August 31, 2006
|Olbermann's Murrow Moment||Media Politics|
Great stuff from Keith Olbermann:
The last three minutes, especially.
Update: [5:08 PM] - Text is here.
|More On US Drought||Environment|
With parts of South Dakota at its epicenter, a severe drought has slowly sizzled a large swath of the Plains States, leaving farmers and ranchers with conditions that they compare to those of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's.
The drought has led to rare and desperate measures. Shrunken sunflower plants, normally valuable for seeds and oil, are being used as a makeshift feed for livestock. Despite soaring fuel costs, some cattle owners are hauling herds hundreds of miles to healthier feedlots. And many ranchers are pouring water into "dugouts" — natural watering holes — because so many of them (up to 90 percent in South Dakota, by one reliable estimate) have gone dry.
Gov. Michael Rounds of South Dakota, who has requested that 51 of the state's 66 counties be designated a federal agricultural disaster area, recently sought unusual help from his constituents: he issued a proclamation declaring a week to pray for rain.
"It's a grim situation," said Herman Schumacher, the owner of a livestock market in Herreid, S.D., a small town near the North Dakota line where 37,000 head of cattle were sold from May through July, compared with 7,000 in the corresponding three months last year. "There's absolutely no grass in the pastures, and the water holes are all dried up. So a lot of people have no choice but to sell off their herds and get out of the business."
Drought experts say parts of the states most severely affected — Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming — have been left in far worse shape because of recent history: several years of dry conditions, a winter with little snow and then, with moisture reserves in the soil long gone, a wave of record heat this summer. [...]
"The bottom line is that even if we got relief starting today, at this minute," Dr. Hall said, "it would take a few years economically to recover." [...]
Even here in Mitchell, about 70 miles west of Sioux Falls, some residents did not grasp the scope of the drought until the Corn Palace, this city's tourist-luring castlelike civic center wrapped in hundreds of thousands of ears of corn, announced that because there was not enough of the crop, it would not redecorate this year for the 2007 season.
"We don't have any record of anything like this happening before," said Mark Schilling, the director of the Corn Palace, a campy, 114-year-old landmark promoted on highway billboards with endless corn puns.
"But if there's not a crop, there's not a crop," Mr. Schilling said quietly.
After weeks and weeks with little rain and high temperatures, one farmer, Terry Goehring, watched the mercury spike to 118 degrees in his Mound City, S.D., field one day in July. That was it. Mr. Goehring, who has farmed since 1978, sold half his 250 head of Angus cattle.
"There was no corn," he said. "There was no hay. We had nothing. And in that moment, I knew there was no choice." [Emphasis added]
It's impossible to say whether this particular drought, as severe as it is, is a consequence of global warming, but it is, in any case, a preview of what's in store.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Today is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Not only that, it's the six-month anniversary of when President Bush found out about it. — Conan O'Brien
President Bush. You know where he is? He's in New Orleans right now to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Now if we could just get FEMA down there. — David Letterman
Today, of course, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. FEMA officials said it seems like just yesterday when they first arrived in New Orleans. And then they realized, "Oh, it was just yesterday." — Jay Leno
August 30, 2006
|The Lessons Of History||Iran|
Josh Marshall has a good post on the "lessons of history" as they apply to the putative case for attacking Iran. It's short, so rather than summarize it here, I'll just urge you to go read it. It's the antidote to all the heavy breathing about Iran being somehow akin to Germany in the 1930s. Go.
|Amplifying Terror||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics|
Security expert Bruce Schneier on how Western governments and media are doing terrorists' work by constantly exaggerating the threat of terrorism, amplifying our fear:
The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.
And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want. [...]
We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.
In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.
Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded. [...]
Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror. [...]
...Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn't engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn't write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn't use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we'd reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.
It's time we calm down and fight terror with antiterror. [...]
[O]ur job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. [Emphasis added]
Schneier is actually too kind. Governments trumpet terrorist threats not out of some accidental, misguided wrong-headedness. It's a whole lot more purposeful than that. They actively seek pretexts for instilling fear, and they drive that fear home with constant reminders in the form of useless airport security measures, armed soldiers in terminals, and so on. They do it because they believe it enhances their power. They do it because it lets them control the media news cycle.
They have as much of a vested interest in our being afraid as do the terrorists themselves. Terrorists and Western governments (especially those of Bush and Blair) exist in a kind of symbiotic relationship. If terrorists didn't exist, Western governments would invent them.
Meanwhile, regarding the British plot to blow up 10 planes, it now appears that the number 10 was made up out of thin air. NYT:
In fact, two and a half weeks since the inquiry became public, British investigators have still not determined whether there was a target date for the attacks or how many planes were to be involved. They say the estimate of 10 planes was speculative and exaggerated.
Nobody will remember that, though. They'll just remember all the scary images of machine gun-toting soldiers at airports, etc. So now when a guy accidentally drops his iPod into an airplance toilet, it sets off a full-scale terror alert. It's nuts.
People tend to have short memories. Since inflation-adjusted housing prices have sky-rocketed for nearly a decade, people think housing always goes up, when the recent situation has actually been an off-the-charts anomaly. NYT (click image for larger version):
Historically, housing has been a good hedge against inflation. What it hasn't been is a way to get rich quick. All those people holding adjustable-rate interest-only mortgages they can't afford who are counting on turning their house over in a few years for a nifty profit, might want to look at that chart. It's a bubble. Bubbles pop. When they do, a lot of people get hurt.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
I don't want to say President Bush's approval rating is dropping, but I understand there's a sign outside of Crawford, Texas, that now says, "Home of Cindy Sheehan." — Jay Leno
|Photo Op Time||Disasters Politics|
Their cynicism is boundless. NYT:
On the eve of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's strike here, President Bush returned to the devastated region on Monday...
Winding his way through tattered towns in Mississippi on his way here, Mr. Bush spent the day demonstrating empathy and optimism...
In sweltering midday heat, his shirt soaked with sweat, Mr. Bush told a group of Biloxi, Miss., residents that he knew the rebuilding was so slow that to some it felt as if nothing was happening.
Still, Mr. Bush said, "For a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing."
"I feel the quiet sense of determination that's going to shape the future of Mississippi," he said.
In an event with echoes of his prime-time speech in Jackson Square here last September, Mr. Bush spoke in a working-class neighborhood in Biloxi against a backdrop of neatly reconstructed homes. But just a few feet away, outside the scene captured by the camera, stood gutted houses with wires dangling from ceilings. A tattered piece of crime-scene tape hung from a tree in the field where Mr. Bush spoke. A toilet sat on its side in the grass. [...]
Nearby, along the ocean, ravaged antebellum homes and churches dotted the waterfront. The beach from Gulfport, Miss., to Biloxi, was deserted. Debris hung from trees and motels stood shuttered. Blue tarpaulins still patched the roofs of most dwellings. Written in green spray paint on a fence around a home in Biloxi was "You loot, I shoot." [...]
"There will be a momentum, momentum will be gathered," the president said. "Houses will begat [sic] jobs, jobs will begat [sic] houses." [Emphasis added]
Lights, cameras, but no action. Nothing in a year. They have no interest in governing; they're too busy staging events that give the appearance of governing. The sheer audacity of it really is stunning: they haven't bothered to try to get anything right in all the time they've been in office. Anything, that is, beyond their permanent campaign for more power.
August 29, 2006
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that nearly destroyed New Orleans. The White House's response to Katrina can best be filed under "job comma heckuva." — Jon Stewart
August 28, 2006
This is outrageous. Absolutely outrageous. Criminally outrageous. Greg Palast, reporting from New Orleans:
It wasn't [Katrina] that drowned, suffocated, de-hydrated and starved 1,500 people that week. The killing was done by a deadly duo: a failed emergency evacuation plan combined with faulty levees. Behind these twin failures lies a tale of cronyism, profiteering and willful incompetence that takes us right to the steps of the White House.
Here's the story you haven't been told. And the man who revealed it to me, Dr. Ivor van Heerden, is putting his job on the line to tell it.
Van Heerden...is no minor player. He's the Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He's the top banana in the field — no one knew more about how to save New Orleans from a hurricane's devastation. And no one was a bigger target of an official and corporate campaign to bury the information.
Here's what happened. Right after Katrina swamped the city, I called Washington to get a copy of the evacuation plan.
Funny thing about the murderously failed plan for the evacuation of New Orleans: no one can find it. That's right. It's missing. Maybe it got wet and sank in the flood. Whatever: No one can find it.
That's real bad. Here's the key thing about a successful emergency evacuation plan: you have to have copies of it. Lots of copies — in fire houses and in hospitals and in the hands of every first responder. Secret evacuation plans don't work. [...]
Specifically, I'm talking about the plan that was written, or supposed to have been written two years ago by a company called, "Innovative Emergency Management."
Weird thing about IEM, their founder Madhu Beriwal, had no known experience in hurricane evacuations. She did, however, have a lot of experience in donating to Republicans.
IEM and FEMA did begin a draft of a plan. The plan was that, when a hurricane hit, everyone in the Crescent City would simply get the hell out in their cars. Apparently, the IEM/FEMA crew didn't know that 127,000 people in the city didn't have cars. But Dr. van Heerden knew that. It was his calculation. LSU knew where these no-car people were — they mapped it — and how to get them out.
Dr. van Heerden offered this life-saving info to FEMA. They wouldn't touch it. Then, a state official told him to shut up, back off or there would be consequences for van Heerden's position. This official now works for IEM.
So I asked him what happened as a result of making no plans for those without wheels, a lot of them elderly and most of them poor.
"Fifteen-hundred of them drowned. That's the bottom line." The professor, who'd been talking to me in technicalities, changed to a somber tone. "They're still finding corpses."
Van Heerden is supposed to keep his mouth shut. He won't. The deaths weigh on him. "I wasn't going to listen to those sort of threats, to let them shut me down."
After Katrina, the Hurricane Center analyzed the flooding and found that, had the levees had just that extra 18 inches, they would have been "overtopped" for only an hour and a half, not four hours. In that case, the levees would have held, and the city would have been saved.
He had taken the warning about the levees all the way to George Bush's doorstep. "I myself briefed senior officials including somebody from the White House." The response: the university's trustees threatened his job.
While in Baton Rouge, I dropped in on the headquarters of IEM, the evacuation contractors. The assistant to the CEO insisted they had "a lot of experience with evacuation" — but couldn't name a single city they'd planned for when they got the Big Easy contract. And still, they couldn't produce the plan.
An IEM press release in June 2004 boasted legendary expert James Lee Witt as a member of their team. That was impressive. It was also a lie. In fact, Witt had nothing to do with it. When I asked IEM point blank if Witt's name was used as a fraudulent hook to get the contract, their spokeswoman said, weirdly, "We'll get back to you on that."
Back at LSU, van Heerden astonished me with the most serious charge of all. While showing me huge maps of the flooding, he told me the White House had withheld the information that, in fact, the levees were about to burst and by Tuesday at dawn the city, and more than a thousand people, would drown.
Van Heerden said, "FEMA knew on Monday at 11 o'clock that the levees had breached...They took video. By midnight on Monday the White House knew. But none of us knew...I was at the State Emergency Operations Center." Because the hurricane had missed the city that Monday night, evacuation effectively stopped, assuming the city had survived.
It's been a full year now, and 73,000 New Orleanians remain in FEMA trailers and another 200,000, more than half the city's former residents, remain in temporary refuges. [...]
Should they come home? Rebuild? Is it safe? Team Bush assures them there's nothing to worry about: FEMA won't respond to van Heerden's revelations. However, the Bush Administration has hired a consulting firm to fix the failed evacuation plan. The contractor? A Baton Rouge company named "Innovative Emergency Management." IEM. [Emphasis added]
Palast has produced a two-part video special that you can watch online at Democracy Now. It's gut-wrenching.
One thing shown in the video that's not covered above: there are public-housing communities in New Orleans that were completely untouched by the flood that have been boarded up, all the residents (poor and black) expelled and barred from returning. Why? It's prime real estate not far from the downtown business district and the French Quarter. It's real estate that developers have long wanted to get their hands on. As Palast says, Katrina was the "perfect storm" from the perspective of developers and their political cronies.
A year ago, I wrote:
Yes, it sounds too evil to be true, but we appear to be looking at a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing. Wait and watch. A lot of people with ties to the administration are going to make a ton of money on the contracts to clear and rebuild a Disney-fied version of what was one of the world's great cities.
Watch Palast's short film, and you'll see it's all coming true. It is a criminal outrage on a truly colossal scale, yet there is no accountability. No one even really expects accountability anymore. What has happened to this country?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The White House announced that President Bush took three books with him on his ten-day vacation to his ranch in Texas. Three books. Now before you get impressed by all that, it's the same three books he took last year. He's still waiting to see if the little engine makes it over the mountain. — Jay Leno
August 27, 2006
|Ernesto Track Moved Eastward||Disasters|
Ernesto has been upgraded to hurricane status, but the projected storm track has now been moved eastward.
The Gulf coast may have dodged a bullet.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Lieberman Joke||Humor & Fun|
A lot of folks are big fans of the planets. Pluto now has lost its status as a planet. But it says it will run as an independent. — David Letterman
August 26, 2006
|Mr. Peabody's Coal Train||Environment|
A big global warming worry has been the enormous amount of coal-fired electrical generation capacity being added in places like China and India. But we don't have to look that far from home. Grist (via Big Gav) tells us that here in the US, coal-fired plants are being built at an astonishing and dangerous pace. Excerpt:
Across the nation, 153 new coal plants are currently proposed, enough to power some 93 million homes. Of those 153 proposals, only 24 have expressed an intent to use gasification technology, which offers a way to handle the large amounts of carbon dioxide produced by coal combustion. A recent report from the National Energy Technology Laboratory anticipates the construction of up to 309 new 500 MW coal plants in the U.S. by 2030. If NETL's projections are correct, U.S. coal-generation capacity will more than triple by 2010, with corresponding air pollution and greenhouse-gas increases.
Some of the 153 proposed coal plants will add capacity for existing public utilities. Others, like those by developers LS Power and Peabody, are speculative "merchant" coal plants, which ultimately intend to sell the power — or even the plant itself — to the highest bidder. Local need for power is not part of the calculations behind these merchant plants. The concept isn't new, but the voracious expansion plans are.
Economic projections indicate that demand for electricity will continue to rise, so developers are gambling that the need for power and the low price of western coal will make them very rich. Merchant-coal developers are also finding ways to minimize the risks posed by possible carbon regulation on the horizon. A recent Business Week analysis approvingly cites Peabody's plan to sell ownership stakes in its new plants to municipal utilities and electric cooperatives, along with 30-year Peabody coal-supply contracts. If and when federal carbon regulation pushes up the cost of coal-fired generation, a smart developer like Peabody will have insulated itself from that expense. The utilities and cooperatives will pay ever-higher prices to generate electricity, passing those costs on to the consumer — but Peabody's profits will never falter. [Emphasis added]
I wonder if "2010" is a typo, but in any case this is a very ominous trend.
People who think the capitalist market will, all by itself, solve our energy and environmental problems should take note. The fundamental problem (it could hardly be any more fundamental) with unregulated capitalism vis-a-vis the environment is that the people producing the pollution don't pay the cost. As a result, it may be a whole lot more profitable to destroy the Earth than to preserve it. The coal story is a huge case in point. They'll make their quick buck now, and leave it to the rest of us to figure out what to do about global warming later. At some point, however, later will be too late.
|Ernesto Threatens Gulf||Disasters|
Computer models used by hurricane forecasters indicate that tropical storm Ernesto could become a powerful hurricane threatening the Gulf Coast, possibly even New Orleans. Oil and gas production in the Gulf is also threatened. StormTrack (via OilDrum):
For a couple days now we have been talking up Ernesto and warning that there was a significant chance that this could be the new big story. After looking at the situation today, I am convinced that things could be very bad indeed. I always try not incite undue worry, but Ernesto could get ugly. Those of you in the Gulf Coast need to re-examine your hurricane plans, especially is you live in the north Gulf from Houston to Tallahassee. A very deep layer of warm water in the northern Gulf could allow for Ernesto to become a very powerful hurricane if it reaches the area.
...The official forecast calls for Ernesto to enter the Gulf of Mexico early next week, where it could become a very powerful hurricane....
Ernesto's limited strength thus far has been due to moderate wind shear displacing the convection from the center of circulation. This wind shear should lessen today and allow for strengthening to continue. The current convective pattern is very healthy and Ernesto seems to mean business...[T]he Western Caribbean holds much deeper warm water that can allow for rapid intensification.
The [computer] models are in a clear consensus agreeing on a track over the western tip of Cuba by Tuesday. By early to mid next week, Ernesto could be roaming the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane...Houston, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola, and Panama City [are] all now in the potential danger zone. Due to disrupting of the hurricane while it passes over and near land in Jamaica and Cuba, it will be hard to make any forecasts on a landfall point along the Gulf Coast until Ernesto clears Cuba and settles into the Gulf. [Emphasis added]
Say it ain't so.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
August 25, 2006
|On Chavez||Energy Peak Oil|
Policy Pete on Hugo Chavez:
So he likes Fidel, so what? This is business, not personal, as the Corleones used to like to say. The US just lost half a million barrels a day forever to the Chinese. Having managed to tick off every Muslim on the planet, it would have been expecting too much for an unsophisticated presidency to try to mend fences in the southern hemisphere. Why not anger everyone who will be supplying the marginal oil that the US will need pretty desperately in less than a decade? "We're imperious; you're the third world. We get to give you little lectures on Freedom and The Free Market, you get to ship us your crude."
While it is not impossible that this may be the right strategy for a secure US, more than a few foreign offices must be watching Washington with genuine puzzlement. Do the Americans really think that a policy aimed (unsuccessfully) at eradicating terrorists means the rest of the world will supply the US with its petroleum in gratitude?
It's going to be painful to live through, but the US is giving the world a pretty good object lesson on the futility of trying to dictate terms through intimidation and military force in a world that's becoming ever more fragmented, fluid, unconquerable and ungovernable, at an ever-accelerating pace. Bullies get what's coming to them, in the end.
The White House thought the US was the new Rome. They thought they could dominate the world's oil producers by purely military means. Ain't working out too well. For the near term, world oil markets will stay open to the highest bidder and oil will continue to be fungible. But who is to say markets won't begin to break down when the oil picture gets more desperate. Oil producers will have opportunities to exert leverage beyond just getting a good price. We're giving a lot of people a lot of reasons to look for payback.
|Major US Drought Continues||Environment|
The US is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. Here's a map:
Some 60% of the country is affected. AP:
More than 60 percent of the United States now has abnormally dry or drought conditions, stretching from Georgia to Arizona and across the north through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana and Wisconsin, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. [...]
Brad Rippey, a federal Agriculture Department meteorologist in Washington, said this year's drought is continuing one that started in the late 1990s. "The 1999 to 2006 drought ranks only behind the 1930s and the 1950s. It's the third-worst drought on record — period," Rippey said. [Emphasis added]
Here's an historical graph, excluding 2006. 60% out-and-out drought is rare:
The current drought hasn't reached Dust Bowl levels, but the demand for water is much greater today than it was in the 30s, so the consequences of drought are considerably more severe. Topeka Capital-Journal:
While the prolonged Dust Bowl droughts of the 1930s and droughts of the 1950s are considered the historically devastating dry periods in the United States, less severe events today can create enormous problems, [climatologist Mark] Svoboda said.
That is because population growth, particularly in Southwestern states like Nevada, puts a heavier strain on water sources during a drought.
"When a little drought comes along now, it can be very disruptive," he said. "The amount of water hasn't changed, but the demand has increased greatly. You don't need to have a drought of the '50s to have the impact of the '50s." [Emphasis added]
This all seems to be happening under the radar in areas that haven't been affected. There will be downstream consequences, however, as crops fail, food prices rise, farms go out of business, etc. Expect more of the same in years to come.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
There's a recent study about human behavior and apparently, women are capable of making decisions about the character of men within a tenth of a second. Decisions often made without any rational thought. Yep, and that's why we're in Iraq. — David Letterman
August 24, 2006
|That Giant Sucking Sound||Economy|
The US housing market is starting to tank. CNNMoney:
Home sales slumped more than expected in July, according to a trade group reading that showed the biggest supply of homes for sale in 13 years, coupled with weak prices.
The National Association of Realtors reported that existing homes sold at an annual pace of 6.33 million in July, down from the 6.6 million pace in June, which was also revised lower. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had forecast a 6.55 million pace. The pace of sales was the slowest since January 2004.
The group said that there was a 7.3 month supply of homes on the market, the largest supply of homes for sale by that measure since April 1993.
The 3.86 million homes for sale is up nearly 40 percent from a year earlier, and is a record high for the group's report.
The increase in supply is due in part to a building boom in 2005, which saw a record number of new homes enter the market. A large percentage of those new homes were intially bought by investors, and home builders have reporting that many of those are now putting those homes up for sale as they attempt to exit the cooling residential real estate market. [...]
The glut of homes on the market has cooled off if not killed the white-hot home price gains of a year ago.
All regions of the country outside of the South saw a year-over-year decline in median home prices in July, and the South posted only a 3.2 percent year-over-year rise in median home price. [...]
While month-to-month declines in home prices in the report are not unusual, a year-over-year decline suggests true weakness in the market. [Emphasis added]
Ok, so? One economist, at least, believes the housing slump will trigger a significant recession as early as next year. MarketWatch (via RawStory):
The United States is headed for a recession that will be "much nastier, deeper and more protracted" than the 2001 recession, says Nouriel Roubini, president of Roubini Global Economics.
Writing on his blog Wednesday, Roubini repeated his call that the U.S. would be in recession in 2007, arguing that the collapse of housing would bring down the rest of the economy. [...]
"This is the biggest housing slump in the last four or five decades: every housing indicator is in free fall, including now housing prices," Roubini said. The decline in investment in the housing sector will exceed the drop in investment when the Nasdaq collapsed in 2000 and 2001, he said.
And the impact of the bursting of the bubble will affect every household in America, not just the few people who owned significant shares in technology companies during the dot-com boom, he said. Prices are falling even in the Midwest, which never experienced a bubble, "a scary signal" of how much pain the drop in household wealth could cause.
Roubini is a professor of economics at New York University and was a senior economist in the White House and the Treasury Department in the late 1990s...While many economists share Roubini's concerns about imbalances in the global economy and in the U.S. housing sector, he stands nearly alone in predicting a recession next year. [...]
Housing has accounted, directly and indirectly, for about 30% of employment growth during this expansion, including employment in retail and in manufacturing producing consumer goods, he said.
In the past year, consumers spent about $200 billion of the money they pulled out of their home equity, he estimated. Already, sales of consumer durables such as cars and furniture have weakened.
"As the housing sector slumps, the job and income and wage losses in housing will percolate throughout the economy," Roubini said.
Consumers also face high energy prices, higher interest rates, stagnant wages, negative savings and high debt levels, he noted.
"This is the tipping point for the U.S. consumer and the effects will be ugly," he said. "Expect the great recession of 2007 to be much nastier, deeper and more protracted than the 2001 recession." [Emphasis added]
As the article notes, the effects of housing's collapse will be much broader than the effects of the stock market's collapse. A lot of people own stocks indirectly through their 401(k)s and pension funds, but not that many people own a lot of stock outright. But more than 70 million families own homes, and many of them have depended on the value of their homes continuing to rise, using home equity loans to turn their homes into ATMs. That will come to a screeching halt.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
When it comes to the war in Iraq, no one is more optimistic than our President Bush. In fact, no one is optimistic other than President Bush. — Jon Stewart
August 23, 2006
|One-Handed Rubik's||Humor & Fun|
CalTech student sets the world record for solving a 3x3 Rubik's Cube — one-handed:
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Now they're saying all this terrorist activity could lead to higher oil prices. When asked why, the oil companies said, "Cause everything leads to higher oil prices." — Jay Leno
|Damaged Goods II||Politics|
This (via Raw Story) is creepy. Bush's portion is a little over two minutes long. It's more than the usual insufferable posturing: the guy's getting flat-out incoherent.
August 22, 2006
|Planet Under Pressure||Environment|
From a six-part BBC series Planet Under Pressure (click the image for a larger view):
Exponential growth cannot continue.
Forever a boy, and a silly one at that. USN&WR:
He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that. [Emphasis added]
"Paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior"? Whaaat? That aspect of his character has to be pretty pronounced for it to be a topic of conversation by a "top insider". Yeah, Barbara Bush must have been a scary mom. No doubt. But Dubya's sixty years old now.
Where are the grownups?
|Garbage In, Garbage Out||Media Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
Take a look at this shamelessly propagandistic slide show from The Jerusalem Post. Stunningly one-sided.
The problem with turning propaganda against your own population, whether in Israel, here in the US, or anywhere else, is that the short-term gains turn into long-term disaster: a population whose heads have been stuffed with phony nonsense is incapable of choosing well.
Accurate information has survival value. Garbage in, garbage out.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Thousands of Lebanese refugees are pouring back into their home towns, and it seems that one relief organization is stepping up their aid efforts more than any other relief organization. Which group is it? Here are some hints: They're Shiites, they're on the State Department's watch list of terrorist groups, and their name rhymes with "Lezbollah." — Jon Stewart
|On Hezbollah||Palestine/Middle East|
From the London Review of Books, an article by American Charles Glass, written at the height of Israel's attack on Lebanon. Glass portrays Hezbollah as a principled and — dare I say it — comparatively civilized outfit. This appraisal is all the more remarkable, coming, as it does, from a man who was himself kidnapped and held hostage by Hezbollah for 62 days in 1987. Excerpt:
In his memoir, Not So Wild a Dream, the famous CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid recalled watching the execution of six Nazi collaborators in the newly liberated city of Grenoble in 1944.When the police van arrived and the six who were to die stepped out, a tremendous and awful cry arose from the crowd. The six young men walked firmly to the iron posts, and as their hands were tied behind the shafts they held their bare heads upright, one or two with closed eyes, the others staring over the line of the buildings and the crowd into the lowering clouds...As the last shot was fired, the terrible, savage cry rose again from the crowd. Mothers with babies rushed forward to look on the bodies at close range, and small boys ran from one to the other spitting upon the bodies. The crowd dispersed, men and women laughing and shouting at one another. Barbarous?
Such events were part of what the French described as the épuration — the purification or purging of France after four years of German occupation. The number of French men and women killed by the Resistance or kangaroo courts is usually put at ten thousand...The American forces that liberated France tolerated local vengeance against those who had worked for a brutal occupier. Thousands of French people, encouraged by a government in Vichy that they believed to be legitimate, had collaborated. Many, like the Milices, fascist gangs armed by Vichy, went further and killed Frenchmen. When Vichy's foreign sponsors withdrew and its government fell, the killing began. Accounts were settled with similar violence in other provinces of the former Third Reich — countries which, along with Britain and the United States, we now think of as the civilised world.
From 1978 to 2000 Israel occupied slices of Lebanon from their common border right up to Beirut and back again. To reduce the burden on its own forces, the Israelis created a species of Milice in the form of the locally recruited South Lebanon Army...The SLA had a reputation for cruelty, confirmed when its torture chambers at Khiam were opened after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, and for a high rate of desertions.
As Israel pulled back from Beirut, the high-water mark reached during its 1982 invasion, its share of Lebanon contracted further and further....Hizbullah, which led the resistance that had forced the Israelis to abandon most of their conquest, demanded the unconditional return of all Lebanese territory. Its attacks intensified, resulting in a loss of IDF soldiers that became unpalatable to most Israelis. The Israeli army placed the SLA between itself and Hizbullah so that it could pay the price that Israel had decided it could not afford. Hizbullah kidnapped SLA men, and the SLA and Israelis kidnapped Shias. The two sides killed each other, as well as many civilians, and blood feuds were born. [...]
Barak abandoned Lebanon..., suddenly and without advance warning, on 23 May 2000. His SLA clients and other Lebanese who had worked for the occupation over the previous 22 years were caught off guard. A few escaped into Israel, but most remained. UN personnel made urgent appeals for help to avert a massacre by Hizbullah. Hizbullah went in, but nothing happened.
The deputy secretary-general and co-founder of Hizbullah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, wrote..., 'It is no secret that some young combatants, as well as some of the region's citizens, had a desire for vengeance...Resistance leadership issued a strict warning forbidding any such action and vowing to discipline those who took it whatever the justifications.' Hizbullah captured Israeli weapons, which it is now using against Israel, and turned over SLA militiamen to the government without murdering any of them. Barbarous?
Naim Qassem called the liberation of south Lebanon 'the grandest and most important victory over Israel since it commenced its occupation [of Palestine] fifty years before...But what impressed most Lebanese as much as Hizbullah's victory over Israel was its refusal to murder collaborators — a triumph over the tribalism that has plagued and divided Lebanese society since its founding. Christians I knew in the Lebanese army admitted that their own side would have committed atrocities. Hizbullah may have been playing politics in Lebanon, but it refused to play Lebanese politics...Hizbullah had become — as well as an armed force — a sophisticated and successful political party. It jettisoned its early rhetoric about making Lebanon an Islamic republic, and spoke of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony. [...]
Like Israel's previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. [...]
Hizbullah's unpardonable sin in Israel's view is its military success. Israel may portray Hizbullah as the cat's-paw of Syria and Iran, but its support base is Lebanese. Moreover, it does one thing that Syria and Iran do not: it fights for the Palestinians. On 12 July Hizbullah attacked an Israeli army unit, capturing two soldiers. It said it would negotiate indirectly to exchange them for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as it has done in the past. It made clear that its attack was in support of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza after the capture of another Israeli soldier a week earlier. The whole Arab world had remained silent when Israel reoccupied the Gaza settlements and bombed the territory. Hizbullah's response humiliated the Arab regimes, most of which condemned its actions, as much as it humiliated Israel. No one need have been surprised. Hizbullah has a long history of supporting the Palestinians. [...]
Now, Israel has rescued Hizbullah and made its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, not only the most popular man in Lebanon — but in the whole Arab world. An opinion poll commissioned by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information found that 80 per cent of Lebanese Christians supported Hizbullah; the figure for other communities was even higher...Unlike in 1982, when it could rely on some of the Christian militias, Israel now has no friends in Lebanon. [Emphasis added]
The wise way to judge people is by their actions, not their rhetoric. Hezbollah's refusal to commit reprisals against collaborators speaks volumes, as does their dedication to social programs for Lebanon's neediest citizens. Are they saints? Of course not. But neither are they the nihilistic terrorists portrayed in American propaganda. People have a right to defend against invasion. Hezbollah just happens to be very good at it.
August 21, 2006
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Midterm elections are a few months away. The intensity is picking up. Republican Senator/possible '08 presidential candidate George Allen of Virginia, campaigning hard. George Allen was pointing out that his opponent in the Senate race, James Webb had sent someone to videotape all of George Allen's appearances — which is not a very nice thing to do because George Allen says some really stupid s**t. Like, "Let's all welcome macaca over here to America." Although in Allen's defense, he didn't know that the gentleman was already a citizen and didn't need to be welcomed to America, or that his name wasn't "macaca". I think Allen just assumed the gentleman looked "macaca-ish". — Jon Stewart
August 20, 2006
|Chauncey Gardiners||Media Politics|
Following a trail of links, I happened to arrive at Robert Parry's 1999 review of Edmund Morris's Reagan biography, Dutch. In a remarkable passage, Morris provides a rather shocking list of examples of Reagan's utter cluelessness. Parry:
[T]he Reagan in Dutch comes across as a shallow human being — a man so self-absorbed that he failed to recognize his own son, Michael, at his high school graduation.
Morris also judges Reagan as a one-dimensional leader who himself mixed fantasy with fact in the service of his ideological goals, a man who possessed an "encyclopedic ignorance."
In one sardonic passage, Morris wrote that "the world that rotates inside [Reagan's] cerebellum is, if not beautiful, encouragingly rich and self-renewing. It is washed by seas whose natural 'ozone' produces a healthful brown smog over coastal highways, and rinsed by rivers that purify themselves whenever they flow over gravel. ...
"Reagan's world is not entirely without environmental problems. It glows with the 'radioactivity' of coal burners (much more dangerous than nuclear plants), and is plagued by 'deadly diseases spread by insects, because pesticides such as DDT have been prematurely outlawed.' Acid rain, caused by an excess of trees, threatens much of the industrial northeast.
"Geopolitically, the globe presents many challenges. ... North and South Vietnam should never have been permitted to join, having been 'separate nations for centuries.' The Soviet Union [is] bent on invading the United States via Mexico (a strategem of 'Nikolai' Lenin). ... The economy of South America is a mess, particularly in Portuguese-speaking Bolivia."
See also Helen Caldicott's account of a meeting she had with Reagan, one of my very first posts here at Past Peak.
Morris calls Reagan an ideologue with a "Daliesque ability to bend reality to his purposes." He was aided immeasurably in this by his "encyclopedic ignorance." This was one of the secrets of Reagan's success as the Great Communicator. He could utter all manner of nonsense and lies with completely convincing sincerity because his inner world was unencumbered by facts. He believed what he was saying, and that made him believable.
The appearance of sincerity is one of the factors that made Reagan the perfect front man for the television age. It didn't hurt, too, that he was an "amiable dunce" (all the more so after his shooting by Bush family friend John Hinckley, from which Reagan never fully recovered). He seemed well-meaning and was so obviously clueless that to criticise him too sharply violated Americans' sense of fair play. Sure he was muddled, but he seemed such a sweet old guy. Picking on him was like picking on the mentally handicapped. This consequence of Reagan's cluelessness, together with his amiable sincerity, was the source of his famous Teflon coating.
Reagan's backers may not have anticipated in advance how spectacularly well Reagan's ideologically-driven cluelessness would play on tv, but the lesson surely was not lost on them as it played out. Bush, Sr. and Clinton, in contrast, were obviously not dunces, so they lacked the ignorance defense, and it cost them.
As the Republicans searched for someone to cast in the role of President in 2000, it seems clear that they looked for a telegenic figure with the same kind of ideological sincerity unencumbered by facts. Dubya doesn't have Reagan's doddering amiability, but he's got the encyclopedic ignorance and the reliance on "gut instinct" over analysis. And he's got something Reagan didn't have: a well-crafted image as a born-again, evangelical Christian. So, once again, we're in the position where pointed attacks on Bush's ignorance seem like picking on a dummy — rude and off-putting. Bush plays the front man, and behind him Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, et al, run the country.
Democrats look back on Clinton with nostalgia because he was so bright, so knowledgable, so nuanced, so talented. Republicans look back on Reagan with nostalgia because he was so uncomplicated, appealing to simplistic ideological belief, not analytical thought. You really didn't have to think or to know anything, you just had to believe in the man.
Look again at Morris's small peek into Reagan's bizarre inner world and consider that this man was leader of the free world for eight years. And now we've got Dubya. A political formula is being perfected. If we don't demand knowledgable, capable leaders, we are going to be subjected to a succession of dunces whose job is to go on tv, while the real power is exercised elsewhere.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
While President Bush was on vacation, this country was in the capable hands of his brother, Raul. — David Letterman
August 19, 2006
|Brutality Corrupts||Global Guerrillas Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
Israelis are asking themselves why the IDF in Lebanon has failed to achieve the kind of decisive victory that was seen in past wars. One answer, surely, is that modern national armies are ill-equipped to defeat increasingly sophisticated guerrilla forces intermingled with supportive civilian populations. All the smart bombs in the world aren't much help if there aren't any suitable targets.
Tom Segev, writing in Haaretz, suggests some other hypotheses. The most interesting of these is "the internal connection between the quality of the IDF's functioning in Lebanon and the occupation and the oppression in Gaza and the West Bank." Segev:
There is a generation of soldiers whose main military experience involves the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories; they have not been trained for real war.
Like the chief of staff, the soldiers of the occupation have developed infinite arrogance. Every private is a king in the territories: If he so wishes, he allows a Palestinian to go through the roadblock; if he so wishes, he orders him to remove his pants. The power of the occupation has implanted a profound contempt for the Palestinians in many soldiers, and this is the essence of their experience as soldiers.
The Palestinian terror and its suppression have also granted legitimacy to a very serious systematic undermining of the Palestinians' human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from their homes, as though it were permissible routine, was carried out in this spirit as well. As opposed to the past, there was almost no protest in Israel... [Emphasis added]
Actions have consequences. Chickens come home to roost. Brutality blunts and weakens the perpetrator. If you act like oafish goons, before long you become oafish goons. You forget who you were before.
Israeli brutality vis-a-vis the Palestinians is bad enough, but what the US is doing in Iraq is far worse. The impact on our national character is already being felt. The longer we continue, the more hideous the consequences will be. Call it karma, if you like, or just call it psychology. But one way or the other, we will pay.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
In a sign of how troubled our world is right now, this year, President Bush decided he's only doing a ten-day vacation at his Crawford ranch which, really, why even bother at that point?. — Jon Stewart
August 18, 2006
|Selling The "Noble Cause"||Iran|
The most under-appreciated influence on the Bush presidency is almost certainly Michael Gerson, the evangelical Christian who served as Bush's chief speechwriter from the beginning of Bush's presidency until recently, when he resigned. Gerson...is a close confidant of the President.
He has a new essay in Newsweek purporting to describe how the 9/11 attacks "changed George W. Bush." [...]
What is most notable about Gerson's essay is that it certainly seems as though he believes a military confrontation with Iran is both necessary and imminent, and devotes the bulk of his essay to making the case:First, the nation may be tired, but history doesn't care. It is not fair that the challenge of Iran is rising with Iraq, bloody and unresolved. But, as President Kennedy used to say, "Life is not fair."
Behind all the chaos and death in Lebanon and northern Israel, Iran is the main cause of worry in the West Wing — the crisis with the highest stakes. Its government shows every sign of grand regional ambitions, pulling together an anti-American alliance composed of Syria, terrorist groups like Hizbullah and Hamas, and proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan. And despite other disagreements, all the factions in Iran — conservative, ultraconservative and "let's usher in the apocalypse" fanatics — seem united in a nuclear nationalism.
Some commentators say that America is too exhausted to confront this threat. But presidential decisions on national security are not primarily made by the divination of public sentiments; they are made by the determination of national interests. And the low blood-sugar level of pundits counts not at all. Here the choice is not easy, but it is simple: can America (and other nations) accept a nuclear Iran? ...
There are still many steps of diplomacy, engagement and sanctions between today and a decision about military conflict with Iran — and there may yet be a peaceful solution. But in this diplomatic dance, America should not mirror the infinite patience of Europe. There must be someone in the world capable of drawing a line — someone who says, "This much and no further." At some point, those who decide on aggression must pay a price, or aggression will be universal. If American "cowboy diplomacy" did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. [Emphasis added]
As Greenwald points out, this passage is noteworthy for its complete disdain for democracy. The population may be tired, with "low blood-sugar", but that "counts not at all". The President is The Decider, and since 9/11 Bush is, in fact, more than a President. Greenwald:
The 9/11 attacks justify all of this because it made the President something more than a President; it made him a Great Cause. As Gerson puts it, after recounting his most melodramatic 9/11 memories: "Starting in those days, I felt not merely part of an administration, but part of a story; a noble story." Nothing as lowly or ephemeral as public opinion is going to impede this "noble story," driven by this great man with his mission of overarching moral imperatives. In many ways, that is the Bush presidency in a nutshell.
Greenwald (an attorney) says the White House clearly believes it has the power to go to war with Iran without the approval of Congress or anyone else. Greenwald:
I have written before that the administration's theory of executive power almost certainly means that they believe they have the right to initiate a war on Iran even without any declaration of war or any other form of Congressional approval. Indeed, they would be empowered to do so even in the face of Congressional opposition. Groups such as the Heritage Foundation have made clear that in the wake of 9/11, there can be no limits on the President's decision-making powers with regard to the use of military force. [Emphasis added]
As Greenwald points out, Gerson's essay is significant because of Gerson's status as a Bush insider and confidant. This is no rant from a Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, or Ann Coulter. I think we have to assume it's part of a PR campaign to soften us for an attack that's probably already in the works. We're being fed a steady diet of accusations against Iran — nukes, Iraq IEDs, Lebanon and Hezbollah — just as we were regarding Iraq (WMD, etc.). You'd think there'd be greater media skepticism this time around, but you'd be wrong.
Time to decide: are we still a democracy?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Good news. President Bush had his physical last week, and passed his physical. No word on the mental. But the doctors say he's okay, but he might want to go on a diet, because his Body-Mass Index has jumped to 26. On the bright side, his Body-Mass Index now matches his approval rating. — David Letterman
August 17, 2006
|The End Of Iraq II||Iraq|
In a post last night I wrote:
[O]ne has to wonder why — if the intent all along was to arrive at just this endgame — the administration didn't just declare early on that the ethnic realities of Iraq demanded that Iraq be broken into three states, break it up, declare victory, and be done with it? Why this elaborate and enormously costly charade, ending in what must certainly be viewed as defeat for the US?
A regular reader emailed me with an answer: it took all this chaos and bloodshed to break Iraqi society down to the point where Iraqis are killing each other in the street. The Kurds have always been separatist, but otherwise Iraq is tribal before it's Sunni and Shiite. Many of the large tribes are mixed. In New Orleans, it took a Katrina to really expose the fault lines in American society, and even under those conditions people were a very long way from forming death squads and militias. Think what it would take to bring us to such a point. Iraq was a civilized and largely secular society. It has taken a lot to bring them to a state of civil war.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
There have been a myriad of sporadic cease-fires in the Middle East over the last sixty years. Indeed, over the last three millenia, and each has proved but a tiny foyer opening onto yet another grand dark ballroom, whose weary dancers waltz endlessly to the dismal music of war. Still, I think this one's going to last. Call it a hunch. — Rob Corddry
|Hurtling Towards The Abyss||Iran Palestine/Middle East|
Seymour Hersh on CNN: The US and Israel, together, planned the Lebanon attack months in advance. Cheney and the neocons thought the attack on Lebanon was going to be "a model, a prototype" for an attack on Iran: "a lot of air [power] against...dug-in, underground facilities." Watch the clip.
Hersh: "It's time to decide if we're a democracy or not. This President is doing an awful lot of foreign policy without sharing it with the rest of us."
August 16, 2006
|The End Of Iraq||Iraq|
The consensus was pretty dire:
The inescapable conclusion: Iraq will be officially broken into three statelets defined along ethnic lines.
Something not considered in the discussion: maybe the breakup of Iraq has been the desired outcome all along. Various observers have contended from the outset that this is the outcome administration neocons have wanted. It is certainly what Israeli hardliners have wanted.
An observer (from Mars, say) who could only see the administration's actions, not hear its rhetoric, might well conclude it's all been purposeful. It's been one long succession of screwups, but somehow with every screwup the eventual breakup of Iraq became more assured. So were they really screwups?
It's hard to know, but one has to wonder why — if the intent all along was to arrive at just this endgame — the administration didn't just declare early on that the ethnic realities of Iraq demanded that Iraq be broken into three states, break it up, declare victory, and be done with it? Why this elaborate and enormously costly charade, ending in what must certainly be viewed as defeat for the US?
Various hypotheses suggest themselves. It could just be what it looks like: they're incompetent, arrogant fools who were blinded by their belief in America as hyperpower, the new Rome, and who just don't get fourth-generation war. Or, it could be that different elements in the administration are working at cross-purposes: for example, Cheney, Rumseld, et al are deliberately driving towards an outcome of their choosing, and Bush (perhaps), Congress, and much of the military don't know they're being played. The only way for them to pull this off would be to make it all look like incompetence.
What's the reality? Beats me. Either way, unified Iraq is toast. Wingers who say we're winning, that it's the mainstream media's fault that things look bad, are out to lunch, as will become painfully clear in the very near future.
|Greenland's Melt Speeding Up||Environment|
The meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up, satellite measurements show.
Data from a US space agency (NASA) satellite show that the melting rate has accelerated since 2004.
If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m (21 feet). [...]
Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland's ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year.
This figure is about three times higher than an earlier estimate of the mass loss from Greenland made using the first two years of Grace measurements. [...]
"Acceleration of mass loss over Greenland, if confirmed, would be consistent with proposed increased global warming in recent years," the authors wrote in Science. [...]
The group's findings agree remarkably well with a study released earlier this year that used data from other satellites to estimate mass changes in the Greenland ice. [Emphasis added]
The Greenland melt is important not just because it will cause sea-levels to rise (if one can say "just" about something that significant) but also because it is likely to trigger other changes with even more far-reaching effects. Chief among these is disruption of the North Atlantic currents that warm the UK and Western Europe. Besides which, the accelerating melt is evidence that global warming generally is accelerating. Feedback loops are strengthening, in a self-reinforcing process that may spin out of control, finally reaching equilibrium in a world very different from the one we know.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
According to reports, Fidel Castro is alert and being briefed. And I'm thinking, why didn't we get a president like that? — David Letterman
August 15, 2006
|Terror Theatre||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics|
I have been reading very carefully through all the Sunday newspapers to try and analyse the truth from all the scores of pages claiming to detail the so-called bomb plot. Unlike the great herd of so-called security experts doing the media analysis, I have the advantage of having had the very highest security clearances myself, having done a huge amount of professional intelligence analysis, and having been inside the spin machine.
So this, I believe, is the true story.
None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.
In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.
What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.
Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth.
The gentleman being "interrogated" had fled the UK after being wanted for questioning over the murder of his uncle some years ago. That might be felt to cast some doubt on his reliability. It might also be felt that factors other than political ones might be at play within these relationships. Much is also being made of large transfers of money outside the formal economy. Not in fact too unusual in the British Muslim community, but if this activity is criminal, there are many possibilities that have nothing to do with terrorism.
We then have the extraordinary question of Bush and Blair discussing the possible arrests over the weekend. Why? I think the answer to that is plain. Both in desperate domestic political trouble, they longed for "Another 9/11". The intelligence from Pakistan, however dodgy, gave them a new 9/11 they could sell to the media. The media has bought, wholesale, all the rubbish they have been shovelled. [...]
We will now never know if any of those arrested would have gone on to make a bomb or buy a plane ticket. Most of them do not fit the "Loner" profile you would expect - a tiny percentage of suicide bombers have happy marriages and young children. As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity - that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA.
In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. [...]
Be sceptical. Be very, very sceptical. [Emphasis added]
Bush learned of the plot on Friday, August 4th, according to White House press secretary Tony Snow. Bush and Tony Blair had several conversations about the plot over that weekend. On Tuesday, anti-Iraq-war candidate Ned Lamont beat pro-war Joe Lieberman. On Wednesday, Dick Cheney held a "highly unusual" conference call with reporters in which he and Tony Snow "argued that Democrats wanted to raise what Snow called 'a white flag in the war on terror.'" They did this knowing that arrests were imminent in the UK. The arrests took place the following day. MSNBC reports that the US pressured the UK to make the arrests when it did. The Brits wanted to wait.
It's political theatre. Expect to see machine gun-toting soldiers in airports until election day.
|Terror / Danger / Madman||9/11, "War On Terror" Humor & Fun Politics|
Pardon my cynicism, but why are US airports full of machine-gun toting police and soldiers after the plot is uncovered?
Three months before an election.
Here's a Jon Stewart bit from February, 2004, a little reminder how the Bush/Cheney White House is all about pushing the fear button:
Terrorists hope to make us afraid. That's why it's called terror. Bush, Cheney, et al do the terrorists' work by constantly reminding us to be afraid.
Meanwhile, expect more pre-election Terror Alerts. They think we're suckers.
Update: YouTube pulled the video. It was good though. :-)
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
On some flights the only thing airlines are letting you take on are a passport and cash. The passport, of course, for identification and the cash, so they can sell you a bottle of water for $20. — Jay Leno
August 14, 2006
|John Robb On What's Coming||Global Guerrillas Iran Palestine/Middle East War and Peace|
John Robb, the guy to read on fourth generation warfare and the rise of loosely-affilated, globalized, non-state forces that he calls global guerrillas, has posted an ominous analysis of what lies in store. Scary stuff. I don't know that I agree with all of it, but it's essential reading, so I'm taking the liberty of reproducing it in full:
As most readers of this blog already know, its focus is on putting the jigsaw pieces of a mega-trend together: the rise and evolutionary improvement of non-state foes. In this blog, we've tracked and analyzed everything from 9/11's terrorism to Iraq's open source warfare to Afghanistan's black globalization to Nigeria's system disruption to Hezbollah's fourth generation warfare. It's been a wild ride. Unfortunately, this process of evolution has caused a big problem. With each improvement in the capabilities of non-state groups, states have become more confused. Worse yet, they are blaming each other for the problems they are encountering with these groups.
This tension and confusion has now reached a tipping point, akin to the situation that preceded WW1. Nation-states, confused and locked into antiquated mindsets, are likely to stumble into a global war. To wit: Israel's loss to Hezbollah and the US loss of Iraq to civil war puts both countries into an untenable strategic situation. Instead of blaming themselves for an inability to reach victory, they are priming themselves for a confrontation with the perceived 'source' of the problem: Iran. As it stands right now, war with Iran is likely inevitable. It really doesn't matter whether it is caused by a US (or Israeli) air campaign against Iran, an Iranian pre-emptive special operation, or a simple error: it's on the way.
For better or worse, this impending war will not follow a familiar pattern of conflict we are used to. It will quickly evolve into something much more chaotic, an epochal conflict between non-states and states over control of vast sections of the globe. Here's how. Any attack on Iran will be constructed in a way to force regime change (my belief is that it will be an airpower EBO [effects-based operation — an attack on essential infrastructure] as we saw twice in Iraq and in a pale replica: Lebanon). When this doesn't occur quickly, and as regional chaos spreads due to Iranian counter-attacks the conflict will escalate to a ground invasion. At that point, the Iranian state will cease to exist in any recognizable form. A plethora of energized non-state foes will populate the landscape in its stead. These groups won't yield, and will bog the invasion down into a never ending counter-insurgency.
Stretched to its limit, the US and its remaining allies will not be able to stop the process of self-replication that will occur. Non-state global guerrillas, armed with the evolved capabilities analyzed on this blog, will begin a process of regional destabilization that will sweep many of the nearby autocracies into the dustbin of history. This process will in turn create more armed non-state groups and thereby more foes. Further, this war will quickly expand beyond the Middle East as these forces make attacks on global targets and other non-state groups take advantage of the resulting economic and social chaos.
Western nation-states, to bolster defenses against this chaos, will throw up barriers and enact measures in many ways akin to those of police states and totalitarian governments. This round of globalization will end, which will cause economic contraction, resource shortages, and chaos. [Emphasis added]
Strangely enough, our best hope for avoiding a catastrophe may lie with the military officer corps. The civilian leadership seems completely out of touch with the military realities, and they have shown that they don't much care what the public thinks. But if the military leadership can keep their wits about them, perhaps they can take the craziest options off the table. Let's hope they read John Robb.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
I don't want to say that President Bush's approval rating is low but the Republican party has a special offer now for any donor who payed $10K in the past to have their picture taken with President Bush. Now for $20K they'll destroy the picture. — Jay Leno
August 13, 2006
|Baghdad Violence Continues Unabated||Iraq|
The ongoing destruction of Lebanon and the militarization of US airports and civil aviation have pushed Iraq off of the front page, but the bloodbath in Baghdad goes on. NYT:
As American forces conducted a new security sweep in western Baghdad on Sunday, five apparently coordinated bombings in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood on the city’s south side killed at least 57 people and wounded 148, an Iraqi government official said.
The death toll could rise, the official said, as emergency workers searched for victims in the rubble of an apartment building that collapsed as a result of the bombings.
The attacks, which killed civilians in a largely residential neighborhood, were the deadliest in the capital since the American military dispatched new forces here more than a week ago to quell a surge in killings and kidnappings by sectarian militias and criminal gangs. [Emphasis added]
As always, we must pause to remember that this is happening in a real place, to real people, people whose only crime, for the most part, is to live atop some of the largest oil reserves in the world. It's hard, given the steady drumbeat of horrific news, to put ourselves in their place, but basic morality and simple human decency demand that we make the effort. Imagine it.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush, of course, is responding to the crisis. He's on vacation. That's his plan. He'll show them ... President Bush is on vacation in Texas right now. This is true. He's urging his staff to join the 100-degree club by running three miles in 100-degree heat. Experts say it's proof that the president an come up with a bad idea at any level. — Conan O'Brien
August 12, 2006
Each Lebanese civilian death, each child's death especially, fuels a growing rage against the US government. CSM:
With his arm raised and fist clenched, Sheikh Hussein furiously expressed a sentiment rapidly taking hold here.
"We know who our first enemy is: America," he shouted before tearful mourners at a funeral Wednesday for 30 civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The white-turbaned sheikh led the crowd in a militant chant: "Death to America! Death to America!"
Even as Israel continues to pound Beirut's southern suburbs, and agreed Wednesday on plans to expand its four-week-old offensive as far as 18 miles into southern Lebanon, many here increasingly blame the US for its extensive military and political support for the Jewish state.
"Israel wants to stop the war, but America orders them to continue," the sheikh asserted later in an interview. "This is the American freedom?"
Moments before the first child was interred by weeping parents Wednesday, Israeli ordnance hit again at a building nearby; more strikes followed during burials. [...]
And in Beirut's Shiyyah district, where the Israeli strikes Monday night took more than 40 lives — the largest single-event toll of the conflict — it was a day of digging.
Just after first light, Hassan Dirani pulled several stuffed teddy bears and toys from the rubble, shook off the dust, and gently assembled them on a slab of concrete, with a blonde doll on top. They were dolls his own children had given to families displaced by fighting in the south, who had sought refuge in this "safe" Shiite-Christian neighborhood.
For Mr. Dirani, his emotions were first about the children — three of his remained in the rubble. And second, they were about accusing the US of giving Israel a free hand to destroy Lebanon.
"Thank you, George Bush. Thank you for those 'smart' bombs," says Dirani, whose wife and surviving son were injured in the attack. "I want to ask George Bush: 'What did our children do to him?'" [...]
"I beg Americans not to vote for another butcher and criminal like George Bush," says Dirani, who works at the environment ministry. Tearfully, he says his small daughter, now entombed, had been sharing her excitement about her upcoming sixth birthday party next week; she wrote out an invitation list of 20 school friends.
"Why does your system and White House do this to us...give smart bombs to throw on our people?" asks Dirani. "What are you going to tell your kids [to explain it]?"
...On the first day of conflict, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz vowed to "turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years"...
"That's how they create terrorists," says Mohammed, a Lebanese restaurant owner, while watching the digging effort in Shiyyah. "And they ask: 'Why do they hate us?'" [...]
"I don't understand anything! I don't know, I just don't know," wailed Mr. Yatim, his body shaking. "Criminal people and a criminal government does this to us. The kids have nothing to do with missiles and bombs, but they are burning everything. No one in the world deserves such a massacre."
"Americans, Europeans, and the Western people are great people ... they love freedom," says Yatim, as workers sought to find his daughter. "But the governments of Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are criminal." [...]
"Imagine if Americans were receiving this, and not Lebanese," says Yatim. "If these were Americans dying in this massacre, what would they think?
"We are in the 21st century, and it's unbelievable we still have people who follow such a savage way," he continues. "There are 1,000 ways, democratic ways, that [Americans] can protect the world — not this way." [Emphasis added]
What can one say? If I were to find my own daughters dead in the rubble, I don't know what I would do. I very much doubt I would forgive.
US troops killed in Iraq as of today: 2601.
And God knows how many Iraqis. For what?
No end in sight.
|MIT To Go Full Bore On Energy Research||Energy Science/Technology|
Solar cells made from spinach. Algae-based biofuel fattened on greenhouse gas. Plasma-powered turbo engines. These are just some of the technologies being developed by a Manhattan Project-style research effort for new energy technologies at MIT.
Scientists at MIT are undertaking a big, ambitious, university-wide program to develop innovative energy tech under the auspices of the school's Energy Research Council.
"The urgent challenge of our time (is) clean, affordable energy to power the world," said MIT President Susan Hockfield.
Inaugurated last year, the project is likened by Hockfield to MIT's contribution to radar — a key technology that helped win World War II.
"As the example of radar suggests, when MIT arrays its capabilities against an important problem ... we can make an important contribution," said Hockfield in an e-mail.
David Jhirad, a former deputy assistant secretary of energy and current VP for science and research at the World Resources Institute, said no other institution or government anywhere has taken on such an intensive, creative, broad-based, and wide-ranging energy research initiative.
"MIT is stepping into a vacuum, because there is no policy, vision or leadership at the top of our nation," he said. "It's uniquely matched. MIT has tremendous strengths across the board — from science and engineering to management to architecture to the humanities. From that point of view, it's hugely significant."
Below are some examples of the MIT research projects the Energy Research Council will be sponsoring and developing:
Spinach solar power: Tapping the secrets of photosynthesis — engineering proteins from spinach — to make organic solar cells whose efficiency could outstrip the best silicon photovoltaic arrays today. Silicon superstrings: A novel approach to manufacturing conventional silicon photovoltaic arrays by pulling the chips in stringy ribbons out of a molten stew like taffy rather than slicing them from silicon ingots. Laptop-powered hybrids: Using a new generation of lithium-based batteries (which power most portable electronics today) to cut the price and charge-time of hybrid and electric car batteries. Tubular battery tech: Using "supercapacitors" made from carbon nanotubes to store charge — rather than the chemical reactions that power most batteries — resulting in a lightweight, high-capacity battery that could someday give even the laptop battery a run for its money. Hold the A/C: Optimizing air and heat flow on a new computer-aided design system, before a building's construction begins, allowing for the building's air conditioning costs to be cut by as much as 50 percent. Hybrid without the hybrid: Turbocharging an automobile engine with plasma from a small ethanol tank (which would need to be refilled about as often as the oil needs changing), reportedly increasing fuel efficiency almost to the level of a hybrid — but only adding $500-$1,000 to the car's sticker price. More light than heat: Generating a car's electricity photoelectrically (using a gas-powered light and a small, specially designed solar panel) rather than mechanically (using an alternator), substantially increasing fuel efficiency. Coal-powered biofuels: Bubbling exhaust from a coal-fired power plant through a tank of algae that's been bred to siphon off much of the exhaust's carbon dioxide — in the process, fattening the algae that can then be harvested as biodiesel.
Many of these projects are ongoing and will continue under the Energy Research Council banner. Others, such as a new effort to make cheap ethanol using a biochemical technique called metabolic engineering, apply the expertise of faculty and staff who had never worked on energy problems before. [Emphasis added]
The multidisciplinary aspect of this is very cool. Everything from nanotechnologists to architects, bioengineers to city planners.
Besides being good for us all, this has to be good for MIT as well. It should, for one thing, help them attract the very best and brightest. If you were a young science or engineering student, what could be better than getting an opportunity to help save the world?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
This is the latest: While on vacation, President Bush, I guess this was in the paper today, reportedly is reading a book about Abraham Lincoln or as President Bush calls him: the guy from the pennies. — Conan O'Brien
August 11, 2006
|Jets And Nets||Corporations, Globalization Global Guerrillas War and Peace|
Globalization is everywhere eroding the power of nation-states. Capital flows where the terms are most favorable. Corporations pick up stakes and move where labor is cheapest and environmental regulation most lax. Nations play ball or they find jobs and money flying out the door.
Globalization undermines nation-states in another way as well: by abetting insurgencies by "global guerrillas" (John Robb's term). The nation-state's monopoly on military violence is rapidly coming to an end. As the US is learning in Iraq, and Israel in Lebanon, all the high-tech weaponry in the world doesn't count for much when your adversary is not a nation-state but a loose affiliation of guerrillas fighting a fourth-generation war. The US/Israeli style of war is actually counter-productive, since it produces a failed state where 4GW adversaries thrive.
Just as capital and corporate operations flow where the terms are most favorable, global guerrillas — and, more importantly, their know-how — flow where their enemies are most vulnerable. An essential point here is that global communications mean that global guerrillas themselves don't have to physically move from place to place to be effective. Their example moves freely, and local guerrilla "entrepreneurs" watch and learn. Know-how moves around the world at the speed of light. It's akin to "open-source" software development, as John Robb emphasizes.
It is paradoxical, and more than a little ironic, that the technology trends that have abetted Western hegemony may finally prove its undoing.
Science-fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling, ever the master of the pithy phrase, has an excellent article along these lines at Wired, where he talks about the power of "jets and nets":
If there are two technologies that have shaped the life I lead today, they're jets and nets. Affordable airfare lets me go where the action is — wherever adventure beckons, necessity compels, or duty calls — without having to establish residency anywhere. And the Internet lets me do business and stay in touch no matter where I find myself.
Cheap flights and ubiquitous worldwide communications are the stuff of globalization. Ready travel lets people oppressed at home taste the joys of free society, while the Net exposes them to the ideas and customs underpinning that social order. The effect is viral, spreading liberal values and economic growth to benighted dictatorships and hopeless pits of poverty. So it's difficult to grasp that these two innovations might also be an imminent menace to Western civilization. Yet that's the counterintuitive thesis of UK rear admiral Chris Parry, a Falklands vet, former commander of HMS Fearless, and the British military's go-to guy for identifying emerging threats.
During a recent briefing at the time-honored Royal United Service Institute — the oldest military think tank in the world, founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington — Parry imagined a future, circa 2030, in which the war on terror is still rolling along and the terrorists are winning. He describes a world so ripped up by nets and jets that sovereign nation-states like the UK are collapsing economically, politically, even physically. Then there are the people of that future, who hop from country to country and bear allegiance to none. "Globalization makes assimilation seem redundant and old-fashioned," he noted, pointing out that, rather than dissolving into the melting pot of their host nations, immigrants are increasingly maintaining their own cultural identity. Jets and nets make this possible. "Groups of people are self-contained, going back and forth between their countries, exploiting sophisticated networks and using instant communication on phones and the Internet." The result, Parry says, is "reverse colonization," in which the developing world's teeming masses conquer Western nations, as surely as the Goths sacked Rome.
It's easy to pigeonhole Parry as an isolationist — and, indeed, much of the public response to his speech came from anti-immigration wackos who said, "We knew it all along." But he has plenty of forward-thinking company in these ideas. According to a loose school of "fourth-generation warfare" theorists, connected, globe-trotting terrorists are a bigger threat to the world order than hostile nations are. The technological drivers of globalization have enabled stateless barbarians to seize the initiative. You can't keep them out by blocking the border, and the harder you smash the failed states that nurture them, the more they thrive. At the first sign of weakness, these new-wave Vandals will log on to urge their diasporic compatriots to attack you on your own soil. Failing that, they'll hop on the next flight, pick up their baggage, and sidle into Starbucks to download the latest instructions from Abu Ayyub al Masri.
Parry paints a grim picture. Still, his vision gives me an affirmative feeling about the future. If civilization is to overcome barbarism, its leaders must outthink the marauders. And the sturdy admiral's foresight is a bold step in that direction. "An analysis of trends and drivers can only go so far," he writes. "We also need to expect the unexpected — shocks will occur." He's not saying, "Kick the Arabs out of Europe"; he's saying we need to anticipate the emergence of stateless aliens and rethink how host societies can integrate them. That's a rare display of intellectual flexibility in a government official. Compare it with the Pentagon's reflexive tendency to lash out when challenged (if we can't kill bin Laden, we’ll crush Saddam) and with the Bush administration's plaint that nobody could have expected airliner attacks, Iraqi intifadas, or crumbling levees. We'll stop being blindsided when we grasp tomorrow's shocks better than the bad guys do — and that's a positive, not a negative, scenario. [...]
We live in a deeply paradoxical age, and it will take serious mental agility to navigate the years to come. Capable and imaginative people, both inside and outside of barbarity, are beginning to realize this. And for every person who does, civilization gains a better chance of survival. [Emphasis added]
There's a much bigger potential positive that may come out of all this, though not without our being subjected to considerable turbulence and suffering in the meantime. Namely, as nation-states begin to realize that they cannot defend themselves militarily from 4GW resistance, they may come to understand that their best defense is to finally deal positively, in good faith, with the underlying causes of resistance. In fact, that may turn out to be their only defense. It's like the bumper sticker says: no justice, no peace. So, for example, the way to defend against Palestinian resistance is to give the Palestinians what they should have been given long ago: a state of their own.
There's a reason why the US and Israel are attacked, but Sweden, say, is not: people have real grievances against the US and Israel. That is the source of the violence. It's likely, of course, that the US and Israel will continue to try to solve the problem militarily, but it's a losing battle, one that may, in the end, reduce US and Israeli power to tatters. Nation-states that insist on beating their heads against the wall will fall away, like General Motors, which insists on continuing to build yesterday's cars in today's (or tomorrow's) world.
Turbulent times lie ahead as things become increasingly fluid and the pace of change continues to accelerate. Stay alert out there. Adapt, or go extinct.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Gumpagraphs|
As you know, when President Bush is down on his ranch, he likes to spend his time clearing brush and chopping wood, because no matter how much legislation you pass to cut down trees, there's nothing like destroying them with your own hands. — Jay Leno
August 10, 2006
|The Partition Of Lebanon||Palestine/Middle East|
As Israel continues its ethnic cleansing operation to de-populate southern Lebanon, making refugees of one-quarter of Lebanon's population and turning the south into one big free-fire zone, what about the draft resolution the US, France, and Britain have offered to the UN Security Council? It is, as one might expect given its authors, weighted overhwelmingly in Israel's favor. American Leftist has an excellent post on the subject. It quotes Ran HaCohen:
According to the current resolution draft, the UN Security Council "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." Note the asymmetry, as well as the term "immediate." While Israel is occupying Lebanon, Hezbollah — or, as it is often called in Lebanon, "the resistance" (al-muqawama) — is not allowed to take any military action against this occupation. If it does, the resolution draft allows Israel to defend its occupation militarily, as long as it uses "non-offensive" means. Thus the UNSC, perhaps for the first time, waives the moral and internationally accepted legal principle of the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation. The resolution draft not only forbids Hezbollah resistance to the occupation, but also legitimizes Israel's right to defend its occupying forces against any Lebanese resistance. [Emphasis added]
Next, AmLeft quotes Karim Makdisi, writing from Beirut:
The draft UN resolution proposed by the US and France on Saturday...seems strangely out of place, as though Israel had won this war decisively and is in a position to dictate the terms. The draft does not reflect either the reality of a balance of terror that clearly exists between Hizbullah and Israel today, or the political unity that this war has created in Lebanon and across the Arab world. As such, it has come as a shock to many people in the region. In the words of the influential Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (who is mediating between Hizbullah and the Lebanese government), "if Israel did not win the war and it gets all this, what would have happened if it had won the war?"
Here are some preliminary observations on this draft resolution:
1. It clearly adopts the Israeli narrative that this war was begun by Hizbullah...and makes clear that to prevent the "resumption of hostilities" Hizbullah must be banned in all areas between the Blue Line and Litani River. Elsewhere, the text refers to the Sheba'a farms as "disputed or uncertain" as opposed to "occupied."
2. It calls for a "cessation of hostilities" until an international force is deployed, as opposed to the "immediate cease fire" that the Lebanese government has repeatedly demanded. This gives Israel the face-saving mechanism it needs...
3. It further calls on Hizbullah to cease all "attacks" while Israel must only cease "offensive military operations." Given that Israel has all along stated that this war is in self-defense, this phrasing clearly gives Israel the green light to continue to hit Hizbullah targets whenever it interprets the need for self defense. And since 'Hizbullah targets' apparently includes the full spectrum of civilian installations throughout the country as well as all civilians in Lebanon, Israel could interpret this to mean a green light for the continuation of its onslaught.
4. It refers to the "unconditional release" of Israeli soldiers, but only to "encouraging the efforts aimed at resolving the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel." It says nothing about the exchange of prisoners, a key Lebanese demand.
5. It does not heed Lebanon's demand for an immediate lifting of the Israeli siege of Lebanon. Rather it makes clear that airports and ports will be reopened only for "verifiably and purely civilian purposes." In other words, everyone and everything going in and out of the country will be monitored, thus turning Lebanon into a new Gaza.
6. There is no mention of an international investigation into Israel's savage attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure as Lebanon's Prime Minster has repeatedly demanded. There is moreover no reference to war crimes, international humanitarian laws or the Geneva Conventions.
7. The heart of this draft resolution calls for a permanent ceasefire based on the disarming of "all armed groups in Lebanon"...and the deployment in Lebanon (as opposed to Israel, or both countries) of an "international force"...to help implement a "long term solution." The Lebanese government has insisted that the disarming of Hizbullah must be part of Lebanon's national dialogue...and that the Lebanese army should be the main player in securing southern Lebanon, with an expanded UNIFIL there to assist it as needed. [Emphasis added]
Meanwhile, Israel continues to pound Shia areas throughout Lebanon — not just in the de facto free-fire zone south of the Litani, but in south Beirut and in the Bek'a valley — apparently hoping to rob Hezbollah of any area in which to take refuge. By re-occupying southern Lebanon and turning it into a de-populated wasteland, Israel is effectively partitioning the country — or trying to, anyway, Hezbollah has other ideas.
The paradox, however, and the reason Israel's policy is certain ultimately to be self-defeating, is that Lebanon is rapidly being turned into a failed state. Which is to say, fertile ground for an insurgency. It's like they don't get CNN in Israel. Haven't they watched the US go down in flames in Iraq? For that matter, haven't they learned from their own experience in occupied Palestine: namely, that injustice calls forth resistance, with the strength and staying power of the resistance proportional to the scale of the injustice, in a sort of Newton's law of conflict. Few injustices feed resistance like an occupation.
The US and Israel seem unable or unwilling to adapt to new global realities. Where it once may have seemed attractive to neocons here and in Israel to turn the Middle East (Israel aside) into a bunch of weak statelets, the reality in this age of "global guerrillas" is that every failed state is a Petri dish for increasingly effective insurgencies, insurgencies that are quicker to learn and adapt than the First World militaries arrayed against them. More on that topic tomorrow.
Meanwhile, like the bumper sticker says: no justice, no peace.
|"Tough Day, Great Opportunity"||Humor & Fun Palestine/Middle East|
There's silly satire, and there's satire with real bite. This bit from The Daily Show is the latter — exactly as it should be. I can't recommend it highly enough. Watch it, then watch it again:
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Yesterday President Bush denied that Iraq is close to a civil war saying, "Civil War. What Civil War?" Coincidentally, that's the same thing Bush used to say in his American History class. — Conan O'Brien
Let's take a little break from the world's cares.
This is ingenious and fascinating. Watch the video. The download may be choppy, but once you've got it all, play it again smoothly. What'll they think of next?
August 09, 2006
|60% Oppose Iraq War||Iraq|
Looks like Iraq is now the most unpopular war in US history. CNN:
Sixty percent of Americans oppose the U.S. war in Iraq, the highest number since polling on the subject began with the commencement of the war in March 2003, according to poll results and trends released Wednesday.
And a majority of poll respondents said they would support the withdrawal of at least some U.S. troops by the end of the year, according to results from the Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted last week on behalf of CNN. The corporation polled 1,047 adult Americans by telephone.
According to trends, the number of poll respondents who said they did not support the Iraq war has steadily risen as the war stretched into a second and then a third year. In the most recent poll, 36 percent said they were in favor of the war — half of the peak of 72 percent who said they were in favor of the war as it began.
Sixty-one percent, however, said they believed at least some U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. Of those, 26 percent said they would favor the withdrawal of all troops, while 35 percent said not all troops should be withdrawn. Another 34 percent said they believed the current level of troops in Iraq should be maintained.
Asked about a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, 57 percent of poll respondents said they supported the setting of such a timetable, while 40 percent did not and 4 percent had no opinion. [Emphasis added]
Too bad we don't have a parliamentary system allowing us to go immediately to a no-confidence vote. Yesterday's vote in CT was a start.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush traveled to his ranch in Texas for a ten-day vacation. The president said now is the perfect time to take a vacation when everything in the world is running so smoothly. — Conan O'Brien
Ann Coulter's a serial liar, but Republicans treat her like a rock star.
The GOP rewards people who reduce public discourse to a fact-free shouting match. Not hard to see why: the facts aren't on their side. But who needs facts when you can just make stuff up?
Meanwhile, mainstream media will continue to give Coulter a pass. It's like they think that everybody already knows Republicans are liars (and plagiarists), so Republican lies aren't news.
August 08, 2006
A fun little story for all you geeks out there.
Joe Lieberman's site went down today, and Lieberman aides immediately blamed liberal bloggers and Lamont supporters for a "denial of service" attack.
Ah, but through the magic of the internets, they're shown to be complete idiots, pretty much in real time. Somebody checked, and it turns out Lieberman's campaign pays $15/month for rinky-dink hosting by an outfit called MyHostCamp. 10 GB bandwidth limit. They share their server with 73 other sites. Some, if not all, of those other sites stayed up, hence no DOS attack. Presumably, Lieberman's site simply maxed out its bandwidth for the month. Doh.
By way of comparison, $15/month happens to be what I pay for my little out-of-the-way site. 10 GB bandwidth limit, too, just like Joe. But guess what. Unlike the Lieberman campaign, I have no budget. I'm not running for the US Senate. I have nothing at stake if my site goes down (on election day, no less). For a better comparison, DailyKos pays $7000/month, and Kos isn't running for anything.
I really don't care if Lieberman's people are too clueless and cheap to get adequate hosting. I just think they ought to consider not pointing fingers when their lame-ass site implodes on election day.
And now of course because of this news everybody and their brother is hitting MyHostCamp to see what their operation looks like, so they're down, too. Bet they're thrilled.
Update: I just checked, and I actually have 15 GB a month. So I've got 50% more bandwidth than Lieberman. LOL
|Inviting Disaster||Palestine/Middle East|
Exceprts from an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski:
It is important to recognize that [in the past] Israel defeated formal armies led in most cases by inefficient and often corrupt regimes. Hezbollah is waging "asymmetrical" warfare against Israel based on increasingly radicalized and even fanaticized mass support. So...Israel will have much more difficulty in coping effectively with this latter in contrast to the former. [...]
These neocon prescriptions [for the unilateral application of military force], of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well. [...]
The new element today is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the Iraq problem and Iran from each other. Neither the United States nor Israel has the capacity to impose a unilateral solution in the Middle East. There may be people who deceive themselves into believing that.
The solution can only come in the Israel-Palestinian issue if there is serious international involvement that supports the moderates from both sides, however numerous or few they are, but also creates the situation in which it becomes of greater interest to the warring parties to accommodate than to resist, both because of the incentives and the capacity of the external intervention to impose costs.
When Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki recently harshly criticized Israel in the Lebanon conflict, it was an indication of things to come. The notion that the U.S. was going to get a pliant, democratic, stable, pro-American, Israel-loving Iraq is a myth which is rapidly eroding. That is why the U.S. needs to start talking with the Iraqis about the day of our disengagement. We shouldn't leave precipitously. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Khalilzad told me that four months would be precipitous. I agree. But we should agree that the U.S. will disengage at some period beyond that.
As far as Iran is concerned, we have made an offer to the Iranians that is reasonable. I do not know that they have the smarts to respond favorably or at least not negatively. I lean to the idea that they'll probably respond not negatively but not positively and try to stall out the process. But that is not so bad provided they do not reject it.
While the Iranian nuclear problem is serious, and while the Iranians are marginally involved in Lebanon, the fact of the matter is that the challenge they pose is not imminent. And because it isn't imminent, there is time to deal with it.
Sometimes in international politics, the better part of wisdom is to defer dangers rather than try to eliminate them altogether instantly. To do [the latter] produces intense counter-reactions that are destructive. We have time to deal with Iran, provided the process is launched, dealing with the nuclear energy problem, which can then be extended to involve also security talks about the region.
In the final analysis, Iran is a serious country; it's not Iraq. It's going to be there. It's going to be a player. And in the longer historical term, it has all of the preconditions for a constructive internal evolution if you measure it by rates of literacy, access to higher education and the role of women in society.
The mullahs are part of the past in Iran, not its future. But change in Iran will come through engagement, not through confrontation.
If we pursue these policies, we can perhaps avert the worst. But if we do not, I fear that the region will explode. In the long run, Israel would be in great jeopardy. [Emphasis added]
It is a measure of how far we've come that an old Cold War hard-liner like Brzezinski now sounds like the voice of sanity.
Why isn't it obvious that the path to peace involves engagement, honest negotiation, and the resolution of legitimate grievances? It's a big, unconquerable world out there. It's simply not possible to achieve a stable and peaceful result by putting your boot on everyone else's neck. Nobody's boots are that big, thank goodness. And yet the neocons in the Bush administration and their counterparts in Israel persist in the belief that all their military hardware makes them the new Rome. Guess again.
As Iraq and now Lebanon have so starkly demonstrated, military hardware alone gets you nowhere against a determined non-state 4GW adversary. And in the globalized environment, the whole world's watching, and learning.
|Another Look At Drought In The Amazon||Environment|
The climate scientists at RealClimate urge caution in interpreting the Woods Hole experiment that suggested the Amazon rainforest would collapse if it experienced three years of major drought. It's not that simple — the rainforest is not that fragile — but the picture in the Amazon still is not good. Excerpt:
The not-so-good part comes when [the Woods Hole] experiment is linked too directly to the ongoing drought in the southern Amazon...This is incorrect for a number of reasons. Firstly, drought conditions are not the same as no rain at all — the rainfall deficit in the middle of the Amazon is significant, but not close to 100%! Secondly, the rainfall deficits are quite regionally variable, so a forest-wide response is highly unlikely. Also, the trees won't all die in just one more year and could recover, depending on yearly variation in climate.
...[T]here are, however, some issues that should provoke genuine concern. Worries about the effects of the prolonged drought (and other natural and human-related disturbances) in the Amazon are indeed widespread and are partly related to the idea that there may be a 'tipping point' for the rainforest (see this recent article for some background). This idea is exemplified in a study last year...which looked at the sharp transition between forest and savannah and related that to the coupling of drought incidence and wild fires with the forest ecosystem. Modelling work has suggested that the Amazon may have two vegetation/regional climate equilibria due to vegetation and climate tending to reinforce each other if one is pushed in a particular direction...The two alternative states could be one rainforested and wet like today, the other mainly savannah and dry in the Eastern Amazon. Thus there is a fear that too much drought or disturbance could flip parts of the forest into a more savannah-like state. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty in where these thresholds may lie and how likely they are to be crossed, and the rate at which change will occur. Models go from predicting severe and rapid change..., to relatively mild changes... Locally these responses can be dramatic, but of course, these changes also have big implications for total carbon cycle feedback and so have global consequences as well. [Emphasis added]
So the conclusion drawn in the Independent article — namely, that since trees started dying in the Woods Hole experiment after rain was blocked for three years it follows that three years of drought could induce the collapse of the Amazon — was a gross over-simplification that exaggerated the fragility of the system.
But, that said, it remains true that the Amazon is in trouble. Parts of it are drying, and it's not clear when or if a tipping point will be reached after which the feedback loops in play will push the system to a new and different equilibrium state, possibly replacing forest with savannah — which would have significant global consequences. I.e., the Amazon's in trouble, but it's not going to collapse overnight, drought or no drought.
|Premeditated Aggression||Palestine/Middle East|
Thank you George Monbiot for clearly stating what really ought to be obvious: Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers was merely the pretext for an Israeli attack that had been planned for years. Excerpts:
Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, there have been hundreds of violations of the "blue line" between the two countries. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line "on an almost daily basis" between 2001 and 2003, and "persistently" until 2006. [...]
In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) shot at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. On several occasions, Hizbullah fired missiles and mortar rounds at IDF positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two Hizbullah fighters in 2005 and two Lebanese people and three Israeli soldiers in February 2006. Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel several times in 2004, 2005 and 2006, on some occasions by Hizbullah. But, the UN records, "none of the incidents resulted in a military escalation". [...]
There has been a heated debate on the internet about whether the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah that day were captured in Israel or in Lebanon...[b]ut there is no serious debate about why the two soldiers were captured: Hizbullah was seeking to exchange them for the 15 prisoners of war taken by the Israelis during the occupation of Lebanon and (in breach of article 118 of the third Geneva convention) never released. It seems clear that if Israel had handed over the prisoners, it would — without the spillage of any more blood — have retrieved its men and reduced the likelihood of further kidnappings. But the Israeli government refused to negotiate. Instead — well, we all know what happened instead. Almost 1,000 Lebanese and 33 Israeli civilians have been killed so far, and a million Lebanese displaced from their homes.
On July 12th, in other words, Hizbullah fired the first shots. But that act of aggression was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years, by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail." The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared...By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."
A "senior Israeli official" told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a "unique moment" for wiping out Hizbullah. The New Statesman's editor John Kampfner says he was told by more than one official source that the United States government knew in advance of Israel's intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government.
Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary. It is true that Hizbullah had been building up munitions close to the border, as its current rocket attacks show. But so had Israel. Just as Israel could assert that it was seeking to deter incursions by Hizbullah, Hizbullah could claim — also with justification — that it was trying to deter incursions by Israel...[T]he suggestion that Hizbullah could launch an invasion of Israel or constitutes an existential threat to the state is preposterous. Since the occupation ended, all its acts of war have been minor ones, and nearly all of them reactive.
So it is not hard to answer the question of what we would have done. First, stop recruiting enemies, by withdrawing from the occupied territories in Palestine and Syria. Second, stop provoking the armed groups in Lebanon with violations of the blue line — in particular the persistent flights across the border. Third, release the prisoners of war who remain unlawfully incarcerated in Israel. Fourth, continue to defend the border, while maintaining the diplomatic pressure on Lebanon to disarm Hizbullah (as anyone can see, this would be much more feasible if the occupations were to end). Here then is my challenge to the supporters of the Israeli government: do you dare to contend that this programme would have caused more death and destruction than the current adventure has done? [Emphasis added]
As Monbiot says, relatively minor incidents have been happening along the border for years. Who "started" it just depends on where you start the timeline. Why start the timeline on July 12th? Why not start it, for example, with Israel's 1982 invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon?
In any case, as should be obvious, large-scale attacks like Israel's don't just happen overnight. They require detailed planning, movement of soldiers and materiel, etc. Israel was just waiting for a pretext. Its attack was a premeditated, "preemptive" war of aggression every bit as illegal as the US invasion of Iraq.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Yesterday President Bush flew out to his prairie-chapel ranch in Crawford, Texas, to begin his eleven-day vacation. It's not really a ranch. There's no cows or horses. It's more like an estate. But ranch sounds better. You know, like when you call Iraq a democracy. It sounds better. — Jay Leno
August 07, 2006
|Chomsky On Israel's Invasion||Palestine/Middle East|
From an interview with Noam Chomsky, posted today at ICH:
[Israel's] invasion itself is a serious breach of international law, and major war crimes are being committed as it proceeds. There is no legal justification.
The "moral justification" is supposed to be that capturing soldiers in a cross-border raid, and killing others, is an outrageous crime. We know, for certain, that Israel, the United States and other Western governments, as well as the mainstream of articulate Western opinion, do not believe a word of that. Sufficient evidence is their tolerance for many years of US-backed Israeli crimes in Lebanon, including four invasions before this one, occupation in violation of Security Council orders for 22 years, and regular killings and abductions. To mention just one question that every journal should be answering: When did Nasrallah assume a leadership role? Answer: When the Rabin government escalated its crimes in Lebanon, murdering Sheikh Abbas Mussawi and his wife and child with missiles fired from a US helicopter. Nasrallah was chosen as his successor. Only one of innumerable cases. There is, after all, a good reason why last February, 70% of Lebanese called for the capture of Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchange.
The conclusion is underscored, dramatically, by the current upsurge of violence, which began after the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25. Every published Western "timeline" takes that as the opening event. Yet the day before, Israeli forces kidnapped two Gaza civilians, a doctor and his brother, and sent them to the Israeli prison system where they can join innumerable other Palestinians, many held without charges — hence kidnapped. Kidnapping of civilians is a far worse crime than capture of soldiers. The Western response was quite revealing: a few casual comments, otherwise silence. The major media did not even bother reporting it. That fact alone demonstrates, with brutal clarity, that there is no moral justification for the sharp escalation of attacks in Gaza or the destruction of Lebanon, and that the Western show of outrage about kidnapping is cynical fraud. [...]
Israel certainly has a right to defend itself, but no state has the right to "defend" occupied territories. When the World Court condemned Israel's "separation wall," even a US Justice, Judge Buergenthal, declared that any part of it built to defend Israeli settlements is "ipso facto in violation of international humanitarian law," because the settlements themselves are illegal.
The withdrawal of a few thousand illegal settlers from Gaza was publicly announced as a West Bank expansion plan. It has now been formalized by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with the support of Washington, as a program of annexation of valuable occupied lands and major resources (particularly water) and cantonization of the remaining territories, virtually separated from one another and from whatever pitiful piece of Jerusalem will be granted to Palestinians. All are to be imprisoned, since Israel is to take over the Jordan valley. Gaza, too, remains imprisoned and Israel carries out attacks there at will. [...]
It is Israel and the United States that are radically violating international law. They are now seeking to consummate long-standing plans to eliminate Palestinian national rights for good. [...]
[The destruction of Lebanon] is correct from the point of view of those who want to ensure that Israel, by now virtually an offshore US military base and high-tech center, dominates the region, without any challenge to its rule as it proceeds to destroy Palestine. And there are side advantages, such as eliminating any Lebanese-based deterrent if US-Israel decide to attack Iran.
They may also hope to set up a client regime in Lebanon of the kind that Ariel Sharon sought to create when he invaded Lebanon in 1982, destroying much of the country and killing some 15-20,000 people. [...]
One very likely consequence [of Israel's invasion], as the United States and Israel surely anticipated, is a significant increase in jihadi-style terrorism as anger and hatred directed against the United States, Israel, and Britain sweep the Arab and Muslim worlds. Another is that Nasrallah, whether he survives or is killed, will become an even more important symbol of resistance to US-Israeli aggression. [Emphasis added]
The voice of reason.
|Words And Deeds||Palestine/Middle East|
Much was made of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's publicly quoting Ayatollah Khomeini who said that Israel should be wiped from the pages of history (or, as it was widely mis-translated "wiped off the map"). Sticks and stones, though; it's actions that really count.
The difference between Ahmadinejad and [Israeli PM] Olmert is that the Iranian president is a blowhard. The one who had practical plans to wipe a country off the map was Olmert.
He's got a point.
|Choking On Plastic||Environment|
This sucks. LA Times via CommonDreams:
The albatross chick jumped to its feet, eyes alert and focused. At 5 months, it stood 18 inches tall and was fully feathered except for the fuzz that fringed its head. [...]
The next afternoon, the chick ignored passersby. The bird was flopped on its belly, its legs splayed awkwardly. Its wings drooped in the hot sun. A few hours later, the chick was dead.
John Klavitter, a wildlife biologist, turned the bird over and cut it open with a knife. Probing its innards with a gloved hand, he pulled out a yellowish sac — its stomach.
Out tumbled a collection of red, blue and orange bottle caps, a black spray nozzle, part of a green comb, a white golf tee and a clump of tiny dark squid beaks ensnared in a tangle of fishing line.
"This is pretty typical," said Klavitter, who is stationed at the atoll for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We often find cigarette lighters, bucket handles, toothbrushes, syringes, toy soldiers — anything made out of plastic."
It's all part of a tide of plastic debris that has spread throughout the world's oceans, posing a lethal hazard to wildlife, even here, more than 1,000 miles from the nearest city.
Midway, an atoll halfway between North America and Japan, has no industrial centers, no fast-food joints with overflowing trash cans, and only a few dozen people.
Its isolation would seem to make it an ideal rookery for seabirds, especially Laysan albatross, which lay their eggs and hatch their young here each winter. [...]
Of the 500,000 albatross chicks born here each year, about 200,000 die, mostly from dehydration or starvation. A two-year study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that chicks that died from those causes had twice as much plastic in their stomachs as those that died for other reasons.
The atoll is littered with decomposing remains, grisly wreaths of feathers and bone surrounding colorful piles of bottle caps, plastic dinosaurs, checkers, highlighter pens, perfume bottles, fishing line and small Styrofoam balls. Klavitter has calculated that albatross feed their chicks about 5 tons of plastic a year at Midway.
Albatross fly hundreds of miles in their search for food for their young. Their flight paths from Midway often take them over what is perhaps the world's largest dump: a slowly rotating mass of trash-laden water about twice the size of Texas.
This is known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, part of a system of currents called the North Pacific subtropical gyre. Located halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii, the garbage patch is an area of slack winds and sluggish currents where flotsam collects from around the Pacific, much like foam piling up in the calm center of a hot tub. [...]
The debris can spin for decades in one of a dozen or more gigantic gyres around the globe, only to be spat out and carried by currents to distant lands. The U.N. Environment Program estimates that 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of the oceans. About 70% will eventually sink.
...An estimated 1 million seabirds choke or get tangled in plastic nets or other debris every year. About 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate.
The amount of plastic in the oceans has risen sharply since the 1950s. Studies show a tenfold increase every decade in some places. Scientists expect the trend to continue. [...]
On land, [decomposition of plastic] can take decades, even centuries. At sea, it takes even longer, said Anthony L. Andrady, a polymer chemist at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina who studies marine debris. Seawater keeps plastics cool while algae, barnacles and other marine growth block ultraviolet rays.
"Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there somewhere," Andrady said, "because there is no effective mechanism to break it down." [...]
A piece of plastic found in an albatross stomach last year bore a serial number that was traced to a World War II seaplane shot down in 1944. Computer models re-creating the object's odyssey showed it spent a decade in a gyre known as the Western Garbage Patch, just south of Japan, and then drifted 6,000 miles to the Eastern Garbage Patch off the West Coast of the U.S., where it spun in circles for the next 50 years. [...]
Charles Moore, a member of the Hancock Oil family, was on his way home from the Los Angeles-to-Hawaii Transpacific Yacht Race in 1997 when he took a shortcut through the Eastern Garbage Patch. It's a place that sailors usually avoid because it lacks wind.
As he motored through on his 50-foot catamaran, Moore was startled by what he saw thousands of miles from land. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by," he said. "How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?" [...]
The experience changed Moore's life, turning him from an adventurer into a self-taught scientist and environmental activist.
Two years later, he returned to the garbage patch with a volunteer crew to survey its contents. He knew he would collect plenty of plastic bags, bottle caps, nets and floats.
He didn't expect what turned up in a special net, one with a tight mesh for collecting plankton, the bottom link in the oceanic food chain. Instead of plankton, it was choked with a colorful array of tiny plastic fragments.
"It blew my mind," Moore said. "We are filling up the oceans with this confetti stuff, and nobody cares." [...]
...plastic pellets the size and shape of pills. They come in all colors and are the raw material for a vast array of plastic products, from trash bags to medical devices.
About 100 billion pounds of pellets are produced every year and shipped to Los Angeles and other manufacturing centers. Huge numbers are spilled on the ground and swept by rainfall into gutters; down storm drains, creeks and rivers; and into the ocean. [...]
Some plastic starts out as tiny particles, such as the abrasives in cleaning products that are washed down the sink, through sewage systems and out to sea. [Emphasis added]
Part of growing up is learning to clean up after yourself. That includes not closing your eyes and pretending the mess isn't there, hoping it'll go away on its own. What we wash down the sink or throw in the trash doesn't magically disappear.
This is an important story to bear in mind, because it demonstrates that human activity is happening on such an enormous scale that even the little things have planetary implications.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
We talk a lot about Iraq, the Middle East, and Baghdad in particular, which hasn't had what they call utility services. They haven't had water, electric return to the state the way they were before the war, but the United States isn't really doing so great with that here either. — Jon Stewart
August 06, 2006
|Peak Oil, Lebanon, and Iran||Iran Palestine/Middle East Peak Oil|
I have always thought that Peak Oil is the Rosetta Stone of Bush/Cheney foreign policy. As I wrote a year and a half ago:
They believe Peak Oil's coming, and they mean to control the world's oil-producing regions before oil shortages get underway in earnest. Examine it from a Peak Oil perspective, and suddenly everything they're doing looks like part of a coherent (if misguided) overall game plan.
Juan Cole has a long post up today making the case (or at least examining its plausibility) that Israel's destruction of Lebanon is part of that Peak Oil game plan. Having occupied Iraq, the big prize that remains is Iran. Excerpts:
The wholesale destruction of all of Lebanon by Israel and the US Pentagon does not make any sense. Why bomb roads, roads, bridges, ports, fuel depots in Sunni and Christian areas that have nothing to do with Shiite Hizbullah in the deep south? And, why was Hizbullah's rocket capability so crucial that it provoked Israel to this orgy of destruction? [...]
Moreover, the Lebanese government elected last year was pro-American! Why risk causing it to fall by hitting the whole country so hard?
And, why was Condi Rice's reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and Israel's wholesale destruction of little Lebanon that these were the "birth pangs" of the "New Middle East"?
Cole quotes a European reader of his who wrote:
When I was in Portugal I also watched a presentation by a guy who works for the ministry of energy in that country, a certain [JFR].
He started his presentation with the growing need for oil in China and India. He stressed that China wants to become the 'workshop' of the world and India the 'office' of the world. both economies contributed combined some 44% to world economy growth during 2001-2004. He compared the USA, Japan, India and China to giant whales constantly eating fish. They had no fish near them so they started to move. He explained that the Persian Gulf is the 'fish ground', the 'gas station' of the world. [...]
JFR explained to the astonished audience that Iran was the most valuable country on the planet. They have one of the biggest holdings of gas and oil reserves in the world. second in gas, second in oil. On top of that they have direct access to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea what makes them a potential platform for the distribution of oil and gas to South Asia, Europe and East Asia. JRF called Iran 'the prize'...
The disaster in Lebanon actually was also part of JFR's presentation. He explained that the US government is 100% convinced, fanatically and completely convinced, that both, Hamas and Hizballah are creatures of Iran and that Iran uses them to undermine US goals in the region...
The presentation got kind of freaky then. He said the US government wanted to stop state-controlled Iranian or Chinese (or Indian) companies from controlling the oil. JFR says the US Government is convinced that this battle will decide the future of the world. It sounded like he was talking about 'the one ring' in lord of the rings. he who controls Iran controls them all.' [Emphasis added]
It's often said that actually controlling the oil-producing countries is unnecessary since oil is a fungible commodity. Why do you need to control the oil fields if you can just buy oil on the open market? Cole:
[T]he "fungibility" (easy exchange) of oil is less important in the new environment than it used to be. US petroleum companies would like to go back to actually owning fields in the Middle East, since there are big profits to be made if you get to decide when you take it out of the ground. As Chinese and Indian competition for the increasingly scarce resource heats up, exclusive contracts will be struck. When I floated the fungibility of petroleum as a reason for which the Iraq War could not be only about oil, at a talk at Columbia's Earth Institute last year, Jeffrey Sachs surprised me by disagreeing with me. In our new environment, oil is becoming a commodity over which it really does make sense to fight for control. [...]
Jeffrey Sachs is right. Oil is fungible only after its out of the ground. The name of today's game is control of reserves, not markets. Example: china's deals in Latin America, US development of non-Nigerian African resource, etc." [Emphasis added]
I would add that the fungibility argument assumes orderly markets in a peaceful world. My guess is that Bush/Cheney et al have looked into their crystal ball and concluded that the oil-importing nations of the world are going to end up in a fight to the death for the oil that remains. When the world's at war, oil's fungibility doesn't count for much. (During WWII, for example, Germany couldn't just go out and buy the oil it needed. Lack of oil, as much as anything else, insured Germany's defeat.) Bush/Cheney may well have concluded that the US and China are on a collision course. Should it come to that, control of the world's oil will be decisive.
So Iran is the prize, and Lebanon is a preliminary bout. As I've noted before, Israel's pounding of Lebanon can be viewed as an effort to secure the Americans' flank in preparation for an attack on Iran. The threat on the flank was and is Hezbollah. Cole:
In the short term, Iran was protected by [an] ace in the hole. It had a client in the Levant, Lebanon's Hizbullah, and had given it a few silkworm rockets, which could theoretically hit Israeli nuclear and chemical facilities. Hizbullah increasingly organizes the Lebanese Shiites, and the Lebanese Shiites will in the next ten to twenty years emerge as a majority in Lebanon, giving Iran a commercial hub on the Mediterranean.
Cole doesn't seem to anticipate a US attack on Iran in the near term. Let's hope he's right, but the ferocity of Israel's assault certainly suggests that the US may already be starting to move. Cf. Condi's comments about "birth pangs" of a "New Middle East".
Some observers (see, for example, Xymphora) look at all this and say it's got nothing to do with oil: the Israelis, and their American neocon supporters, are pursuing their own agenda, trying to safeguard or enlarge Israeli power. But nothing is ever about just one thing. The Israelis have their own axe to grind; that doesn't mean it's only about Israel. Similarly, lots of private companies are making a fortune off of war; that doesn't mean it's only about profits. And so on.
How seriously you take the oil motivation ultimately depends on how seriously you take the implications of Peak Oil. Or, rather, it depends on how seriously you think Bush/Cheney (and the Pentagon, the CIA, etc.) take the implications of Peak Oil (and the likelihood of an eventual conflict with China). My guess is they take it very seriously indeed. Everything they've done, everything they're doing, points that way.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush had his annual medical exam this week. The doctors said the president remains in excellent health and is fit for duty. In fact so fit today the National Guard called and said "So how about serving your time now?" The doctors said his heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol are all pretty good. The only bad number is his approval rating. — Jay Leno
August 05, 2006
|We've Done It Before||Environment|
Greenhouse gas reduction seems like a problem that's too big, too expensive, requiring too much sacrifice and international cooperation, to ever get done. Pretty much every political figure, from Bush on down, says that limiting greenhouse gas emissions would cripple the economy, so nobody wants to get out in front on the issue. The problem seems hopeless, so nobody's really tackled it with the seriousness it deserves.
But is it hopeless? Gregg Easterbrook, in the current Atlantic Monthly (article not available online), points out something I haven't heard emphasized elsewhere. It's actually pretty inspiring:
Greenhouse gases are an air-pollution problem — and all previous air-pollution problems have been reduced faster and more cheaply than predicted, without economic harm. Some of these problems once seemed scary and intractable, just as greenhouse gases seem today. About forty years ago urban smog was increasing so fast that President Lyndon Johnson warned, "Either we stop poisoning our air or we become a nation [in] gas masks groping our way through dying cities." During Ronald Reagan's presidency, emissions of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, threatened to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. As recently as George H. W. Bush's administration, acid rain was said to threaten a "new silent spring" of dead Appalachian forests.
But in each case, strong regulations were enacted, and what happened? Since 1970, smog-forming air-pollution has declined by a third to a half. Emissions of CFCs have been nearly eliminated, and studies suggest that ozone-layer replenishment is beginning. Acid rain, meanwhile, has declined by a third since 1990, while Appalachian forest health has improved sharply.
Most progress against air pollution has been cheaper than expected. Smog controls on automobiles, for example, were predicted to cost thousands of dollars for each vehicle. Today's new cars emit less than 2 percent as much smog-forming pollution as the cars of 1970, and the cars are still as affordable today as they were then. Acid-rain control has cost about 10 percent of what was predicted in 1990, when Congress enacted new rules. At that time, opponents said the regulations would cause a "clean-air recession"; instead, the economy boomed.
Greenhouse gases, being global, are the biggest air-pollution problem ever faced...Still, the basic pattern observed in all other forms of air-pollution control — rapid progress at low cost — whould repeat for greenhouse controls.
Yet a paralyzing negativism dominates global-warming politics. [...]
One reason the global-warming problems seem so daunting is that the success of previous antipollution efforts remains something of a secret. Polls show that Americans thing the air is getting dirtier, not cleaner, perhaps because media coverage of the environment rarely if ever mentions improvements. [...]
Americans love challenges, and preventing artificial climate change is just the sort of technological and economic challenge at which this nation excels. It only remains for the right politician to recast the challenge in practical, optimistic tones...But cheap and fast improvement is not a pipe dream; it is the pattern of previous efforts against air pollution. The only reason runaway global warming seems unstoppable is that we have not yet tried to stop it. [Emphasis added]
Notice also that we were successful combatting urban smog, the hole in the ozone layer, and acid rain because government regulations were put in place. The market didn't do it, government regulation did. Government regulation is not the answer to everything, but it is the answer when capitalistism needs to be saved from itself.
Greenhouse gas reduction is a harder problem than the others Easterbrook cites because it's probably going to require some fundamental changes in behavior. It won't be a matter of just adding catalytic converters to our exhaust systems or giving up aerosol sprays. But, that said, there's a hell of a lot that we can do — right now — that will get the ball rolling. To succeed, we have to start.
|Cantarell's Free Fall||Peak Oil|
Mexican crude oil output at the nation's largest field, Cantarell, fell in June to the lowest in more than four years.
Cantarell, which accounts for half of Mexico's oil production, yielded 1.74 million barrels a day in June, a 13 percent decline from a year ago, according to data on the Energy Ministry's web site.
Petroleos Mexicanos, the country's oil monopoly, estimated this year Cantarell output would decline 6 percent this year to average 1.9 million barrels per day. [Emphasis added]
Sign of the times. Modern technology makes for efficient extraction, getting most of the toothpaste out of the tube, but it does such a good job of maintaining pressure that when the end comes, it comes suddenly. Remember this picture.
The US imports more oil from Mexico than from any other country but Canada. More than from Saudi Arabia.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush had his annual physical this week. Doctors said that the president is in excellent shape. The country has gone to hell. But he's in good shape. — Jay Leno
August 04, 2006
|The Dems and Israel: The Precipice Beckons||Palestine/Middle East Politics|
When Ned Lamont beats Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, people will say it's because Lamont is "anti-war". But as Billmon reminds us in an outstanding and extremely important post, Lamont — and Democrats generally — are only anti-war when it comes to Iraq. When it comes to Israel, they compete to see who's quickest to snap to attention and salute. And that is a recipe for disaster. Billmon:
I know Ned [Lamont] says he's anti-war, but he only means the war in Iraq. The war in Lebanon, on the other hand, is just fine by him. And he's already pledged he'll be just as staunch a friend of Israel and the Israel lobby in this war as Holy Joe ever was or ever could be. So bombs away. [...]
Lamont's stance...reflects a glaring contradiction in the emerging Democratic consensus on U.S. policy in the Middle East...Politically, it's a position that won't be sustainable for long. And as a matter of policy, it's a recipe for an even wider and more destructive war — one I fully expect most Democrats, including Lamont, will end up supporting, despite the consequences.
The contradiction is between the growing sentiment among both grassroots Democrats and party leaders in favor of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. military forces (or at least ground forces) from Iraq, and the effect such a withdrawal would have, both on the overall strategic balance in the Middle East and on Israel's war against Hizbullah.
If the United States were to begin pulling troops out of Iraq now, it would be interpreted correctly throughout the Middle East as an open admission of defeat — one that would likely lead fairly quickly to a complete American evacuation of the country. [...]
[T]he U.S. Army is the only significant force standing between Iran and it's closest allies, and thus between Iran and Israel. If, as it now seems, Washington and Jerusalem both perceive Iran as the primary threat (and/or target for aggression) in the region, then there is no real distinction between America's occupation of Iraq and Israel's intended re-occupation of southern Lebanon. They are, in essence, both part of the next war.
It seems increasingly probable that that war will come soon — perhaps as early as November or December, although more likely next year. Israel's failure to knock out Hizbullah with a rapid first strike has left the neocons even deeper in the hole, enormously ratcheting up the pressure to try to recoup all losses by taking the war to Damascus and Tehran.
In other words, it's almost time for the ultimate "flight forward" — the one that finally pushes the Middle East into World War III.
What's become clear to me is that the Democratic Party (even it's allegedly anti-war wing) will not try to stop this insanity, and in fact will probably be led as meekly to the slaughter as it was during the runup to the Iraq invasion. Watching the Dems line up to salute the Israeli war machine, hearing the uncomfortable and awkward silence descend on most of Left Blogistan once the bombs started falling in Lebanon, seeing how easily the same Orwellian propaganda tricks worked their magic on the pseudoliberals — all this doesn't leave too much room for doubt. As long as World War III can be sold as protecting the security and survival of the Jewish state, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Democratics will support it.
And it is being sold, ferociously. A number of wealthy pro-Israel donors, including Ronald Lauder, the perfume heir, have given millions to something called the Israel Project — a "public education" cum PR cum grassroots lobbying machine — to fund a program specificially aimed at building support for a military strike on Iran. You can't turn on Fox News these days without finding James Woolsey or Newt Gingrich or Bill Kristol or some other pro-Israel mouthpiece demanding war with Syria and/or Iran, and painting it as the only way to stop the rockets falling on Haifa. [...]
The lesson learned from the Democratic reaction to the Israel's war of choice is that the Dems are only likely to oppose war as long as the war in question can be framed as a fight against Iraqi insurgents and/or Shi'a death squads, rather than a fight for Israel. But the Iraq occupation isn't going to fit neatly into that frame much longer. In fact it's already slipped out of it. The Dems — always a little slow on the uptake — just haven't realized it yet. But when the time comes to choose (for Israel, or against war with Iran) I fully expect to see Ned Lamont in the front ranks of the pro-war phalanx, right next to the last great white Democratic anti-war hope, Howard Dean.
People tell me I shouldn't get hung up on this because, you know, if the Dems get in they'll make sure the seniors get their Social Security checks a little faster — or they'll keep the Supreme Court out of the hands of legal madmen or do something about global climate change or save the whales or whatever else it is that's supposed to make the Democratic Party infinitely preferable to the Republicans.
It's not that I discount these differences entirely -- although they're easily oversold. But compared to the fate that awaits the republic, and the world, if the United States deliberately starts a war with Iran, those other considerations start to look pretty insignificant. I mean, we're talking about World War III here, fought by people who want to use tactical nuclear weapons. I'm supposed to put that out of my mind because the Dems might be a little bit more generous about funding the VA budget??? I'm sorry, but that's fucking nuts.
The truth is that on the most important issue of our time — the cliff that drops into total darkness — the only real opposition left in this country is in the Pentagon, where, according to Sy Hersh, at least some of the generals are trying to stall the march to war. Plus whatever scattered resistance is left in the intelligence agencies following the purges of the past couple of years.
It is a stunning testament to the political devolution of this country that the most effective anti-war movement in America is inside the walls of the Pentagon or buried deep in the bowels of the CIA! But that is the reality, thanks in no small part to the Dems and the Israel lobby.
I had hopes once that the Democratic Party could be reformed, that progressives could burrow back in or build their own parallel organizations (like MoveOn.org or even Left Blogistan) and eventually gain control of the party and its agenda — much as the conservatives took over the GOP in the 1980s and '90s.
But I think we've run out of time. Events — from 9/11 on — have moved too fast and pushed us too far towards the clash of civilizations that most sane people dread but the neocons desperately want. The Dems are now just the cadet branch of the War Party. While the party nomenklatura is finally, after three bloody years, making dovish noises about the Iraq fiasco, I think their loyalty to Israel will almost certainly snap them back into line during the coming "debate" over war with Iran.
I hope like hell I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am. So I guess I'll just have to accept being labeled a traitor to the cause — or whatever the hardcore partisans are calling it. Sure, why not. They're certainly free to follow their party over the cliff (we're all going over it anyway) but I'd at least prefer to do it with my eyes open. [Emphasis added]
Americans generally have long held a completely one-sided and dangerously simplistic view of Arab-Israeli relations: Israel good, Arabs bad. Add to that the years of propaganda about Arab "terrorists" and the "war on terror", and the result is a populace with a dangerously distorted view of reality, a view that has, to a great extent, been deliberately instilled in them by people who think they're advancing Israel's interests or who push the Israel button as a means to other ends. The final irony will be that blind loyalty to Israel's interests (or to what are portrayed as Israel's interests) may just bring about Israel's destruction. And get untold numbers of other people killed in the process.
Just being a Democrat isn't enough. Just opposing the war in Iraq isn't enough. What we need are progressives who understand that most problems are not solved by the use of military force. And who understand that you don't get out of a hole by digging faster.
The stakes couldn't be higher.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
An Inconvenient Truth: There has never been a better time for a movie about global warming set inside an air-conditioned theater than right now. — Jimmy Kimmel
August 03, 2006
|Tesla Motors' Master Plan||Energy Science/Technology|
This is absolutely, amazingly cool. 34-year-old Elon Musk, who's already made a couple of fortunes by co-founding Zip2 and PayPal, and who now runs space exploration company SpaceX, is chairman and principal investor in Tesla Motors, builders of a 100% electric high-performance roadster that goes 0 to 60 in 4 seconds while getting the equivalent of 135 mpg on a charge that lasts 250 miles. The Tesla Roadster ain't cheap ($89k), but Tesla Motors has a master plan. Elon Musk explains (via John Robb):
As you know, the initial product of Tesla Motors is a high performance electric sports car called the Tesla Roadster. However, some readers may not be aware of the fact that our long term plan is to build a wide range of models, including affordably priced family cars. This is because the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which I believe to be the primary, but not exclusive, sustainable solution.
Critical to making that happen is an electric car without compromises, which is why the Tesla Roadster is designed to beat a gasoline sports car like a Porsche or Ferrari in a head to head showdown. Then, over and above that fact, it has twice the energy efficiency of a Prius. Even so, some may question whether this actually does any good for the world. Are we really in need of another high performance sports car? Will it actually make a difference to global carbon emissions?
Well, the answers are no and not much. However, that misses the point, unless you understand the secret master plan alluded to above. Almost any new technology initially has high unit cost before it can be optimized and this is no less true for electric cars. The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.
Without giving away too much, I can say that the second model will be a sporty four door family car at roughly half the $89k price point of the Tesla Roadster and the third model will be even more affordable. In keeping with a fast growing technology company, all free cash flow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow on products to market as fast as possible. When someone buys the Tesla Roadster sports car, they are actually helping pay for development of the low cost family car. [...]
I wouldn’t recommend them as a dessert topping, but the Tesla Motors Lithium-Ion cells are not classified as hazardous and are landfill safe. However, dumping them in the trash would be throwing money away, since the battery pack can be sold to recycling companies (unsubsidized) at the end of its greater than 100,000-mile design life. Moreover, the battery isn’t dead at that point, it just has less range. [...]
Note the term hybrid as applied to cars currently on the road is a misnomer. They are really just gasoline powered cars with a little battery assistance and, unless you are one of the handful who have an aftermarket hack, the little battery has to be charged from the gasoline engine. Therefore, they can be considered simply as slightly more efficient gasoline powered cars. If the EPA certified mileage is 55 mpg, then it is indistinguishable from a non-hybrid that achieves 55 mpg. As a friend of mine says, a world 100% full of Prius drivers is still 100% addicted to oil. [...]
I should mention that Tesla Motors will be co-marketing sustainable energy products from other companies along with the car. For example, among other choices, we will be offering a modestly sized and priced solar panel from SolarCity, a photovoltaics company (where I am also the principal financier). This system can be installed on your roof in an out of the way location, because of its small size, or set up as a carport and will generate about 50 miles per day of electricity.
If you travel less than 350 miles per week, you will therefore be "energy positive" with respect to your personal transportation. [...]
So, in short, the master plan is:
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
Don’t tell anyone.
Wow! There's lots more at the Tesla Motors site: specs and images of the roadster, energy calculations, engineering discussion, etc. Amazing stuff.
The roadster's a rich man's toy, but the goal is to have a reasonably-priced family car reasonably soon. They'll sell you the car and a solar panel to charge it with. Sweet. Wonder if they'll take my Prius in trade?
|Flattening Beirut||Palestine/Middle East|
Seen from this remove it's bad enough, but then you think of all the lives shattered or ended by the destruction, you imagine the screams, the smells, the horror and fear. These are real events happening to real people. Imagine what that must be like. What if this were your neighborhood?
|Widening The War||Palestine/Middle East Politics|
Robert Parry reviews the evidence that the Bush/Cheney regime has wanted to use Israel's attack on Lebanon to widen the war and go after Syria, Iran, or both:
George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah as an opportunity to expand the conflict into Syria and possibly achieve a long-sought "regime change" in Damascus, but Israel's leadership balked at the scheme, according to Israeli sources.
One Israeli source said Bush's interest in spreading the war to Syria was considered "nuts" by some senior Israeli officials, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has generally shared Bush's hard-line strategy against Islamic militants. [...]
In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post hinted at the Israeli rejection of Bush's suggestion of a wider war in Syria. "Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria," the newspaper reported.
On July 18, Consortiumnews.com reported that the Israel-Lebanon conflict had revived the Bush administration's neoconservative hopes that a new path had opened "to achieve a prized goal that otherwise appeared to be blocked for them – military assaults on Syria and Iran aimed at crippling those governments." [...]
Though the immediate conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was touched off by a Hezbollah cross-border raid on July 12 that captured two Israeli soldiers, the longer-term U.S.-Israeli strategy can be traced back to the May 23, 2006, meetings between Olmert and Bush in Washington.
At those meetings, Olmert discussed with Bush Israel's plans for revising its timetable for setting final border arrangements with the Palestinians, putting those plans on the back burner while moving the Iranian nuclear program to the front burner.
In effect, Olmert informed Bush that 2006 would be the year for stopping Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb and 2007 would be the year for redrawing Israel's final borders. That schedule fit well with Bush's priorities, which may require some dramatic foreign policy success before the November congressional elections.
At a joint press conference with Bush on May 23, Olmert said "this is a moment of truth" for addressing Iran's alleged ambitions to build a nuclear bomb.
"The Iranian threat is not only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire world," Olmert said. "The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and a long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state." [...]
In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Olmert added that the possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon was "an existential threat" to Israel, meaning that Israel believed its very existence was in danger. [...]
By spring 2006, Bush was reportedly weighing military options for bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. But the President encountered resistance from senior levels of the U.S. military, which feared the consequences, including the harm that might come to more than 130,000 U.S. troops bogged down in neighboring Iraq.
There was also alarm among U.S. generals over the White House resistance to removing tactical nuclear weapons as an option against Iran. [...]
[A former senior intelligence official] said the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they're shouted down," the ex-official said.
By late April, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.
"Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," one former senior intelligence official said. [...]
One interpretation of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict is that Bush and Olmert seized on the Hezbollah raid as a pretext for a pre-planned escalation that will lead to bombing campaigns against Syria and Iran, justified by their backing of Hezbollah.
In that view, Bush found himself stymied by U.S. military objections to targeting Iran's nuclear facilities outside any larger conflict. However, if the bombing of Iran develops as an outgrowth of a tit-for-tat expansion of a war in which Israel's existence is at stake, strikes against Iranian targets would be more palatable to the American public.
The end game would be U.S.-Israeli aerial strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities with the goal of crippling its nuclear program and humiliating Ahmadinejad. [...]
Washington Post foreign policy analyst Robin Wright wrote that U.S. officials told her that "for the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East." [...]
Another school of thought holds that Iran may have encouraged the Hezbollah raid that sparked the Lebanese-Israeli conflict as a way to demonstrate the "asymmetrical warfare" that could be set in motion if the Bush administration attacks Iran.
But Hezbollah's firing of rockets as far as the port city of Haifa, deep inside Israel, has touched off new fears among Israelis and their allies about the danger of more powerful missiles carrying unconventional warheads, possibly hitting heavily populated areas, such as Tel Aviv.
That fear of missile attacks by Islamic extremists dedicated to Israel's destruction has caused Israel to start "dusting off it nukes," one source told me. [Emphasis added]
These guys are self-destructively reckless gamblers. Unfortunately, it's not just them who gets hurt.
|Gonzales: Gitmo Prisoners Can Be Held "Indefinitely"||Rights, Law|
How long can the US continue to hold Gitmo prisoners without charge or trial? AG Gonzales still says forever. AFP:
US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the US government could "indefinitely" hold foreign "enemy combatants" at sites like the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"We can detain any combatants for the duration of the hostilities," said Gonzales, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"If we choose to try them, that's great. If we don't choose to try them, we can continue to hold them," he said. [...]
A Supreme Court ruling last month declared that government of President George W. Bush had overstepped his authority in forming military commissions to try detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
That authority, the court said, belongs to Congress, and the Senate committee is now hearing testimony on how the Guantanamo prisoners should be dealt with. [...]
The Washington Post, quoting anonymous Bush administration officials, reported Wednesday that the White House also hopes to allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to the military court's jurisdiction.
Senators did not question Gonzales directly about this, though the attorney general gave assurances that no US citizen would face these courts. [Emphasis added]
The US government can imprison people without charge or trial and hold them for the "duration of hostilities" in a war without end.
What's astonishing is how quickly we Americans have grown accustomed to this insanity. We let them get away with it, then we wonder what's happened to our country. They will continue to grab power and take away our rights until we stop them. It's that simple.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
More serious newspapers in Israel are now starting to question their government's actions in Lebanon. The critics say Israel leaders underestimated the strength of the enemy, didn't have a well thought-out military plan, and may have gotten them bogged down in a quagmire fighting a guerrilla war in a foreign country. Well, thank god our leaders would never let anything like that happen. — Jay Leno
August 02, 2006
|Will Carbon Sequestration Save Us?||Energy Environment Peak Oil|
Oil's about to peak, but we've still got lots of coal, and coal, unfortunately, will become the path of least resistance. All that coal means lots more carbon in the atmosphere. Unless we can bury the CO2, permanently — so-called carbon sequestration.
For every tonne of anthracite [coal] burned, 3.7 tonnes of CO2 is generated. If this voluminous waste could be pumped back into the ground below the power station it would not matter as much, but the rocks that produce coal are not often useful for storing CO2, which means that the gas much be transported. In the case of Australia's Hunter Valley coal mines, for example, it needs to be conveyed over Australia's Great Dividing Range and hundreds of kilometres to the west.
Once the CO2 arrives at its destination it must be compressed into a liquid so it can be injected into the ground — a step that typically consumes 20 per cent of the energy yielded by burning coal in the first place. Then a kilometre-deep hole must be drilled and the CO2 injected. From that day on, the geological formation must be closely monitored; should the gas ever escape, it has the potential to kill.
The largest recent disaster caused by CO2 occurred in 1986, in Cameroon, central Africa. A volcanic crater-lake known as Nyos belched bubbles of CO2 into the still night air and the gas settled around the lake's shore, where it killed 1800 people and countless thousands of animals.
Earth's crust is not a purpose-built vessel for holding CO2, and the storage must last thousands of years so the risk of leak must be taken seriously.
Even the volume of CO2 generated by a sparsely populated country such as Australia beggars belief. Imagine a pile of 200-litre drums, ten kilometres long and five across, stacked ten drums high. Even when compressed to liquid form, that daily output would take up a cubic kilometre, and Australia accounts for less than 2 per cent of global emissions! Imagine injecting 50 cubic kilometre of liquid CO2 into the Earth's crust every day of the year for the next century or two.
If geosequestration were to be practised on the scale needed to offset all the emissions from coal, the world would very quickly run out of A-grade reservoirs near power stations and, especially if the power companies are not liable for damages resulting from leaks, pressure would be on to utilise B, C, D and E grade reservoirs.
As always when it comes to world energy usage, the fundamental issue is a question of scale. 50 cubic kilometers a day, every day, 'til the coal runs out. And it's got to stay buried. What are the chances?
|Political Science||Humor & Fun Politics Rights, Law|
Good old Onion:
Bush Grants Self Permission To Grant More Power To Self
WASHINGTON, DC — In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.
"I promise the American people that I will not abuse this new power, unless it becomes necessary to grant myself the power to do so at a later time." [...]
"In a time of war, the president must have the power he needs to make the tough decisions, including, if need be, the decision to grant himself even more power," Bush said. "To do otherwise would be playing into the hands of our enemies."
About sums it up.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush spent hours talking about a possible solution to the Mid East crisis until staffers had to pull him aside and say, "Mr. President, that's Taylor Hicks. Prime Minster Blair is still outside waiting." — Jay Leno
This Taylor Hicks. You know who he is? He's the big "American Idol" winner, and he won by 4 million votes more than President Bush won his election. Coincidentally, so did Al Gore. — David Letterman
August 01, 2006
|A Reality-Check From Jimmy Carter||Palestine/Middle East|
Jimmy Carter in today's Washington Post:
It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will blame Hamas and Hezbollah for provoking the devastating response. The result instead has been that broad Arab and worldwide support has been rallied for these groups, while condemnation of both Israel and the United States has intensified. [...]
[E]ven if the U.N. Security Council adopts and implements a resolution that would lead to [a cessation of hostilities], it will provide just another band-aid and temporary relief. Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.
Leaders on both sides ignore strong majorities that crave peace, allowing extremist-led violence to preempt all opportunities for building a political consensus. Traumatized Israelis cling to the false hope that their lives will be made safer by incremental unilateral withdrawals from occupied areas, while Palestinians see their remnant territories reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded by a provocative "security barrier" that embarrasses Israel's friends and that fails to bring safety or stability.
The general parameters of a long-term, two-state agreement are well known. There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this troubled region as long as Israel is violating key U.N. resolutions, official American policy and the international "road map" for peace by occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians. Except for mutually agreeable negotiated modifications, Israel's official pre-1967 borders must be honored. [...]
A major impediment to progress is Washington's strange policy that dialogue on controversial issues will be extended only as a reward for subservient behavior and will be withheld from those who reject U.S. assertions. Direct engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority and the government in Damascus will be necessary if secure negotiated settlements are to be achieved. [Emphasis added]
It's a measure of how far right the country has moved, and how narrow the limits of acceptable discourse have become, that a reasoned critique by Jimmy Carter — former US president, Nobel Peace laureate (and Trilateral Commission member, for heaven's sake) — seems like something way out there on the liberal fringe.
|Have A Nice Day||Politics|
Billmon on the possibility that the Dems may regain control of the House (and maybe even the Senate) this fall:
More and more, I've come to believe the Dems are insane for even wanting a share of the responsibility for running this out-of-control madhouse of a country. It's like being invited to grab hold of a downed high-voltage power line.
As for those of us who still think of ourselves as progressives, the question is this: Is it really worth swallowing so much shit to see John Conyers become the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee? After watching our purported opposition party's disgraceful foreign policy performance, first in Iraq and now in Lebanon, I've finally come to the conclusion that it isn't.
I used to argue that progressives in this country had no choice but to support the Democrats — even pathetic frauds like Howard Dean and inept Thurston Howell III clones like John Kerry. I used to quote Frederick Douglas's despairing comment about what the Republican Party of his day represented for African Americans: the rock; all else is the sea.
Maybe that was true, once. But I've finally come to realize that in modern-day America there is no rock — just a vast, featureless expanse of reactionary ocean, like something from the set of Waterworld, except without a gilled Kevin Costner.
So here's my confession: At this point I really don't give a flying fuck whether the Democrats take the House or the Senate back. No, wait, that's not true. The truth is I hope they don't. It wouldn't save us from what's coming down the road, in the Middle East and elsewhere. It wouldn't force President Psychopath to change course or seek therapy. But it would make sure that the "left" (ha ha ha) gets more than its fair share of blame for the approaching debacle.
That may well be the natural role of the Democratic Party in our one-and-a-half party system, but I don't want any part of it any more. [...]
For the rest of us, and for whatever is left of this country's soul, it doesn't really matter. We've already lost. [Emphasis added]
Not exactly cheerful, but I take his point. There is such a shit-storm headed our way; this is no time to be reaching out for a share of the blame. And it's not like Democratic control of the House is going to usher in some kind of progressive renaissance: Democrats today are what Republicans used to be before Reagan. They only look liberal when you stand them next to the crazies across the aisle.
The problem is that the Democrats are portrayed as "the left", so anything that discredits them discredits everybody to the left of them, only more so.
Not that I think the Democrats will regain control anyway. Not while there's e-voting.
Thanks to the generosity of GOP donors, a Green Party candidate is expected to make it onto the ballot in Pennsylvania's Senate race and siphon votes from Democratic front-runner Bob Casey in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.
While Santorum said Monday that he would welcome another candidate on the ballot, Casey's campaign accused Republicans of "trying to steal the election."
Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, making his first bid for statewide elective office, acknowledged Monday that Republican contributors probably supplied most of the $100,000 that he said he spent gathering signatures to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot. [...]
"I have friends in all political parties. It's just that my Republican friends are more confident about standing with me than my Democratic friends. And as a group, my Republican friends are a little better off," he said in a telephone interview. [Emphasis added]
I'm all for Green Party candidacies, but if you're going to take GOP money at least don't pretend that the donations have any purpose other than taking votes away from the Democratic candidate. Yes, it's politics, and politicians lie, but Greens are supposed to be better than that. Otherwise, what's the point?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush hosted the "American Idol" finalists in the Oval Office. Well sure, there's not really anything else going on. Bush is very, very busy. Tomorrow he meets with the Pirates of the Caribbean. — David Letterman