin). In a nutshell: time is quickly running out. We're about to pass a global warming point of no return. Summary:
The Earth's temperature, with rapid global warming over the past 30 years, is now passing through the peak level of the Holocene, a period of relatively stable climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years. Further warming of more than 1ºC will make the Earth warmer than it has been in a million years.
"Business-as-Usual" scenarios, with fossil fuel CO2 emissions continuing to increase ~2%/year as in the past decade, yield additional warming of 2-3°C this century and imply changes that constitute practically a different planet. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the Earth's climate is nearing, but has not passed, a point of no return beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far ranging undesirable consequences.
The changes include not only loss of the Arctic as we know it, with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a much vaster scale due to worldwide rising seas. Sea level will increase slowly at first, as losses at the fringes of Greenland and Antarctica due to accelerating ice streams are partly balanced by increased snowfall and ice sheet thickening in the ice sheet interiors. But as Greenland and West Antarctic ice is softened and lubricated by melt-water, and as buttressing ice shelves disappear due to a warming ocean, the balance will tip to rapid ice loss, bringing multiple positive feedbacks into play and causing cataclysmic ice sheet disintegration.
The Earth's history suggests that with warming of 2-3°C the new equilibrium sea level will include not only most of the ice from Greenland and West Antarctica, but a portion of East Antarctica, raising sea level of the order of 25 meters (80 feet). Contrary to lethargic ice sheet models, real world data suggest substantial ice sheet and sea level change in centuries, not millennia. The century time scale offers little consolation to coastal dwellers, because they will be faced with irregular incursions associated with storms and with continually rebuilding above a transient water level.
The grim "Business-as-Usual" climate change is avoided in an Alternative Scenario in which growth of greenhouse gas emissions is slowed in the first quarter of this century, primarily via concerted improvements in energy efficiency and a parallel reduction of non-CO2 climate forcings, and then reduced via advanced energy technologies that yield a cleaner atmosphere as well as a stable climate.
The required actions make practical sense and have other benefits, but they will not happen without strong policy leadership and international cooperation. Action must be prompt, otherwise CO2-producing infrastructure that may be built within a decade will make it impractical to keep further global warming under 1°C.
There is little merit in casting blame for inaction, unless it helps point toward a solution. It seems to me that special interests have been a roadblock wielding undue influence over policymakers. The special interests seek to maintain short-term profits with little regard to either the long-term impact on the planet that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren or the long-term economic well-being of our country. The public, if well-informed, has the ability to override the influence of special interests, and the public has shown that they feel a stewardship toward the Earth and all of its inhabitants. Scientists can play a useful role. [Emphasis added]
Something I just don't get: the many people, here in the US, especially, who continue to cling to the idea that the private sector is the source of all things good, while public institutions are the parasitic source of nothing but waste, inefficiency, and error. But the atmosphere (and the oceans and wildlife and the commons in all its other forms) shows up on no private sector balance sheet, so the market Titanic speeds full steam ahead toward the iceberg.
Corporations — international corporations, especially, since they owe allegiance to nobody and nowhere — are single-minded machines programmed to pursue one goal: maximum profits. Their focus is short term, and they are by their nature incapable of self-restraint. If governments were to impose regulations that caused all corporations to restrain themselves equally, they might welcome it (it beats suicide), but in the meantime the logic of the market bars them from any form of self-restraint not also being practiced by their competitors. And so, with a cliff looming dead ahead, when you might expect them to be stepping on the brakes, they instead have got the pedal to the floor. Wheeeee!
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
After just 18 months as CIA director, Porter Goss announced that he will be resigning his post to pursue a career as a scapegoat. — Tina Fey
May 08, 2006
31% and falling fast. USA TODAY:
President Bush's approval rating has slumped to 31% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, the lowest of his presidency and a warning sign for Republicans in the November elections.
The survey of 1,013 adults, taken Friday through Sunday, shows Bush's standing down by 3 percentage points in a single week. His disapproval rating also reached a record: 65%.
"It is a challenging political environment," acknowledges Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee...
Bush's fall is being fueled by erosion among support from conservatives and Republicans. In the poll, 52% of conservatives and 68% of Republicans approved of the job he is doing. Both are record lows among those groups. [...]
Only four presidents have scored lower approval ratings since the Gallup Poll began regularly measuring it in the mid-1940s: Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush. When Nixon, Carter and the elder Bush sank below 35%, they never again registered above 40%. [...]
"Historically it's been pretty devastating to presidents at this level," Franklin says. Even Republican members of Congress are "now so worried about their electoral fortunes in November that he has less leverage with them than he normally would with his own party controlling Congress." [Emphasis added]
Circling the drain.
|TV, Junk Food, The Brain, And Crime||Science/Technology|
George Monbiot has an astonishing piece about the evidence linking diet to violent behavior and crime. Excerpt:
Let me begin...with a paper published in the latest edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. It provides empirical support for the contention that children who watch more television eat more of the foods it advertises. "Each hour increase in television viewing", it found, "was associated with an additional 167 [Calories] per day". Most of these extra calories were contained in junk foods: fizzy drinks, crisps, biscuits, sweets, burgers and chicken nuggets. Watching television, the paper reported, "is also inversely associated with intake of fruit and vegetables".
There is no longer any serious debate about what a TV diet does to your body. A government survey published last month shows that the proportion of children in English secondary schools who are clinically obese has almost doubled in ten years. Today, 27% of girls and 24% of boys between 11 and 15 years old suffer from this condition, which means they are far more likely to contract diabetes and to die before the age of 50. But the more interesting question is what this diet might do to your mind. There are now scores of studies suggesting that it hurts the brain as much as it hurts the heart and the pancreas. Among the many proposed associations is a link between bad food and violent or anti-social behaviour.
The most spectacular results were those reported in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine in 1997. The researchers had conducted a double-blind, controlled experiment in a jail for chronic offenders aged between 13 and 17. Many of the boys there were deficient in certain nutrients. They consumed, on average, only 63% of the iron, 42% of the magnesium, 39% of the zinc, 39% of the vitamin B12 and 34% of the folate in the US government's recommended daily allowance. The researchers treated half the inmates with capsules containing the missing nutrients, and half with placebos. They also counselled all the prisoners in the trial about improving their diets. The number of violent incidents caused by inmates in the control group (those taking the placebos) fell by 56%, and in the experimental group by 80%. But among the inmates in the placebo group who refused to improve their diets, there was no reduction. The researchers also wired their subjects up to an electroencephalogram (which records brainwave patterns), and found a major decrease in abnormalities after 13 weeks on supplements.
A similar paper, published in 2002 in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that among young adult prisoners given supplements of the vitamins, minerals and fatty acids in which they were deficient, disciplinary offences fell by 26% in the experimental group, and not at all in the control group. Researchers in Finland found that all 68 of the violent offenders they tested during another study suffered from reactive hypoglycaemia: an abnormal tolerance of glucose caused by an excessive consumption of sugar, carbohydrates and stimulants such as caffeine. In March this year the lead author of the 2002 report, Bernard Gesch, told the Ecologist magazine that "having a bad diet is now a better predictor of future violence than past violent behaviour...Likewise, a diagnosis of psychopathy, generally perceived as being a better predictor than a criminal past, is still miles behind what you can predict just from looking at what a person eats."
Why should a link between diet and behaviour be surprising? Quite aside from the physiological effects of eating too much sugar (apparent to anyone who has attended a children's party), the brain, whose function depends on precise biochemical processes, can't work properly with insufficient raw materials. The most important of these appear to be unsaturated fatty acids (especially the omega 3 types), zinc, magnesium, iron, folate and the B vitamins, which happen to be those in which the prisoners in the 1997 study were most deficient. A report published at the end of last year by the pressure group Sustain explained what appear to be clear links between deteriorating diets and the growth of depression, behavioural problems, Alzheimer's and other forms of mental illness. Sixty per cent of the dry weight of the brain is fat, which is "unique in the body for being predominantly composed of highly unsaturated fatty acids". Zinc and magnesium affect both its metabolism of lipids and its production of neurotransmitters — the chemicals which permit the nerve cells to communicate with each other. [...]
As Graham Harvey's new book We Want Real Food shows, industrial farming, dependent on artificial fertilisers, has greatly reduced the mineral content of vegetables, while the quality of meat and milk has also declined. Nor do these findings suggest that a poor diet is the sole cause of crime and anti-social behaviour. But the studies I have read suggest that any government which claims to take crime seriously should start hitting the advertisers. [...]
I spent much of last week trying to discover whether the Home Office is taking the research into the links between diet and crime seriously. In the past, it has insisted that further studies are needed, while failing to fund them. First my request was met with incredulity, then I was stonewalled. Tough on crime. To hell with the causes of crime. [Emphasis added]
An observer from Mars would find us a pretty strange species indeed. We poison our own children's minds with advertising so we can poison their bodies with junk food, all in the name of profits for a few. Then we complain about skyrocketing costs of health care and crime, but all we can think to do are build more hospitals and prisons. Never mind actually taking seriously what we know about causes and prevention.
A bad diet is a better predictor of future violent behavior than is past violent behavior or psychological pathology. What could be clearer than that? What are we waiting for?
[For references to the studies cited, see Monbiot's piece.]
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Porter Goss the head of the CIA resigned suddenly amid rumors that it has something to do with a floating party that's been going on at the Watergate hotel for years, which involves congressmen, lobbyists, defense contractors, and hookers. This is why you don't want your daughter to grow up to be a hooker — she might fall in with a bad crowd. — Bill Maher
May 07, 2006
|Global Warming Turning Tibetan Plateau Into A Desert||Environment|
There are times when the global warming news is so shocking, so horrifying, so profoundly sad, that you look around at people going about business as usual and you wonder if it's you or the rest of the world that's gone crazy. Why isn't the following front page news all over the world? The Independent:
Global warming is rapidly melting the ice-bound roof of the world, and turning it into desert, leading scientists have revealed.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences - the country's top scientific body - has announced that the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are vanishing so fast that they will be reduced by 50 per cent every decade. Each year enough water permanently melts from them to fill the entire Yellow River.
They added that the vast environmental changes brought about by the process will increase droughts and sandstorms over the rest of the country, and devastate many of the world's greatest rivers, in what experts warn will be an "ecological catastrophe".
The plateau, says the academy, has a staggering 46,298 glaciers, covering almost 60,000 square miles. At an average height of 13,000 feet above sea level, they make up the largest area of ice outside the polar regions, nearly a sixth of the world's total.
The glaciers have been receding over the past four decades, as the world has gradually warmed up, but the process has now accelerated alarmingly. Average temperatures in Tibet have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 20 years, causing the glaciers to shrink by 7 per cent a year, which means that they will halve every 10 years.
Prof Dong Guangrong, speaking for the academy - after a study analysing data from 680 weather stations scattered across the country - said that the rising temperatures would thaw out the tundra of the plateau, turning it into desert.
He added: "The melting glaciers will ultimately trigger more droughts, expand desertification and increase sand storms." The water running off the plateau is increasing soil erosion and so allowing the deserts to spread.
Sandstorms, blowing in from the degraded land, are already plaguing the country. So far this year, 13 of them have hit northern China, including Beijing. Three weeks ago one storm swept across an eighth of the vast country and even reached Korea and Japan. On the way, it dumped a mind-boggling 336,000 tons of dust on the capital, causing dangerous air pollution. [...]
Perhaps worst of all, the melting threatens to disrupt water supplies over much of Asia. Many of the continent's greatest rivers - including the Yangtze, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong and the Yellow River - rise on the plateau.
In China alone, 300 million people depend on water from the glaciers for their survival. Yet the plateau is drying up, threatening to escalate an already dire situation across the country. Already 400 cities are short of water; in 100 of them - including Beijing - the shortages are becoming critical. [Emphasis added]
I was thinking earlier today about the human capacity for denial. You'd think the steadily worsening global warming news would prompt immediate, determined action by the people of the world. But then everybody knows that smoking is bad for you, and obesity, and lack of exercise, but the average person doesn't turn that knowledge into immediate, determined action until the doctor tells them that if they don't stop what they're doing they will die, and soon. I was wondering what it will take for us to feel like we've just gotten that medical ulimatum with respect to climate change. This story out of China ought to come close, but it won't. Not here in the West, anyway. Probably not in China either, where they're gambling on economic growth to solve their problems. All the GDP growth in the world, though, won't help them when the water runs out.
As with so many of the global warming stories lately, we're talking here about phenomena that are accelerating with terrifying rapidity. It's all happening so much faster than anticipated. Is anyone paying attention?
|Today's Bush Joke||Gumpagraphs|
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush introduced former Fox broadcaster Tony Snow as the new White House Press Secretary. See, this is the perfect example of wasteful government spending. I mean, why is the president paying someone to join his staff and toe the party line when he was doing it on Fox for free? — Jay Leno
May 06, 2006
|Rumsfeld And "The Intelligence Business"||Politics War and Peace|
When he was confronted the other day in Atlanta by CIA veteran Ray McGovern, Rumsfeld claimed he hadn't lied about Iraqi WMD. He hadn't lied, because he had been fooled by bad intelligence from the CIA. He hadn't lied, because, Rumsfeld said, "I'm not in the intelligence business." Which, of course, is itself a lie if there ever was one.
The Defense department is home to numerous intelligence agencies, which collectively dwarf the CIA. According to the official website of the US Intelligence Community:
Three major intelligence agencies in the Department of Defense (DoD) — the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) — absorb the larger part of the national intelligence budget. NSA is responsible for signals intelligence and has collection sites throughout the world. The NRO develops and operates reconnaissance satellites. The NGA prepares the geospatial data — ranging from maps and charts to sophisticated computerized databases — necessary for targeting in an era dependent upon precision guided weapons. In addition to these three agencies, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is responsible for defense attaches and for providing DoD with a variety of intelligence products. Although the Intelligence Reform Act provides extensive budgetary and management authorities over these agencies to the Director of National Intelligence, it does not revoke the responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense for these agencies. [Emphasis added]
In addition to the NSA (the largest US intelligence agency), NRO, and NGA, the DoD is home to Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Defense Intelligence Agency, Marine Corps Intelligence, and Navy Intelligence, as well as various Special Forces and other clandestine ops capabilities. And Rumsfeld has long pushed hard to increase the Pentagon's autonomy in intelligence-gathering and clandestine ops.
In December, I noted something called the Counterterrorism Field Activity (CFIA) that seeks to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States under Pentagon control.
Rumsfeld has also been extending the Pentagon's reach in human intelligence and black ops activities abroad. WaPo:
While the stature and role of the CIA were greatly diminished under Goss during the congressionally ordered reorganization of the intelligence agencies, his counterpart at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, continued his aggressive efforts to develop a clandestine intelligence operation within his department. The Pentagon's human intelligence unit and its other clandestine military units are expanding in number and authority. Rumsfeld recently won the ability to sidestep U.S. ambassadors in certain circumstances when the Pentagon wants to send in clandestine teams to collect intelligence or undertake operations.
"Rumsfeld keeps pressing for autonomy for defense human intelligence and for SOF [Special Forces] operations," said retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "CIA has lost the ability to control the [human intelligence] process in the community."
Now, "the real battle lies between" Negroponte and Rumsfeld, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Kerrick, a former deputy national security adviser and once a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "Rumsfeld rules the roost now." [Emphasis added]
Pretty impressive for a guy who's "not in the intelligence business."
|Goss And Negroponte||Politics|
The big media outlets are buying the spin that Goss was forced to quit without warning, without so much as notifying the heads of the Congressional intelligence committees (remember that Goss was himself Chair of the House Intelligence Committee), effective immediately, because of some previously unknown turf battle with his old fraternity brother John Negroponte. Before you buy it, though, you should go read Laura Rozen:
The story line until today has been far different: that much of the operative camp of the Agency perceived Goss as a political enforcer, someone who wasn't seen to be looking out for them but for the White House's interests; that Goss was rather passive and out of touch and overly delegated day to day affairs to his staff, "the Gosslings," led by the fiercely partisan Patrick Murray. I don't believe I have ever heard from people in that world a sense that Goss was looking out for them. The newspaper coverage has suggested rather that a lot of the experienced bench strength cadre at the Agency had left in fights with Goss and his staff during his rocky tenure, and that the Agency had never been more demoralized. So all that time, during all those departures, Goss was covertly fighting for his folks against the new intel reorganization? He was a misunderstood champion of the Agency?
Does something about this story line that Goss suddenly left because of his long-standing tension with Negroponte, his fraternity brother from Yale, over Goss fighting to hold CIA turf seem a bit canned to you?
The main question is why Goss's departure suddenly became a matter of the deepest urgency yesterday.
Think back to yesterday morning. The top news after the Patrick Kennedy crash was that Bush's poll numbers were at an all time low, and that he was starting to see a real erosion of support from conservatives. Gas prices and immigration and Iraq. So Bush gets briefed by his staff that day, and decides: hey, let's fire Porter Goss. He's killing morale at the Agency. He's just seen as far too political. And John Negroponte is threatening to quit if he stays. He's given me an absolute ultimatum. Let's get this out today.
Come on. That's just not how this White House has responded to these sorts of tensions in the past. They never move fast. They withstand criticism of appointments for months. They resist criticisms of unpopular agency heads for weeks (Michael "heckuva job" Brown), months (Snow), years (Rumsfeld). Think how much speculation there was in the press before Card's and McClellan's announced retirements, and how warm and friendly were those departures. It's hard not to believe that something moved very quickly on the radar this week that prompted an unusually quick decision. One that took a lot of people who would normally have been advised by surprise. (It's my understanding that the heads of Congressional intel committees were not informed in advance).
Negroponte has President Bush's ear every single day when he delivers the President's daily intel brief. If he had been lobbying to get rid of Goss, and the President was inclined to support that decision, there were a hundred ways to do it in a way that would project stability, confidence, normalcy. There was hardly a show of that yesterday. They could have named a successor. There could have been a leak to the press about Goss being tired (remember all the foreshadowing in the press about how tired Andy Card was after all those 20 hour days that preceded his departure?) and wanting to spend more time with his family, or that Bush was unhappy with him. There was none of that. It was a surprise move. What happened this week that Negroponte and Bush acted so swiftly?
Does the way it happened resemble the slo-mo, warm and fuzzy way Andy Card and Scott McClellan were retired? Or does it rather have more in common with the swiftly announced departures of Claude Allen and David Safavian from their posts, a few days before we hear of federal investigations? [Emphasis added]
Another possibility that nags at me, though I have no evidence for it, is that Goss got wind of something the administration has in the works that he just had no stomach for. Another terrorist attack on US soil, perhaps, to launch a war with Iran. Let us hope not.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
All across the nation they had A Day Without Immigrants, is what they call it. Or, as Native Americans call it, the good ol' days. — Jay Leno
May 05, 2006
|Global Warming And The Spread Of Disease||Environment|
Global warming is causing tropical diseases to spread into regions that had never experienced them before, and it's happening much faster than anyone anticipated. WaPo:
Global warming — with an accompanying rise in floods and droughts — is fueling the spread of epidemics in areas unprepared for the diseases, say many health experts worldwide. Mosquitoes, ticks, mice and other carriers are surviving warmer winters and expanding their range, bringing health threats with them.
Malaria is climbing the mountains to reach populations in higher elevations in Africa and Latin America. Cholera is growing in warmer seas. Dengue fever and Lyme disease are moving north. West Nile virus, never seen on this continent until seven years ago, has infected more than 21,000 people in the United States and Canada and killed more than 800.
The World Health Organization has identified more than 30 new or resurgent diseases in the last three decades, the sort of explosion some experts say has not happened since the Industrial Revolution brought masses of people together in cities. [...]
Scientists have warned for more than a decade that climate change would broaden the range of many diseases. But the warnings were couched in the future, and qualified. The spread of disease is affected by many uncertainties, including unforeseen resistance to antibiotics, failures of public health systems, population movement and yearly climate swings. For that reason, some scientists have been cautious about the link between disease and global warming.
But Paul Epstein, a physician who worked in Africa and is now on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, said that, if anything, scientists weren't worried enough about the problem.
"Things we projected to occur in 2080 are happening in 2006. What we didn't get is how fast and how big it is, and the degree to which the biological systems would respond," Epstein said in an interview in Boston. "Our mistake was in underestimation."
The incremental boost already detected in the Earth's temperature, for example, has expanded the range and activities of disease carriers.
"Insects are exquisitely sensitive to temperature changes," a report prepared by Epstein and others at Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment noted in November.
The clearest case for that, according to the report's authors, is in cold areas. The higher elevations of Africa, the Andes mountains in South America and the Alps in Europe are warming at a faster pace than lowlands. As ice caps and glaciers melt, forests inch higher on the mountains, and insects carry diseases from warmer lowlands farther up the slopes. [Emphasis added]
The Four Horsemen: war, famine, pestilence, death. Global warming is their incubator.
Everywhere we turn, we find that the effects of global warming are making themselves felt much more quickly than anyone expected. When will mass media act responsibly and start to connect the dots for people? Most people cannot follow the climate news sufficiently to see the big picture, but if people don't grasp what's happening, they'll never act. And if we don't act, what we're seeing now is only the beginning.
CIA Director Porter Goss resigned today, completely out of the blue, effective immediately. Of course the big question is why. The answer may lie in the ongoing Duke Cunningham hooker/bribery scandal. WSJ:
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether two contractors implicated in the bribery of former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham supplied him with prostitutes and free use of a limousine and hotel suites, pursuing evidence that could broaden their long-running inquiry.
Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.
In recent weeks, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have fanned out across Washington, interviewing women from escort services, potential witnesses and others who may have been involved in the arrangement. In an interview, the assistant general manager of the Watergate Hotel confirmed that federal investigators had requested, and been given, records relating to the investigation and rooms in the hotel. But he declined to disclose what the records show. [...]
Mr. Cunningham, a Republican from San Diego, was sentenced March 3 to more than eight years in federal prison after he admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes. The bribes were taken in exchange for helping executives obtain large contracts with the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Mr. Cunningham, who resigned from Congress in November, pleaded guilty to two criminal counts, one of tax evasion and one of conspiracy. [Emphasis added]
What's this got to do with Porter Goss? Harper's:
The two defense contractors who allegedly bribed Cunningham, said the Journal, were Brent Wilkes, the founder of ADCS Inc., and Mitchell Wade, the founder of MZM Inc.; both firms profited greatly from their connections with Cunningham. The Journal also suggested that other lawmakers might be implicated. I've learned from a well-connected source that those under intense scrutiny by the FBI are current and former lawmakers on Defense and Intelligence comittees — including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post. [...]
As to the festivities themselves, I hear that party nights began early with poker games and degenerated into what the source described as a "frat party" scene — real bacchanals. Apparently photographs were taken, and investigators are anxiously procuring copies. [Emphasis added]
So who is the person who "holds a powerful intelligence post"? It wouldn't have to be Goss. It could be someone Goss hired. HuffPo:
The Executive Director of the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, now admits he attended some of the Washington, D.C. poker parties that figure in a widening corruption scandal involving members of Congress.
The poker parties became part of the FBI investigation following recent allegations that defense contractors provided prostitutes for the poker party guests. But through a spokesperson for the CIA, Foggo denies ever seeing prostitutes at the parties he attended.
Kyle "Dusty" Foggo is also linked directly to the bribery allegations in the Cunningham case. HuffPo:
The CIA's inspector general is examining a recent contract the agency gave to an obscure Virginia company headed by a relative of Brent Wilkes, an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal bribery case against former San Diego congressman Randy (Duke) Cunningham. The contract was issued by the logistics office of the agency's main base near Frankfurt, Germany, at a time that office was headed by agency veteran Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, now the CIA's third-ranking official; Foggo and Wilkes have been friends since childhood. [Emphasis added]
Goss plucked Foggo from a mid-level position to make him Executive Director of the CIA. Foggo and Wilkes go way back. They were in school together in high school and college, were the best man at each other's weddings, and named their sons after each other (Wikipedia).
There's a lot more to all this. TPM MuckRaker is the go-to site. Stay tuned.
|© Kent Tenney|
How poignant is that?
Yesterday, I saw a wonderful bumper sticker: "WWWD: What Would Wellstone Do?" If only more Democrats would ask themselves that question.
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The White House issued their recommendation for dealing with the bird flu. The first step, tax cuts for all birds. — Jay Leno
|Americans Sicker Than Brits — By Far||Science/Technology|
Whenever the local public radio station carries a discussion of a national health care system, you can count on men (it's always men) calling in to belligerently assert that "the US has the finest health care system in the world," and they don't want to have to stand in line like people (supposedly) have to do in Canada or the UK. Except the US doesn't have the finest health care system in the world. Americans pay far more than anyone else for their health care, but some two dozen other nations rank ahead of us in life expectancy.
Now comes an astonishing new study that shows that White, middle-aged Americans — even rich ones — are less healthy than their counterparts in the UK — by far. The disparity is so great that rich Americans are no healthier than poor Brits. AP:
White, middle-aged Americans — even those who are rich — are far less healthy than their peers in England, according to stunning new research that erases misconceptions and has experts scratching their heads.
Americans had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, lung disease and cancer — findings that held true no matter what income or education level.
Those dismal results are despite the fact that U.S. health care spending is double what England spends on each of its citizens.
"Everybody should be discussing it: Why isn't the richest country in the world the healthiest country in the world?" asks study co-author Dr. Michael Marmot, an epidemiologist at University College London in England.
The study, based on government statistics in both countries, adds context to the already-known fact that the United States spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation, yet trails in rankings of life expectancy.
The United States spends about $5,200 per person on health care while England spends about half that in adjusted dollars.
Even experts familiar with the weaknesses in the U.S. health system seemed stunned by the study's conclusions.
"I knew we were less healthy, but I didn't know the magnitude of the disparities," said Gerard Anderson, an expert in chronic disease and international health at Johns Hopkins University who had no role in the research.
Just why the United States fared so miserably wasn't clear. Answers ranging from too little exercise to too little money and too much stress were offered.
Even the U.S. obesity epidemic couldn't solve the mystery. The researchers crunched numbers to create a hypothetical statistical world in which the English had American lifestyle risk factors, including being as fat as Americans. In that model, Americans were still sicker.
Smoking rates are about the same on both sides of the pond. The English have a higher rate of heavy drinking.
Only non-Hispanic whites were included in the study to eliminate the influence of racial disparities. The researchers looked only at people ages 55 through 64, and the average age of the samples was the same.
Americans reported twice the rate of diabetes compared to the English, 12.5 percent versus 6 percent. For high blood pressure, it was 42 percent for Americans versus 34 percent for the English; cancer showed up in 9.5 percent of Americans compared to 5.5 percent of the English.
The upper crust in both countries was healthier than middle-class and low-income people in the same country. But richer Americans' health status resembled the health of the low-income English.
"It's something of a mystery," said Richard Suzman of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study.
Health experts have known the U.S. population is less healthy than that of other industrialized nations, according to several important measurements, including life expectancy. The U.S. ranks behind about two dozen other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Some have believed the United States has lagged because it is more ethnically diverse, said Suzman, who heads the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research Program. "Minority health in general is worse than white health," he said.
But the new study showed that when minorities are removed from the equation, and adjustments are made to control for education and income, white people in England are still healthier than white people in the United States. [...]
Marmot offered a different explanation for the gap: Americans' financial insecurity. Improvements in household income have eluded all but the top fifth of Americans since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the English saw their incomes improve, he said.
Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, said the stress of striving for the American dream may account for Americans' lousy health.
"The opportunity to go both up and down the socioeconomic scale in America may create stress," Blendon said. Americans don't have a reliable government safety net like the English enjoy, Blendon said.
However, Britain's universal health-care system shouldn't get credit for better health, Marmot and Blendon agreed.
Both said it might explain better health for low-income citizens, but can't account for better health of Britain's more affluent residents.
Marmot cautioned against looking for explanations in the two countries' health-care systems.
"It's not just how we treat people when they get ill, but why they get ill in the first place," Marmot said. [Emphasis added]
Is it really so clear that differences in the two countries' health care systems aren't a factor? Nobody seems to have considered the distorting effect of the profit motive.
It could be, for example, that the British system, being a national, not-for-profit system, places a greater emphasis on preventive measures than here in the US. When was the last time your HMO doctor (here in the US) went out of his/her way to get you to come in for a physical, to check your diet and exercise progress, and so on? How about, never? The US medical culture generally downplays preventive medicine (the big bucks are in treatment), so even doctors who provide care to rich patients probably have a bias against spending their time on prevention. There's no money in it.
For-profit medicine is inherently subject to a conflict of interest. There is a lot more money to be made treating people for cancer or heart disease than there is in getting them to live more healthily to prevent disease. It's not that doctors consciously want patients to get ill. It's that they spend their time performing the activities that provide the greatest financial rewards. That would be treatment, not prevention. Heart surgeons get rich. Providers of holistic preventive care do not.
May 04, 2006
|Brave New Films Reaches Its Goal||Activism|
A little over a week ago, I posted a link for documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films, who made Outfoxed, Uncovered, and Wal-Mart. Brave New Films needed to raise $300,000 to finance production of a new documentary, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, so they can get it out in time for the fall elections.
Well, they made it, and then some! As I'm writing this, donations stand at $351,517, thanks to donations via the Web. The Internet truly is something new under the sun.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush said that when it comes to hurricane preparedness, step number one is to, quote, "pray that there's no hurricanes." Later President Bush admitted, yeah, that's our entire plan. — Conan O'Brien
May 03, 2006
|Prosperity's Ax||Development Environment|
We wonder what the Easter Islanders thought about as they cut down the last few trees on their island. Who can say? Perhaps they were no more conscious of the consequences of their actions than we are of ours. NYT:
The Indonesian government has signed a deal with China that will level much of the remaining tropical forests in an area so vital it is sometimes called the lungs of Southeast Asia.
For China, the deal is a double bounty: the wood from the forest will provide flooring and furniture for its ever-expanding middle class, and in its place will grow vast plantations for palm oil, an increasingly popular ingredient in detergents, soaps and lipstick.
The forest-to-palm-oil deal, one of an array of projects that China said it would develop in Indonesia as part of a $7 billion investment spree last year, illustrates the increasingly symbiotic relationship between China's need for a wide variety of raw materials, and its Asian neighbors' readiness to provide them, often at enormous environmental cost. [...]
From Indonesia to Malaysia to Myanmar, many of the once plentiful forests of Southeast Asia are already gone, stripped legally or illegally, including in the low-lying lands here in Kalimantan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo. Only about half of Borneo's original forests remain. [...]
Over all, Indonesia says it expects China to invest $30 billion in the next decade, a big infusion of capital that contrasts with the declining investment by American companies here and in the region.
Much of that Chinese investment is aimed at the extractive industries and infrastructure like refineries, railroads and toll roads to help speed the flow of Indonesia's plentiful coal, oil, gas, timber and palm oil to China's ports. [...]
The decision to award a $1 billion [wood] concession to China will "increase the deforestation of Papua," a place of extraordinary biodiversity, said Elfian Effendy, executive director of Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental watchdog. "It's not sustainable." [...]
Indonesia's environmentalists, and some economists, say chopping down as much as 4.4 million acres of the last straight-stemmed, slow-growing towering dipterocarp trees on Borneo would gravely threaten this region's rare ecosystem for plants, animals and people.
Maps for the project have aroused fears that it would encroach into the forest in Kayan Mentarang National Park, where the intoxicating mix of high altitude and equatorial humidity breeds an exceptional diversity of species, second only to Papua's, biologists say.
The area is the source of 14 of the 20 major rivers on Borneo, and the destruction of the forests would threaten water supplies to coastal towns, said Stuart Chapman, a director at the World Wildlife Fund in Indonesia. [...]
For years, Mr. Anyie, the Dayak elder, said he had resisted offers from commercial contractors to cut down the forest around his village. [...]
He worked hard, too, to keep the old ways of life. [...]
But now it is time for change, he said. "People have told me, 'Wood is gold, you're still too honest,'" said Mr. Anyie, a diminutive man with brush-cut black hair.
His own grown children have deserted the village for big towns, and the villagers left behind are tired of traveling everywhere by foot (three days to neighboring Malaysia where jobs in palm oil plantations are plentiful) or by traditional long boats powered by anemic 10-horsepower engines. [...]
Until now, the forests at these higher elevations have been protected by their sheer inaccessibility. To get back to the coast from the research station, for instance, takes a 15-hour journey along a 350-mile stretch of the Bahau and Kayan Rivers in a wooden longboat powered by three outboard motors.
In contrast, the forests in lowland Kalimantan, where roads have been hacked into the land already, are so ravaged by logging that they will have disappeared by 2010, the World Bank says.
As the roads start penetrating the area of Mr. Anyie's clan, the upland forests will begin to disappear here, too. The solution is to adopt sustainable management plans, Mr. Wulffraat said.
Such plans allow logging only in specially certified areas, he said. But so far, he said, they have proved a losing proposition.
"In about 30 years," Mr. Anyie said, "the forest will be gone." [Emphasis added]
The NYT's headline for the article is "Forests in Southeast Asia Fall to Prosperity's Ax." It's a mighty strange notion of prosperity, when what is happening is so clearly unsustainable. It's a one-shot deal that'll all be over in a few decades. Then what?
We need a notion of prosperity that isn't built on stealing from our descendants. Prosperity for posterity.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The New Orleans Saints drafted Reggie Bush this past weekend. People in New Orleans are hoping this Bush will actually do something to help the city. — Jay Leno
May 02, 2006
|"A Borderline Criminal National Disgrace"||Disasters|
Katrina's old news. Except it's not, because much of New Orleans still lies in ruins with nothing being done to restore it. This, in a major American city. Bush did his photo ops, the media filed their stories, and now they've all moved on. Nobody wants to hear about New Orleans anymore, so it takes a sports writer, Peter King, to remind us of what we're all ignoring:
I sense that we in this country have Katrina fatigue. The New York Times reported as much recently, saying that people in some of the areas that welcomed Katrina evacuees last September are sick of hearing about the hurricane, the flooding and the aftermath.
Well, my wife and I were in a car last Wednesday that toured the hardest-hit area of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward. We worked a day at a nearby Habitat for Humanity site on Thursday, and we toured the Biloxi/Gulfport/Long Beach/Pass Christian gulf shore area last Friday. And let me just say this: I can absolutely guarantee you that if you'd been in the car with us, no matter how much you'd been hit over the head with the effects of this disaster, you would not have Katrina fatigue.
What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.
I mentioned my outrage to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, on Thursday. He shook his head and said, "Tell me about it." Disgust dripped from his voice.
What are we doing in this country?
"It's been eight months since Katrina," said Jack Bowers, my New Jersey friend and Habitat for Humanity guide through the Lower Ninth Ward, as he took us through deserted streets where nothing, absolutely nothing, was being done about the wasteland that this place is.
"Eight months!" he said. "And look at it. When people talk to me about New Orleans, they say, 'Well, things are getting back to normal down there, aren't they?' I tell them things are a long, long way from normal, and it's going to be a long time before it's ever normal. And I tell them they've never seen anything like this." [...]
How can we let an area like the Lower Ninth Ward sit there, on the eve of another hurricane season, with nothing being done to either bulldoze the place and start over, or rebuild? How can Congress sit on billions of looming aid and not release it for this area?
I can't help but think that if this were Los Angeles or New York, that 500 percent more money — and concern — would have flooded into this place. [...]
Am I ticked off? Damn right I'm ticked off. If you're breathing, you should be morally outraged. Katrina fatigue? Hah! More Katrina news! Give me more! Give it to me every day on the front page! Every day until Washington realizes there's a disaster here every bit as urgent as anything happening in this world today — fighting terrorism, combating the nuclear threat in Iran. I'm not in any way a political animal, but all you have to be is an occasionally thinking American to be sickened by the conditions I saw.
The Lower Ninth Ward is a 1.5-by-2-mile area a couple of miles from the center of New Orleans. It is a poor area. I should say it was a poor area. Before the storm, 20,000 people lived there. Fats Domino lived there. So, formerly, did Marshall Faulk. And now you drive through it and see nothing being done to fix it or tear it down, or to do anything.
In Mississippi, we drove through one formerly thriving beach town that has two structures left. We drove past concrete pads with litter and shards of wood around them. Former houses. The houses, quite literally, have been eviscerated. Hundreds of them. This is what nuclear winter must look like, I thought. [Emphasis added]
This is the kind of thing that we used to associate with the old Soviet Union and other failed states. No amount of "We're number one!" boosterism can disguise the fact that the US increasingly displays the characteristics of a failed state itself. The big difference is that the US is still able to borrow a couple of billion dollars a day to keep up appearances. That won't last forever. Meanwhile, we're increasingly detached from reality. How else to explain the fact that we can leave a major American city in ruins and not see what a monumental failure that represents?
|Key Climate Skeptic Paper Proved Wrong||Environment|
In October 2004, Science published a paper that was seized on by global warming skeptics, including members of Congress who based hearings on it. The indispensable Real Climate, a global warming site run by working climate scientists, tells us that a correction published last week in Science shows that the original paper was just flat wrong. Excerpt:
Today, Science published an important comment pointing out that there were serious errors in a climate research article that it published in October 2004. The article concerned (Von Storch et al. 2004) was no ordinary paper: it has gone through a most unusual career. Not only did it make many newspaper headlines...when it first appeared, it also was raised in the US Senate as a reason for the US not to join the global climate protection efforts. It furthermore formed a part of the basis for the highly controversial enquiry by a Congressional committee into the work of scientists, which elicited sharp protests last year by the AAAS, the National Academy, the EGU and other organisations. It now turns out that the main results of the paper were simply wrong. [...]
Error made, error corrected, and all is well? Unfortunately not. A number of questions remain, which need to be resolved before the climate science community can put this affair to rest.
The first is: why did it take so long to correct this error, and why did the authors of the original paper not correct it themselves? The error is reasonably easy to spot, even for non-specialists. And it was in fact spotted very soon after publication. In January 2005, a comment was submitted to Science which correctly pointed out that Von Storch et al. had calibrated with detrended data and had therefore not tested the Mann et al. method. As such comments are routinely passed to the original authors for a response, Von Storch et al. must have become aware of their mistake at this point at the latest. However, the comment was rejected by Science in May 2005.
In a paper dated July 2005, Zorita and Von Storch admit their error in passing. [...] It is thus clear that they knew that their central claim of the Science paper, namely that they had tested the Mann et al. method, was false. But rather than publishing a correction in Science, they wrote the above in a non-ISI journal called "Memorie della Societa Astronomica Italiana" that not many climatologists would read.
An unambiguous correction in Science, where the original paper appeared, would not only have been good scientific practice. It would have been particularly important given the large public and political impact of their paper. It would have been a matter of courtesy towards their colleagues Mike Mann, Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes, who had suffered a major challenge to their scientific reputations as well as having to invest a large amount of time to deal with the Congressional enquiry mentioned above. And it would have been especially pertinent given the unusually vitriolic media statements made previously: in an interview with a leading German news magazine, Von Storch had denounced the work of Mann, Bradley and Hughes as "nonsense" ("Quatsch"). And in a commentary written for the March 2005 German edition of "Technology Review", Von Storch accused the journal Nature for putting their sales interests above peer review when publishing the Mann et al. 1998 paper. He also called the IPCC "stupid" and "irresponsible" for highlighting the results of Mann et al. in their 2001 report. [...]
Unfortunately, while the dispute has been used in the public arena to score political points, e.g. to discredit the IPCC process and to question all of the relevant climate science, the significance of this dispute for the bigger picture has been wildly blown out of proportion...We should not lose sight of the fact that the debate here is about a few tenths of a degree — a much smaller change than is projected for the next century. It is also important to remember one principal point: Conclusions on whether recent warmth is likely to have been unprecedented in the past millennium, or the recent extent of human-caused warming, are based on the accumulation of evidence from many different analyses and are rarely impacted by a technical dispute about any one paper such as this. [Emphasis added]
Among the many sins of the current administration is its deliberate campaign to politicize science. I have no idea if that politicization had any bearing on this case, but there is no question that it has muddied the waters on a number of scientific questions, global warming most prominently.
With so much riding on the outcome in this critical time, scientific enquiry needs to remain true to the scientific method and the scientific culture of free and open debate. There is just too much at stake. If humanity fails to act, there will be a special circle of Hell reserved for those who treated science as an exercise in propaganda.
|Biodiversity Loss Accelerating||Environment|
This is truly horrifying news. Putting it mildly. Guardian:
Polar bears and hippos have joined the ranks of threatened species, along with a third of amphibians and a quarter of mammals and coniferous plants, according to the World Conservation Union.
The conservation group's Red List of endangered species found that 16,119 species are at the highest levels of extinction threat, equivalent to nearly 40% of all species in its survey.
Fish are in particular danger, with more than half of freshwater species in the Mediterranean basin facing threats and formerly common ocean fish such as skate disappearing. [...]
At present, animals are believed to be going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the usual rate, leading many researchers to claim that we are in the midst of a mass extinction event faster than that which wiped out the dinosaurs. [...]
"Biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down," [IUCN director general Achim Steiner] said. "Reversing this trend is possible [but] biodiversity cannot be saved by environmentalists alone - it must become the responsibility of everyone with the power and resources to act."
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment said in 2004 that Polar Bears would be extinct within 100 years, and some scientists believe that they could disappear within 25 years. [...]
Two carp species from Turkey and Croatia were listed as extinct and one in eight classified bird species were endangered or vulnerable, along with a third of dragonflies. [...]
The IUCN said that people were responsible for the majority of extinctions, via habitat destruction or degradation. Invasive species, overhunting, pollution and unsustainable harvesting were also mentioned as major causes of threats, along with climate change.
A 2004 report by the University of Leeds found that a quarter of land animals and plants could be driven to extinction by global warming. [Emphasis added]
Something truly momentous is happening in the world. By biological and geological standards, it is happening with extraordinary rapidity, but by human standards, it is not happening quite fast enough to demand our undivided attention. If we don't begin to pay attention, though, we will wake up to find ourselves on a very different planet, and soon.
|NYT On Net Neutrality||Corporations, Globalization Media Politics|
"Net neutrality" is a concept that is still unfamiliar to most Americans, but it keeps the Internet democratic. Cable and telephone companies that provide Internet service are talking about creating a two-tiered Internet, in which Web sites that pay them large fees would get priority over everything else. Opponents of these plans are supporting Net-neutrality legislation, which would require all Web sites to be treated equally. Net neutrality recently suffered a setback in the House, but there is growing hope that the Senate will take up the cause.
One of the Internet's great strengths is that a single blogger or a small political group can inexpensively create a Web page that is just as accessible to the world as Microsoft's home page. But this democratic Internet would be in danger if the companies that deliver Internet service changed the rules so that Web sites that pay them money would be easily accessible, while little-guy sites would be harder to access, and slower to navigate. Providers could also block access to sites they do not like. [Emphasis added]
Make sure your Senators understand what's at stake. The Internet is the great intellectual commons of today's world. Ceding control to a few giant corporations, by government fiat, would be an enormous step backward.
|Stephen Colbert In Full||Humor & Fun Politics|
The full performance by Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents dinner is available here. Seeing the whole thing, including reaction shots of President Bush, one can only agree with Jon Stewart's assessment last night: Colbert's performance was "ballsylicious". The stuff of comic legend.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush says he wants to find alternative sources of energy. He says they're looking towards solar power. In fact, he and Rumsfeld are planning an invasion of the sun. — Jay Leno
May 01, 2006
|Walk Like A Man — Or Woman||Science/Technology|
|Peak Means Peak||Peak Oil|
People always get fooled by peaks (stock market peaks, for example) because peaks are, by definition, the points when things look the rosiest. Peak oil is no exception. At the peak in world oil production, the world will have more oil than ever before — or ever again. By the standards of other eras, the world will be swimming in oil, and all that oil will translate into an enormous amount of economic activity. Everyone will be bullish, and when the downhill slide begins, everyone will be surprised. James Kunstler:
[I]t seems to me that what we are seeing now in financial and commodity markets, and in the greater economic system itself, is exactly what we ought to expect of peak oil conditions: peak activity.
After all, peak is the point where the world is producing the most oil it will ever produce, even while it is also the inflection point where big trouble is apt to begin. And this massive quantity of oil induces a massive amount of work, land development, industrial activity, commercial production, and motor transport. So we shouldn't be surprised that there is a lot happening, that houses and highways are still being built, that TVs are pouring out of the Chinese factories, commuters are still whizzing around the DC Beltway, that obese children still have plenty of microwavable melted cheese pockets to zap for their exhausting sessions with Grand Theft Auto.
But in the peak oil situation the world is like a banquet just before the tablecloth is pulled out from under it. There is plenty on the table, but it is about to be overturned, spilled, lost, and broken. There's more oil available then ever before, but also so many people at the banquet table clamoring for it that there is barely enough to go around, and the people may knock some things over trying to get it.
A correspondent in Texas writes: "On a four week running average basis, total US petroleum imports (crude products) have been falling since 2/24/06, until last week, when we finally showed an increase of 1.3 percent, after bidding the price of oil up by about 20 percent. IMO, we bid the price up enough to (temporarily) increase our imports. We will see what subsequent weeks show, but I think that we are in the early stages of a bidding war for remaining net export capacity. The interesting question is what countries may not be importing because they can't afford the oil." [Emphasis added]
Obviously, oil production cannot increase forever. Peak is not a question of if, it's a question of when. Oil production will grow until it can't any more, and then it will shrink. We're like the Titanic's passengers, who thought their ship was unsinkable, right up until the moment when it sank.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Josh Bolten has put together a five-point recovery plan to help push President Bush up in the opinion polls. How about a five-point plan to get out of Iraq, wouldn't that push up the opinion polls? — Jay Leno