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February 28, 2007

Maybe Coulda Rights, Law

Some legal decisions make your head spin. Case in point (Mojo):

In 2004, two Florida adolescents — 16-year-old Amber and 17-year-old Jeremy — took digital photos of themselves nude and engaged in some sort of sexual contact. They then sent the photos from a computer at Amber's house to Jeremy's email address. Somehow, the Tallahassee police got possession of the photos, and both Amber and Jeremy were arrested and charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Jeremy was also charged with possession of child pornography.

Amber appealed the charge, believing she had the law on her side. In 1995, a Florida court ruled that two 16-year-olds could not be found delinquent for having sex with each other. Since Amber was engaged in legal sex, she and her attorney reasoned that the police had violated her guaranteed right to privacy. [...]

This month, a Florida Appeals Court voted 2-1 to uphold the charge against Amber. Writing for the majority, Judge James R. Wolf, speculated that both Amber and Jeremy could have eventually sold the photos to child pornographers or shown them to friends. He also said that transferring the digital images from a camera to a computer and then sending them via email created "innumerable problems" because the computers could be hacked. [Emphasis added]

So, ownership of a perfectly legal photo that you could, in some hypothetical future scenario, use for an illegal purpose or that could, through no fault of your own, fall into the hands of persons unknown who could use it for an illegal purpose — that makes you guilty of a crime. Morons.

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Windows For Warships Science/Technology

What's wrong with this picture? The Register (via Bruce Schneier):

The Type 45 destroyers now being launched [by the Royal Navy] will run Windows for Warships: and that's not all. The attack submarine Torbay has been retrofitted with Microsoft-based command systems, and as time goes by the rest of the British submarine fleet will get the same treatment, including the Vanguard class (V class). The V boats carry the UK's nuclear weapons and are armed with Trident ICBMs, tipped with multiple H-bomb warheads. [Emphasis added]

Nuclear weapons controlled by Windows boxes. Talk about nuclear terror.

But weapons system software gets thoroughly tested and debugged before deployment — right? The Register again:

Significant new capabilities have been added to the US Air Force's latest superfighter, the F-22 "Raptor". The USAF's Raptors cost more than $300m each, and are generally thought to be the most advanced combat jets in service worldwide. However, until recently they were unable to cross the international date line owing to a software bug in their navigation systems.

A group of F-22s heading across the Pacific for exercises in Japan earlier this month suffered simultaneous total nav-console crashes as their longitude shifted from 180 degrees West to 180 East.

Luckily, the superjets were accompanied by tanker planes, whose navigation kit was somewhat less bleeding-edge and remained functional. The tanker drivers were able to guide the lost top-guns back to Hawaii and the exercises were postponed. [Emphasis added]

It's funny, but it's not funny. Not at all, when you consider that the whole world's wired with weapons of mass destruction under software control. Are we nuts?

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Congratulations to Al Gore. His movie won an Oscar. Today it got reversed by the Supreme Court. Al Gore announced last night that for the first time, the Academy Awards had a green theme. Which is not really true. It's always had a green theme — money and envy. — Jay Leno

I was listening to the news in the back. This just in: President Bush just promised we will be out of the Academy Awards by 2010. — David Letterman

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February 27, 2007

The Poor Get Poorer Economy

During the Bush years, the fastest growing segment of the US population has been people living in extreme poverty. McClatchy:

The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high, millions of working Americans are falling closer to the poverty line and the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 - half the federal poverty line - was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005....The review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to suburban and rural areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty - the highest rate since at least 1975.

The share of poor Americans in deep poverty has climbed slowly but steadily over the last three decades. But since 2000, the number of severely poor has grown "more than any other segment of the population," according to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began," said Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the study. "We're not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we're seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty."

The growth spurt, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also suggests that social programs aren't as effective as they once were at catching those who fall into economic despair.

About one in three severely poor people are under age 17, and nearly two out of three are female. Female-headed families with children account for a large share of the severely poor.

According to census data, nearly two of three people in severe poverty are white (10.3 million) and 6.9 million are non-Hispanic whites. Severely poor blacks (4.3 million) are more than three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be in deep poverty, while extremely poor Hispanics of any race (3.7 million) are more than twice as likely.

Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, has a higher concentration of severely poor people - 10.8 percent in 2005 - than any of the 50 states, topping even hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana, with 9.3 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively. Nearly six of 10 poor District residents are in extreme poverty. [Emphasis added]

Bush gets most of the little support he has left from people who think of themselves as Christians. He and they might want to go back and read what Jesus actually said about caring for the poorest of the poor. Matthew 25:31-46, for instance.

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Are We Being Played? Iraq  Politics

Digby had an interesting post yesterday on ways the Senate Dems are soft-pedaling Iraq, supposedly out of fear that Joe Lieberman will jump to the GOP, thereby ending the Democratic majority and (supposedly) putting the Republicans in control of Senate committees.

Except for one thing. As Digby points out, WaPo and MediaMatters have reported that the current Senate's organizing rules don't require the Democrats to relinquish control if they lose their majority. To regain control, the Republicans would have to pass new organizing rules, something that the Dems could — and presumably would — filibuster.

It's hard not to conclude, therefore, that Lieberman is being used as a convenient excuse by timid Senate Democrats who don't want to stick their necks out on Iraq. Yes, politics is a devious game, but there's a war on. The country needs principled and decisive action, not phony political theater.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

It's Oscar weekend. Among the Best Picture nominees is "Letters from Iwo Jima," which is a gut-wrenching tragedy about an army sent to die in a hopeless cause by a fanatical government. Or, as George Bush calls it, "the feel-good comedy of the year." — Bill Maher

You all ready for the Oscars? Al Gore is expected to win for his documentary on global warming. I hope he includes President Bush in the acceptance speech. I mean, without President Bush, we probably wouldn't have a lot of this global warming. — Jay Leno

Sunday are the Academy Awards. How about Al Gore? That movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," has been nominated for two Academy Awards. It's all about the environment. I can't think of anything better for the environment than an event which features 2,000 stretch limos. — David Letterman

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February 26, 2007

Mutiny? Iran

The Sunday Times [UK] reports that a number of US generals and admirals are ready to resign their posts if the White House orders an attack on Iran:

Some of America's most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

"There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran," a source with close ties to British intelligence said. "There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible."

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. "All the generals are perfectly clear that they don't have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

"There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations."

A generals' revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. "American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired," said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that it would not "be right to take military action against Iran". [...]

A second US navy aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS John C Stennis arrived in the Gulf last week, doubling the US presence there. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, warned: "The US will take military action if ships are attacked or if countries in the region are targeted or US troops come under direct attack."

But General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said recently there was "zero chance" of a war with Iran. He played down claims by US intelligence that the Iranian government was responsible for supplying insurgents in Iraq, forcing Bush on the defensive.

Pace's view was backed up by British intelligence officials who said the extent of the Iranian government's involvement in activities inside Iraq by a small number of Revolutionary Guards was "far from clear".

Hillary Mann, the National Security Council's main Iran expert until 2004, said Pace's repudiation of the administration's claims was a sign of grave discontent at the top.

"He is a very serious and a very loyal soldier," she said. "It is extraordinary for him to have made these comments publicly, and it suggests there are serious problems between the White House, the National Security Council and the Pentagon."

Mann fears the administration is seeking to provoke Iran into a reaction that could be used as an excuse for an attack. A British official said the US navy was well aware of the risks of confrontation and was being "seriously careful" in the Gulf.

The US air force is regarded as being more willing to attack Iran. General Michael Moseley, the head of the air force, cited Iran as the main likely target for American aircraft at a military conference earlier this month. [Emphasis added]

If there's one thing the military's good at, it's taking orders. For a significant number of senior military officers to decide that "duty, honor, country" compel their resignations, they'd have to conclude that what they were being asked to do was unprecedented in its recklessness. It would be a unique moment in US history: an open break between senior military officers and their civilian leaders, with the military coming down on the side of sanity and prudence.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Q. Why are there no Republicans on Star Trek? A. Because it's set in the future. — Will Durst

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February 25, 2007

Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

A guy was kicked off a flight for wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt. When he refused to take off the shirt or change the shirt, they kicked him off the plane. Here's the scary thing: it turns out he was the pilot for Air Force One. — Jay Leno

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February 24, 2007

Everlasting Shame Iraq

Iraqi blogger Riverbend, who had not been heard from for a while, writes a heart-breaking post from Baghdad:

It takes a lot to get the energy and resolution to blog lately. I guess it's mainly because just thinking about the state of Iraq leaves me drained and depressed. But I had to write tonight.

As I write this, Oprah is on Channel 4 (one of the MBC channels we get on Nilesat), showing Americans how to get out of debt. Her guest speaker is telling a studio full of American women who seem to have over-shopped that they could probably do with fewer designer products. As they talk about increasing incomes and fortunes, Sabrine Al-Janabi, a young Iraqi woman, is on Al Jazeera telling how Iraqi security forces abducted her from her home and raped her. You can only see her eyes, her voice is hoarse and it keeps breaking as she speaks. In the end she tells the reporter that she can't talk about it anymore and she covers her eyes with shame.

She might just be the bravest Iraqi woman ever. Everyone knows American forces and Iraqi security forces are raping women (and men), but this is possibly the first woman who publicly comes out and tells about it using her actual name. Hearing her tell her story physically makes my heart ache. Some people will call her a liar. Others (including pro-war Iraqis) will call her a prostitute — shame on you in advance. [...]

They abducted her from her house in an area in southern Baghdad called Hai Al Amil. No — it wasn't a gang. It was Iraqi peace keeping or security forces — the ones trained by Americans? You know them. She was brutally gang-raped and is now telling the story. Half her face is covered for security reasons or reasons of privacy. I translated what she said below.

"I told him, 'I don't have anything [I did not do anything].' He said, 'You don't have anything?' One of them threw me on the ground and my head hit the tiles. He did what he did — I mean he raped me. The second one came and raped me. The third one also raped me. [Pause — sobbing] I begged them and cried, and one of them covered my mouth. [Unclear, crying] Another one of them came and said, 'Are you finished? We also want our turn.' So they answered, 'No, an American committee came.' They took me to the judge.

Anchorwoman: Sabrine Al Janabi said that one of the security forces videotaped/photographed her and threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the rape. Another officer raped her after she saw the investigative judge. [...]

[Sabrine:] [Crying] He picked up a black hose, like a pipe. He hit me on the thigh. [Crying] I told him, 'What do you want from me? Do you want me to tell you rape me? But I can't... I'm not one of those ***** [Prostitutes] I don't do such things.' So he said to me, 'We take what we want and what we don't want we kill. That’s that.' [Sobbing] I can't anymore... please, I can't finish."

I look at this woman and I can't feel anything but rage. What did we gain? I know that looking at her, foreigners will never be able to relate. They'll feel pity and maybe some anger, but she's one of us. She’s not a girl in jeans and a t-shirt so there will only be a vague sort of sympathy. Poor third-world countries — that is what their womenfolk tolerate. Just know that we never had to tolerate this before. There was a time when Iraqis were safe in the streets. That time is long gone. We consoled ourselves after the war with the fact that we at least had a modicum of safety in our homes. Homes are sacred, aren't they? That is gone too. [...]

And yet, as the situation continues to deteriorate both for Iraqis inside and outside of Iraq, and for Americans inside Iraq, Americans in America are still debating on the state of the war and occupation — are they winning or losing? Is it better or worse.

Let me clear it up for any moron with lingering doubts: It's worse. It's over. You lost. You lost the day your tanks rolled into Baghdad to the cheers of your imported, American-trained monkeys. You lost every single family whose home your soldiers violated. You lost every sane, red-blooded Iraqi when the Abu Ghraib pictures came out and verified your atrocities behind prison walls as well as the ones we see in our streets. You lost when you brought murderers, looters, gangsters and militia heads to power and hailed them as Iraq's first democratic government. You lost when a gruesome execution was dubbed your biggest accomplishment. You lost the respect and reputation you once had. You lost more than 3000 troops. That is what you lost America. I hope the oil, at least, made it worthwhile. [Emphasis added]

There was a time when we were told the American occupation of Iraq would improve the lot of Iraq's women. Do you remember? A particularly grotesque and bitter lie in the long list of lies. We are fools if we think there won't be consequences — for years, decades, generations to come.

These are real events, happening to real people. It's unspeakable. Shame on us. Everlasting shame.

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Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

I know you're saying to yourselves where is Vice President Dick Cheney. Right now he's in Tokyo, taking part in a pep rally for United States troops. Because when you think Dick Cheney, you think pep. — David Letterman

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February 23, 2007

Friday Fun Humor & Fun

Stunning Trompe l'oeil pavement art.

[Via AmericaBlog]

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 09:24 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Yesterday, the British government announced they're going to begin pulling their troops out of Iraq. Of course, it could take them a while because they're flying home on JetBlue. Denmark and Lithuania have also announced that they're pulling their troops from Iraq. Actually, it's just one guy who's half Danish and half Lithuanian. — Conan O'Brien

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February 22, 2007

Recycling: Incentives Needed Economy  Environment  Politics

How are Americans doing at recycling plastic bottles? The answer is disappointing. Andrew Leonard, at Salon:

In 1995, nearly 40 percent of all plastic PET bottles sold in the United States were recycled. Ten years later, in 2005, the figure was only 23 percent.

The vast majority of water and plastic soda bottles consumed in the world are made of PET, aka polyethylene terephthalate. And perhaps contrary to expectations, this is one petroleum byproduct that is eminently recyclable. Indeed, and here's a second baffling peculiarity, producers of ground-up recycled PET "flake" cannot keep up with demand. Prices per pound are strong, propelled by Chinese buyers who will buy all the flake or bales of flattened bottles that they can get, to turn into pseudo-polyester and other materials.

So, we are recycling a smaller percentage of plastic bottles than 10 years ago, and yet supply of what is lovingly referred to as "post-consumer PET" can't keep up with demand. What's wrong with this picture? Why hasn't the market solved this problem?

The answer to the first question turns out to be simple. A handy chart provided by the National Association for PET Container Resources reveals that in 1995, the U.S. recycled 775 million pounds of PET bottles, out of a total of 1.95 billion pounds of bottles estimated to be on retail shelves. The actual total poundage recycled over the next 10 years stayed more or less the same, albeit finally beginning to tick up steadily in 2004. But the total amount of bottles produced more than doubled, jumping to nearly 5 billion pounds by 2005. Those of us who do recycle aren't necessarily recycling less as the years go by, we just haven't been able to keep up with the deluge.

But now that we've answered the first question, there's still the second. With so many bottles available to be recycled, why can't we satisfy demand? One reason is that we don't have enough installed capacity to clean the bottles and chop them up into flakes. But another is that voluntary programs for recycling plastic don't appear to work too well. Maybe most people are like me, and didn't realize until today how recyclable the bottles are. Or maybe they don't live in one of the 11 states that mandate refundable deposits for PET bottles.

Because if you want to know why PET bottle recycling rates started to rise again in recent years, the answer appears to be simple: California. In 2004, California enacted a law that increased redemption values for PET containers. As a result, PET recycling in California surged.

Strange: Legislation and financial incentives make a difference! If government properly sets up a system that encourages people, whether you, me or the neighborhood poacher, to ferret out those bottles and turn them in, we can reduce landfill waste and clean up our neighborhoods. [Emphasis added]

The free market, all by itself, won't protect the environment. Regulation is needed — which means government regulation.

Give people an incentive, and they'll do the right thing. Providing that incentive just requires political will. What are we waiting for?

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Model Airplane Magic Science/Technology

Fun video of a battery-powered model airplane. Amazing what some people can do:

[Via LongTail]

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Did you all have a nice Presidents' Day Monday? President Bush marked the occasion in his usual way — by ignoring the other two branches of government. — Jay Leno

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February 21, 2007

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

With about 70 candidates running for President it seems George Bush has convinced the country that pretty much anybody can do the job. — Will Durst

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February 20, 2007

Global Warming Tied To Marine Dead Zones Environment

A year ago last August, we noted a story about a marine dead zone caused by unusually warm waters off the coast of Oregon. At the time, scientists were reluctant to blame global warming. Enough evidence has accumulated in the interim, however, that marine scientists are now blaming global warming for similar dead zones occurring in many places around the world. Guardian:

A few months ago, the clear blue Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon suddenly turned a thick greenish brown. A swell of nutrients produced a bizarre blooming of plankton that reached levels never seen before by scientists. Then the plankton died and sank, causing oxygen levels in the water to plummet to zero.

The living ocean was transformed into a dead zone. Scientists conducted a submarine survey and found only the bodies of crabs and marine worms scattered across the ocean floor. There were no signs of any fish. Nothing had survived the cataclysm.

Nor has this been the only such disaster to strike a marine ecosystem in recent years. As scientists reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco yesterday, unprecedented changes to ocean currents are having a devastating effect on finely balanced marine ecosystems all over the globe. Similar upheavals have been recorded in other parts of the world, particularly off South America and Africa.

Marine researchers are convinced the evidence points to one culprit: global warming. Man-made changes to the climate are throwing previously predictable seasonal winds out of kilter. 'We finger the winds as the important culprit, but we do not know definitively why these winds are changing,' said Professor Jane Lubchenco from Oregon State University. 'However, we know the changes are what would be expected under climate change scenarios, and climate change is a viable hypothesis. We should expect more surprises.'

Seasonal winds blowing across the sea affect ocean currents by pushing away surface water, which is then replaced by colder water from below. But warmer land temperatures result in higher pressures and stronger winds, which in turn have an impact on currents, said the scientists. Normally these effects were predictable, but recently the system had become unstable and volatile — a pattern that mirrors climate change models. 'Wild fluctuations in the intensity of ocean upwellings are wreaking havoc with ecosystems,' added Lubchenco. 'We're seeing extreme distortions on both sides of the norm. This is a system that is out of kilter. It's fluctuating rapidly.'

Up to five decades of data have shown that these events were unprecedented, she said, pointing out that similar ocean current disruption had been seen in other regions, particularly off Peru, Chile and parts of Africa.

Last year's ecosystem collapse on the Oregon coast was the second to strike there in as many years. In 2005, a nutrient-rich ocean current that normally appears off northern California and Oregon in spring was delayed by a month. This led to a loss of plankton, the microscopic plant organisms upon which larger animals depend for food. Salmon, which normally take to the sea at this time, starved. The effects rippled through the food web as predators, including sea birds, went hungry and died. Huge numbers of dead birds washed up on the shores.

'Beaches were littered with the bodies of dead sea birds,' said Dr Julia Parrish, from the University of Washington in Seattle. Many of the starving survivors have been unable to breed since then, she added.

Then, a year later, in 2006, the dead zone appeared and remained for nearly 17 weeks. 'It grew to an area the size of the state of Ohio and lasted much longer than we thought would be possible, from something that we tracked day to day for months on end,' said Dr Francis Chan, from Oregon State University in Corvallis. 'It went from a low-oxygen system to a no-oxygen system. This had a dramatic effect on marine life.' [Emphasis added]

The climate is a highly nonlinear system, with lots of built-in, potentially self-reinforcing feedback loops, so changes can be sudden and dramatic — on the scale of years or decades, not centuries. Our brains are wired to extrapolate linearly, however, so we expect next year to be pretty much like last year. That works well most of the time, but as turbulence and instability increase it is likely to become dangerously misguided. We will tend to think we have more time than we do. We should expect to be surprised.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

New White House pastry chef William Yosses is author of "Desserts for Dummies." So apparently, he's qualified. — Will Durst

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February 19, 2007

Starving Climate Science Environment  Politics  Science/Technology

From an interview with NASA climatologist Drew Shindell in yesterday's NYT:

Q: As a physicist and climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, you recently testified before Congress about ways in which the Bush administration has tried to prevent you from releasing information on global warming. Can you give us an example? Sure. Press releases about global warming were watered down to the point where you wondered, Why would this capture anyone's interest? Once when I issued a report predicting rapid warming in Antarctica, the press release ended up highlighting, in effect, that Antarctica has a climate.

If your department is that politicized, how does that affect research? Well, five years from now, we will know less about our home planet that we know now. The future does not have money set aside to maintain even the current level of observations. There were proposals for lots of climate-monitoring instruments, most of which have been canceled.

By NASA? Well, it's a NASA decision following the directives from their political leaders. The money has been redirected into the manned space program, primarily.

Are you referring to President Bush and his plan to send Americans to Mars? The moon and Mars, yes. It's fine to do it for national spirit or exploring the cosmos, but the problem is that it comes at the cost of observing and protecting our home planet.

Why is NASA involved in climate research in the first place? There is no federal agency whose primary mission is the climate, and that's a problem, because climate doesn’t command the clout that it should in Washington. Since NASA is the primary agency for launching new scientific satellites, it has ended up collecting some of the most important data on climate change. [...]

Why do you think the federal government has been so phobic about adopting energy-efficiency regulations? "Phobic" is the right word, because it's irrational not to conserve when you think of all the advantages, such as keeping money in consumers' pockets instead of sending it to Middle Eastern countries that hate us. [Emphasis added]

It always seemed a little odd that the Bush White House took an interest in promoting manned spaceflight to Mars and the moon. It seemed out of character.

Pardon my cynicism, but could it just be their way of diverting funding away from research into the inconvenient truth of global climate change? Seems like just the sort of move that Bush, Cheney, and Rove might think was oh so very clever.

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Climate Change And The Future Of The West Economy  Environment  Future

From "The End of the West As We Know It?" by Anatol Lieven (IHT):

Every political, social and economic system ever created has sooner or later encountered a challenge that its very nature has made it incapable of meeting. The Confucian ruling system of imperial China, which lasted for more than 2,000 years, has some claim still to be the most successful in history, but because it was founded on values of stability and continuity, rather than dynamism and inventiveness, it eventually proved unable to survive in the face of Western imperial capitalism.

For market economies, and the Western model of democracy with which they have been associated, the existential challenge for the foreseeable future will be global warming. Other threats like terrorism may well be damaging, but no other conceivable threat or combination of threats can possibly destroy our entire system. As the recent British official commission chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern correctly stated, climate change "is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen."

The question now facing us is whether global capitalism and Western democracy can follow the Stern report's recommendations, and make the limited economic adjustments necessary to keep global warming within bounds that will allow us to preserve our system in a recognizable form; or whether our system is so dependent on unlimited consumption that it is by its nature incapable of demanding even small sacrifices from its present elites and populations.

If the latter proves the case, and the world suffers radically destructive climate change, then we must recognize that everything that the West now stands for will be rejected by future generations. The entire democratic capitalist system will be seen to have failed utterly as a model for humanity and as a custodian of essential human interests.

Even the relatively conservative predictions offered by the Stern report, of a drop in annual global gross domestic product of up to 20 percent by the end of this century, imply a crisis on the scale of the Great Depression of the 1930s; and as we know, the effects of that depression were not restricted to economics. In much of Europe, as well as Latin America and Japan, democracies collapsed and were replaced by authoritarian regimes.

As the report makes clear, however, if we continue with "business as usual" when it comes to the emission of greenhouse gases, then we will not have to wait till the end of the century to see disastrous consequences. Long before then, a combination of floods, droughts and famine will have destroyed states in many poorer parts of the earth — as has already occurred in recent decades in Somalia.

If the conservative estimates of the Stern report are correct, then already by 2050 the effects of climate change may be such as to wreck the societies of Pakistan and Bangladesh; and if these states collapse, how can India and other countries possibly insulate themselves?

At that point, not only will today's obsessive concern with terrorism appear insignificant, but all the democratizing efforts of Western states, and of private individuals and bodies like George Soros and his Open Society Institute, will be rendered completely meaningless. So, of course, will every effort directed today toward the reduction of poverty and disease.

And this is only to examine the likely medium-term consequences of climate change. For the further future, the report predicts that if we continue with business as usual, then the rise in average global temperature could well top 5 degrees Celsius. To judge by what we know of the history of the world's climate, this would almost certainly lead to the melting of the polar ice caps, and a rise in sea levels of up to 25 meters.

As pointed out by Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth," this would mean the end of many of the world's greatest cities. The resulting human migration could be on such a scale as to bring modern civilization to an end.

If this comes to pass, what will our descendants make of a political and media culture that devotes little attention to this threat when compared with sports, consumer goods, leisure and a threat from terrorism that is puny by comparison? Will they remember us as great paragons of human progress and freedom? They are more likely to spit on our graves. [Emphasis added]

The piece makes an essential point, though it could have been made more forcefully: unregulated market capitalism is, by its very nature, incapable of self-restraint, and hence incapable of dealing successfully with an issue like global warming. Capitalism is about the single-minded pursuit of one thing: profit. That single-mindedness is the source of capitalism's dynamism, but it is also, in a world of unregulated markets, going to be the source of capitalism's ultimate undoing. It costs nothing to emit greenhouse gases; it costs money to not emit them. Unless someone can figure out a way to reverse that circumstance, unregulated capitalism will be "successful" the way cancer is successful. It will grow and grow until, in the end, it kills its host.

So capitalism needs to be regulated, to save it from itself, and to save us from it. But a successful worldwide regulatory regime is ultimately going to have to be largely voluntary. Capitalists will have to restrain themselves. They are going to have to not cheat. Unfortunately, buccaneers have always vastly outnumbered saints.

[Thanks, Miles]

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The president's approval is at an all-time low. Say what you want about the guy, but he didn't become president to make friends. He became president because the White House had a bowling alley in the basement. — Jimmy Kimmel

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February 18, 2007

Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

One night, George W. Bush is tossing restlessly in his White House bed. He awakens to see George Washington standing by him Bush asks him, "George, what''s the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Set an honest and honorable example, just as I did," Washington advises, and then fades away...

The next night, Bush is astir again, and sees the ghost of Thomas Jefferson moving through the darkened bedroom. Bush calls out, "Tom, please! What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Respect the Constitution, as I did," Jefferson advises, and dims from sight...

The third night sleep still does not come for Bush. He awakens to see the ghost of FDR hovering over his bed. Bush whispers, "Franklin, What is the best thing I can do to help the country?"

"Help the less fortunate, just as I did," FDR replies and fades into the mist...

Bush isn''t sleeping well the fourth night when he sees another figure moving in the shadows. It is the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Bush pleads, "Abe, what is the best thing I can do right now to help the country?"

Lincoln replies, "Go see a play." — Comedy Central

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February 17, 2007

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Vice President Dick Cheney commented on Congress' efforts to stop additional troops from being sent to Iraq, saying, "You cannot run a war by committee." You run a war by a monkey, a map, and some darts. — Seth Meyers

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February 16, 2007

Happy President's Day Politics

USA Today's founder Al Neuharth, today:

A year ago I criticized Hillary Clinton for saying "this (Bush) administration will go down in history as one of the worst."

"She's wrong," I wrote. Then I rated these five presidents, in this order, as the worst: Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Hoover and Richard Nixon. "It's very unlikely Bush can crack that list," I added.

I was wrong. This is my mea culpa. Not only has Bush cracked that list, but he is planted firmly at the top.

[Via Atrios]

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Gore To Host World's Biggest Party Activism  Environment

Al Gore is promoting a 24-hour worldwide concert July 7 to raise awareness of global warming. MSNBC:

Al Gore, the former vice president and now hit documentary maker, on Thursday added rock promoter to his résumé, announcing plans for a 24-hour concert series on all seven continents to highlight, you guessed it, the dangers of global warming.

With a powerhouse lineup of acts from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dogg to Bon Jovi, what's being called "Live Earth" aims to gather more than 100 of the world's top musicians on July 7 — and attract 2 billion viewers, most of them via television, radio and the Web.

It's easy to view this kind of thing cynically, but I choose not to. I think anything that lets the world's people connect, transcend cultural and political borders, and redirect their energies in a peaceful direction is welcome in a world where so many things push in the opposite direction.

Posted by Jonathan at 03:21 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Bottom Falls Out Of New Housing Starts Economy

The bottom just fell out of starts for new residential construction in the US. For single-family homes, for example, January starts were down 38.9% compared to January a year ago.

Salon's Andrew Leonard spoke to housing economist Dean Baker. Excerpt:

But why are so many analysts willing to declare the bottom has been reached?

"The long and short of it is: You have a lot of people who are anxious to see the turnaround, and looking desperately at single-month data. But I have a hard time seeing the conditions for that. There is still this huge overhang of unsold homes, along with a huge inventory of vacant homes, which is also an indication of possible financial stress. Foreclosures are rising very rapidly."

Baker's reference to foreclosures brought up the second big question about the ultimate ramifications of the housing bust. The collapse of the sub-prime lending sector has led some financial analysts to wonder whether there will be a cascade effect on Wall Street that hurts the investors who have been buying and selling complicated financial instruments — credit derivatives and other exotic fare — that are directly or indirectly tied to the health of the housing sector. Has risk been spread around enough that Wall Street can ride out any storm? Or has the moment of truth for a largely unregulated and opaque system finally arrived?

First Baker speculated that the trouble currently being experienced by sub-prime mortgage lenders will spread into standard loans. If prices continue to fall, many homeowners will be holding mortgages whose value is greater than what they can sell their home for, he said.

"The problem will go well beyond sub-prime. We are going to see higher default rates on standard loans."

That in turn will increase the pressure on institutions and investors who have been speculating on such things as mortgage-backed securities. It won't just be the riskiest bets that blow up in hedge fund investor faces, but even some that were considered "safe."

"But we really don't have any idea how exposed the hedge funds are. No one knows how much they are leveraged. But there must be a lot of people exposed to far more risk than we understand, because you don't get the really high returns [enjoyed by hedge funds] without exposing yourself to a lot of risk."

So what's going to happen?

Dean Baker doesn't know. No one knows!

"We are just shooting in the dark," he conceded. [Emphasis added]

December's warmth caused a unusual amount of building activity, masking the slowdown. January's weather in the US was normal for a January, though, so the January numbers can't be blamed on the weather.

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January Smashes Warmth Record Worldwide Environment

January temperatures in the US were fairly normal, but not worldwide. January temperatures worldwide smashed the previous record for the warmest January on record. AP:

It may be cold comfort during a frigid February, but last month was by far the hottest January [on record]. [...]

Spurred on by unusually warm Siberia, Canada, northern Asia and Europe, the world's land areas were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.9 degrees Celsius) warmer than a normal January, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

That didn't just nudge past the old record set in 2002, but broke that mark by 0.81 degrees Fahrenheit (0.56C), which meteorologists said is a lot, since such records often are broken by hundredths of a degree at a time.

"That's pretty unusual for a record to be broken by that much," said the data center's scientific services chief, David Easterling. "I was very surprised." [...]

The temperature of the world's land and water combined — the most effective measurement — was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85C) warmer than normal, breaking the old record by more than one-quarter of a degree.

Ocean temperatures alone didn't set a record. In the Northern Hemisphere, land areas were 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4C) warmer than normal for January, breaking the old record by about three-quarters of a degree. [...]

The world's temperature record was driven by northern latitudes. Siberia was on average 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5.1C) warmer than normal. Eastern Europe had temperatures averaging 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.55C) above normal. Canada on average was more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.88C) warmer than normal.

Larger increases in temperature farther north, compared to mid-latitudes, is "sort of the global warming signal," Easterling said. [...]

Temperature records break regularly with global warming, Trenberth said, but "with a little bit of El Nino thrown in, you don't just break records, you smash records." [Emphasis added]

Siberia's warmth can't be good news. As we've noted in the past, Siberia's permafrost harbors an enormous amount of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. As the world warms, the permafrost thaws, releasing methane, which warms the world further, causing more methane to be released, etc., etc., in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

As I wrote previously:

The horrifying thing about these feedback loops is that at some point it's no longer going to matter much what we do — the process will have taken on a life of its own, accelerating out of control, leading finally to a new equilibrium in the form of a very different planet from the one we know.

All of which makes our obsessive worrying about the threat of a possible terrorist attack seem grotesquely foolish. Survival depends on accurately assessing and prioritizing threats. But people seem to have a hard time mobilizing against a threat that doesn't have a human face. And of course war-profiteers are a whole lot better at playing the political game than are a bunch of climate scientists and environmentalists. But just imagine if the resources that have gone into selling us the "war on terror" had gone instead into informing us about the really important threats we face.

You often hear people say that dealing with global warming would be too expensive. Yet somehow we never seem to run out of money for war. Odd species, us.

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Supreme Court Justice Scalia's daughter was arrested in Illinois for DUI and child endangerment. She says she's gonna fight it all the way to the Supreme Court. — Jay Leno

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February 15, 2007

Hard To Be This Wrong About Anything Iraq

You really have to work at it to be this wrong. AP:

Some of the planning by Gen. Tommy Franks and other top military officials before the 2003 invasion of Iraq envisioned that as few as 5,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq by December 2006, according to documents obtained by a private research organization.

Slides obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act contain a PowerPoint presentation of what planners projected to be a stable, pro-American and democratic Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. [...]

"First, they assumed that a provisional government would be in place by 'D-Day', then that the Iraqis would stay in their garrisons and be reliable partners, and finally that the post-hostilities phase would be a matter of mere 'months'. All of these were delusions." [Emphasis added]

What a bunch of arrogant, self-deluded fools.

Posted by Jonathan at 05:46 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Pop Goes The Bubble Economy

The housing bubble looks to be popping in earnest: the fourth quarter registered the largest drop in home prices ever recorded. Prices are now falling in more markets than they are rising. CNNMoney:

The slump in home prices was both deeper and more widespread than ever in the fourth quarter, according to a trade group report Thursday.

Prices slumped 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter compared to the fourth quarter of a year earlier, according to the report from the National Association of Realtors. That's the biggest year-over-year drop on record, and follows a 1.0 percent year-over-year decline in the third quarter.

In addition, 73 metropolitan areas reported a decline in the fourth quarter, compared to a year earlier. That outpaced the 71 that saw a gain. It was both a record number and percentage of markets showing a decline in the group's quarterly report. Five markets saw prices unchanged.

That decline was a far more widespread than the third quarter, when only 45 markets reported drops and 102 saw gains, or the second quarter when only 26 saw a year-over-year slump in prices. The national median price was still showing a year-over-year gain in the second quarter.

The most recent median prices are down even more — 3.4 percent, since hitting record highs in the second quarter. Almost three-quarters of the markets, reported on by the group, saw declines in median prices over the last six months, with eight reporting double-digit declines. [...]

The nation's leading home builders have all reported declining prices for new homes, which are not captured in this report. [Emphasis added]

Retail sales are highly correlated with housing prices, so falling housing prices will cause significant ripple effects elsewhere. The resulting economic slowdown will reduce housing demand (and hence housing prices) even further, which will cause further economic slowdown, etc., in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

A year or two ago, lenders were throwing loans at anyone who wanted one. Now they're regretting it. MarketWatch:

Major financial firms like Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan Chase, and HSBC Holdings, which bought large amounts of high-risk, high-return mortgage loans in 2005 and 2006, are now trying to force the firms that originated those loans to buy them back, The Wall Street Journal Online reported. The moves reflect the increasing numbers of Americans who are falling behind in their mortgage payments.

The people who can't make their mortgage payments are going to have to start dumping their homes on the market, creating another feedback effect. It's musical chairs, and the music's stopping. If you've already got a seat, you're happy. Otherwise, not so much.

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In a recent interview, First Lady Laura Bush said that President Bush always forgets Valentine's Day. The First Lady went on to say that unless a holiday has a bunny or a flying reindeer, forget it. — Conan O'Brien

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February 14, 2007

Counting Coup Iran

Not sure what to make of this, but it sure is interesting. From Yossi Melman, intelligence correspondent with Israel's Haaretz:

A commander in Iran's Revolutionary Guards said Wednesday that a commando unit has engraved the military organization's emblem into the side panel of an American warship stationed in the Persian Gulf.

Nur Ali Shushkari, the head of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, told Iranian pro-government news agencies that the symbol was etched onto the ship by the crew of a submarine that had managed to reach the U.S. vessel without detection by radar.

Shushkari did not release specific details about the incident, but claimed that the operation proved that Iranian forces are following American fleet traffic in the region. [Emphasis added]

It's hard to believe Iranian commandos got close enough to a US warship to tag it with grafitti, so you've got to be skeptical. Unless US forces are purposely letting down their guard to invite an attack to trigger a war. Remember the Maine. But if the story's not true, the question becomes: what's it doing in a leading Israeli paper under the byline of a highly experienced intel correspondent? Who's trying to send what message?

And if the story is true? You'd have to give the Iranians props for simply counting coup on the ship and moving on. Iranians: the people who invented chess.

[Thanks, Miles]

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Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

You all watch the Grammys? The Dixie Chicks won five Grammys. I don't want to say President Bush was upset, but today he tried to get the Supreme Court to overturn the ballot results. It only works once. — Jay Leno

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February 13, 2007

Reality Check From Chairman Of Joint Chiefs Iran

One of the ways we confuse ourselves is by carelessly using language that anthropomorphizes inanimate objects or institutions (see General Semantics). If weapons containing materials of Iranian manufacture are discovered in Iraq and people say "Iran is supplying weapons," suddenly it's the entire nation of Iran, or at least its government, that is the culprit. That's sloppy thinking. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs thinks so, too. AP:

A top U.S. general said Tuesday there was no evidence the Iranian government was supplying Iraqi insurgents with highly lethal roadside bombs, apparently contradicting claims by other U.S. military and administration officials.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. forces hunting down militant networks that produced roadside bombs had arrested Iranians and that some of the material used in the devices were made in Iran.

"That does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this," Pace told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. "What it does say is that things made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers." [Emphasis added]

It's a measure of how debased our public discourse has become that when someone in a responsible position manages to say something this level-headed and straight-forwardly rational, it comes as a big breath of fresh air, worthy of comment.

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Happy Birthday to Vice President Dick Cheney. He turned 66 recently. Isn't his annual autopsy coming up soon? — Jay Leno

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February 12, 2007

Housing Shock Waves Economy

Salon reports on signs that the housing bubble is rapidly deflating. In Florida, January tax revenues fell for the third straight month, coming in at $108 million under budget for the month. Sales taxes alone fell $71 million. Sun-Sentinel:

Amy Baker, the coordinator for the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, attributed the drop in sales taxes to a "spillover effect" from a slumping housing market.

With fewer new homes being built and sold, sales of everything from shingles and sheet metal to washers and dryers are suffering, she said. "[That] is having some feedback into sales taxes," Baker said.

Similarly, the Sacramento Bee reported significant January revenue shortfalls in California, "which the state controller blamed on the real estate and construction industries." (Salon)

How big a deal is housing in the overall economy? Check this out. Bloomberg:

"Housing and housing-related employment made up a little over 40 percent of all payroll employment from November 2001 to April 2005," she says. "Employment in residential construction declined in nine out of the 10 months ended January 2007," with 104,000 jobs in residential specialty trade contracting lost since the February 2006 peak, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [Emphasis added]

Housing has been keeping the economy afloat, based on a lending bubble that, like all credit bubbles, could not last. Just three years ago, Alan Greenspan opined that "consumers would benefit if lenders provided more alternatives to traditional fixed-rate mortgages." Adjustable-rate mortgages have one problem, though: they adjust. Not coincidentally, the share price of New Century, the second largest provider of subprime mortgages to the US market, fell 36% on Thursday. The bill is coming due.

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Securing The Homeland Politics

Daft.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In his State of the Union address, President Bush said our economy is on the move. It's moving to India, but hey. — Jay Leno

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February 09, 2007

Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Barack Obama now trying to quit smoking. He's now chewing nicotine gum. Today on the news, they showed him chewing the gum while walking. To which President Bush said, "Show off." — Jay Leno

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February 08, 2007

Reconstructing Evolution Science/Technology

Until recently, biologists have had to infer the process of evolution from evolutionary outcomes. I.e., they could see from the fossil record and by anatomical inference that one form of an organism had evolved into another, but the step-by-step procession through genetic intermediates was unknowable. This lack of detailed evolutionary intermediates left the door open for Intelligent Design proponents who claim that magic must be involved. It was like the familiar cartoon of two scientists examining a blackboard on which the steps of a mathematical proof have been written out: somewhere in the middle of all the steps is one that says "Magic happens here".

Now, however, geneticists have laboratory tools capable of reconstructing the missing links.

A little background: DNA is a set of instructions for building protein molecules, plus associated instructions affecting when and in what quantities the protein molecules get built. I.e., DNA governs the production of proteins, one gene per kind of protein molecule. Changes in DNA lead to changes in proteins, which in turn lead to developmental and metabolic changes in the organism. At the microbiological level, then, evolution is about changes in DNA that produce changes in the structure of protein molecules: in the end, it's about proteins.

A recent paper in Nature describes how new lab techniques are helping biologists reconstruct the step-by-step pathways through a sequence of evolutionary intermediates leading from one protein to another.

To demonstrate how a sequence of mutations could have caused protein A to evolve into protein B, one needs to demonstrate a series of steps that take you from A to B, where each step can arise in a single DNA mutation and each step confers some evolutionary advantage. The latter requirement is crucial, because evolution proceeds by natural selection, weeding out the less advantageous adaptations, allowing the more advantageous adaptations to flourish.

Mike Dunford at Questionable Authority has an interesting post on all this. Dunford describes a recent paper in Science that illustrates this kind of reconstruction. Dunford:

There are some bacteria that have a version of a particular enzyme [a protein] that makes them 100,000 times more resistant to certain antibiotics (like penicillin). We know that there are five differences that separate this version of the enzyme from the basic version, and we know what those mutations are. In theory, if the mutations happened one at a time, there are 120 possible ways that the enzyme could go from the original form to the resistant form. (For example, mutation 1 could have happened first, mutation 2 second, mutation 3 third, mutation 4 fourth, and mutation 5 fifth, or mutation 2 could have happened first, mutation 1 second, mutation 3 third ... or mutation three could have happened first ... and so on until all the possibilities are exhausted.)

Scientists then were able to construct possible intermediate forms of the enzyme — varieties that contained some, but not all 5, of the mutations, and test their resistance to the antibiotic. What they found was that 12 of the 120 possible paths from the original form to the new form increased resistance with every additional mutation. That's pretty cool — it shows that not only could natural selection drive the changes in this enzyme, but also that there are 12 different ways it could have happened. [Emphasis added]

Ideas like Intelligent Design exist at the gaps in our knowledge. Those gaps are closing. Pretty soon, ID proponents will have no ground left on which to stand. Not that that will stop people from believing what they want to believe.

Meanwhile, it's worth nothing that Americans who deny evolution by natural selection are much more likely to be Republican than Democrat. As are people who think the world was created in seven days just a few thousand years ago, and people who think humans and dinosaurs coexisted in the past. I've often wondered how scientifically literate Republicans must feel when they look around at their party and realize who they're in bed with.

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

In Omaha, Nebraska, they are opening what they call "America's first terror-free gas station." The good news? They will only sell petroleum products from countries that like us. The bad news? They only have eight gallons. — Jay Leno

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February 07, 2007

Preemptive Strike? 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iran  Iraq

You know things are bad when former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski starts to sound like the sanest guy in the room. Here's an excerpt from Brzezinski's testimony last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran — though gaining in regional influence — is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the Islamic world. [...]

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture. [Emphasis added]

The section highlighted in red above clearly suggests that the White House may seek to use a terrorist incident as a pretext to push the country into war with Iran. Possibly even that the White House may fabricate such an incident. An amazing suggestion for a national-security insider like Brzezinski to make in open testimony. Draw your own conclusions, but it seems to me that Brzezinski knew exactly what he was doing. It was a prepared statement, and Brzezinski's too careful and experienced an operator not to understand how his words would be taken. Note also the quotation marks around "defensive."

In the Q&A, Brzezinski had more to say along these lines. Barry Grey (via RI):

Following his opening remarks, in response to questions from the senators, Brzezinski reiterated his warning of a provocation.

He called the senators' attention to a March 27, 2006 report in the New York Times on "a private meeting between the president and Prime Minister Blair, two months before the war, based on a memorandum prepared by the British official present at this meeting." In the article, Brzezinski said, "the president is cited as saying he is concerned that there may not be weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, and that there must be some consideration given to finding a different basis for undertaking the action."

He continued: "I'll just read you what this memo allegedly says, according to the New York Times: 'The memo states that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation.'

"He described the several ways in which this could be done. I won't go into that... the ways were quite sensational, at least one of them.

"If one is of the view that one is dealing with an implacable enemy that has to be removed, that course of action may under certain circumstances be appealing. I'm afraid that if this situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, and if Iran is perceived as in some fashion involved or responsible, or a potential beneficiary, that temptation could arise." [Emphasis added]

The "sensational" provocation that Brzezinski alluded to was this (NYT):

"The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours," the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."

As I say, draw your own conclusions, but one has to ask why someone like Brzezinski would want to open this particular can of worms in public. It may have been a sort of preemptive strike: an attempt to create enough suspicion before the fact that the White House would be discouraged from trying to carry out the kinds of provocations Brzezinski warned about.

None of this received any coverage in the major US media.

Posted by Jonathan at 02:19 PM | Comments (2) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Wednesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Congratulations to Vice President Al Gore. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Luckily for Gore, Florida does not vote on this one. — Jay Leno

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February 06, 2007

3100 Iraq

The carnage continues in Iraq.

US troops killed in Iraq as of today: 3101.

 

And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. For what?

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Tuesday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 10:31 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Congress began hearings this week on the government response to Katrina. See, I'm confused. Was there a government response to Katrina? — Jay Leno

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February 05, 2007

45 Nations Unite To Fight Global Warming — Not US Environment

Good news, bad news. Boston Globe:

Forty-five nations answered France's call yesterday for a new environmental body to slow inevitable global warming and protect the planet, perhaps with policing powers to punish violators.

Absent were the world's heavyweight polluter, the United States, and booming nations on the same path as the United States — China and India.

The charge led by President Jacques Chirac of France came a day after the release of an authoritative — and disturbingly grim — scientific report in Paris that said global warming is "very likely" caused by mankind and that climate change will continue for centuries even if heat-trapping gases are reduced.

It was the strongest language ever used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose last report was issued in 2001.

The document, a collaboration of hundreds of scientists and government officials, was approved by 113 nations, including the United States. [...]

Without naming the United States, producer of about one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases, Chirac expressed frustration that "some large, rich countries still must be convinced." [...]

So far, it is mostly European nations that agreed to pursue plans for the new organization, and to hold their first meeting in Morocco this spring. [...]

Former Vice President Al Gore, whose Oscar-nominated documentary on the perils of global warming has garnered worldwide attention, cheered Chirac's efforts.

"We are at a tipping point," Gore told the conference by videophone. "We must act, and act swiftly. ... Such action requires international cooperation."

The world's scientists and other international leaders also said now that the science is so well documented, action is clearly the next step.

"It is time now to hear from the world's policy makers," Tim Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, said Friday. "The so-called and long-overstated 'debate' about global warming is now over." [Emphasis added]

Decision-makers in politics and business operate in such short time frames that they tend to be ill-equipped to react to long-term threats like global warming. There are hopeful signs, though, that many of the world's leaders are waking up. Imagine how inspiring it would be if the US were to act as a leader on this issue, instead of the world's biggest laggard.

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Glacier Melting Continues To Accelerate Environment

Glaciers are melting faster than ever. UN:

Mountain glaciers around the world melted from 2000 to 2005 at 1.6 times the average loss rate of the 1990s and three times that of the 1980s, with much of the accelerated change attributable to human-induced climate change, according to tentative figures in a new United Nations-backed report released today.

"This is the most authoritative, comprehensive and up-to-date information on glaciers world-wide and as such underlines the rapid changes occurring on the planet as a result of climate change," UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said, noting their importance as sources for many rivers upon which people depend for drinking water, agriculture and industrial purposes.

"The findings confirm the science of human-induced climate change, confirmation that will be further underlined when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unveil their next report on 2 February. These findings should strengthen the resolve of governments to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put in place the medium to longer term strategies necessary to avert dangerous climate change," he added. [...]

Comprehensive data for the year 2006 are not yet available, but as it was one of the warmest years in many years in many parts of the world, it is expected that the downward trend will continue.

"Today, the glacier surface is much smaller than in the 1980s, this means that the climatic forcing has continued since then," Michael Zemp, a glaciologist and research associate at the WGMS said. "The recent increase in rates of ice loss over reducing glacier surface areas leaves no doubt about the accelerated change in climatic conditions." [Emphasis added]

Some 75% of the world's fresh water is stored in glaciers. Many of the great rivers of Asia, including the Yangtze, the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong and the Yellow River, are fed by glaciers, so as the glaciers disappear, enormous numbers of people will be put at risk. In China alone, some 300 million people depend on water from glaciers for their drinking water.

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Cognitive Dissonance Iran  Iraq  Politics

While administration rhetoric against Iran grows more heated, a new US National Intelligence Estimate finds it "not likely" that Iran is a significant cause of violence in Iraq. Seattle Times:

The Bush administration is escalating its confrontation with Iran, sending an additional aircraft carrier and minesweepers into the Persian Gulf as it accuses the Islamic regime of arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq for attacks on U.S. troops.

A new U.S. intelligence estimate Friday, however, concluded that Iranian and other outside meddling is "not likely" a major cause of the bloodshed in Iraq, and a new McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq found that Sunni Muslim insurgents, not Iranian-backed Shiites, have mounted most — but not all — attacks on American forces.

The Bush administration, which made exaggerated or incorrect claims about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to al-Qaida to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq, hasn't provided evidence to back up its charges. [...]

"The vast majority of Americans who are being killed are still being killed by IEDs [improvised explosive devices] set by Sunnis," said Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA and White House expert on Persian Gulf affairs. [...]

"The evidence that I am seeing does not seem to support the level of rhetoric, let alone the military actions" the administration is taking, Pollack said. [...]

On Friday, the National Intelligence Council, comprising the top U.S. intelligence analysts, released an assessment of the Iraq crisis that said "lethal support" from Iran to Shiite militants "clearly intensifies" the conflict, but isn't a significant factor.

"Iraq's neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events in Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining" sectarian strife, said the analysis, known as a National Intelligence Estimate.

Intelligence officials said they have strong evidence of Iranian support for Iraqi Shiite militias, especially the Mahdi Army. The question is how great a role they're playing in the conflict.

"No one sees a problem," said a U.S. defense official who requested anonymity because the issue involves top-secret intelligence. [Emphasis added]

The analysts who generated the NIE have seen whatever evidence exists. If they haven't seen any evidence that Iran is playing a significant role in Iraq, it's because there isn't any evidence.

No one should be giving the White House the benefit of the doubt on this. Not after all the lies they told us to sell their attack on Iraq. The penalty for lying is not to be believed.

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Texas GOP: Proud To Look Stupid Environment  Politics

Texas Republicans don't care about your grandkids — or theirs. Not when there's money to be made. Austin Star-Telegram:

Despite warnings from President Bush about global warming — and in the face of what many experts and even industry leaders describe as overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue — top leaders in Texas have continued to question the validity of man-made climate change.

"Absolutely," Gov. Rick Perry replied when asked recently by the Star-Telegram whether there is scientific doubt that human activity causes global warming. "I am not going to put the state of Texas in a competitive economic disadvantage on some science that may or may not be correct."

State Rep. Phil King said: "I think it's just bad science. I think global warming is bad science." The Weatherford Republican has responsibility for electric-utility issues in the House.

The global-warming debate has exploded in prominence during the legislative session, especially against the backdrop of TXU's controversial plan to build 11 coal-fired plants that environmentalists say will contribute dramatically to greenhouse gases in Texas. Other utilities also propose new facilities.

Perry and other key Republicans have expressed general support for those utility plans even as they have rejected the validity of global warming or sidestepped the question.

In a recent opinion piece, Perry said there remains great debate among scientists about the validity of man-made global warming. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that there's an "absence of scientific consensus on the causes of climate change" but added that "we should take every reasonable step to support the development of new technologies and renewable energy sources."

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said he did not know whether there was scientific consensus.

Contrast that with a recent cover story in Scientific American, in which Gary Stix wrote that "the debate on global warming is over" and that "carbon dioxide from SUVs and local coal-fired utilities is causing a steady uptick in the thermometer."

David Kennedy, writing for Science magazine, has noted that "consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science." [...]

Perry has signed an executive order directing state regulators to expedite permits for new power plants, and in an interview this month with the Star-Telegram he repeated skepticism about the science of global warming.

King said he hopes the Legislature does nothing to restrict emissions that environmentalists associate with global warming.

"For every study and every report that somebody points to and says this is occurring, you can find just as many that say it's not," King said. "I just haven't seen anything that [convinces me that this is] anything other than the natural swing that the climate takes throughout the eons." [...]

D. James Baker, a former administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was quoted in a May 2005 issue of Mother Jones as saying that "there is a better scientific consensus on this than on any other issue I know — except maybe Newton's second law of dynamics." [...]

"Anybody, regardless of their position, reaches a point where they just look silly denying what is so clear to the rest of the world," said Rowan, of Environmental Defense. [Emphasis added]

Sooner or later, the gap between what these people say and what the rest of us can see with our own eyes will grow so large that they'll be discredited forever. Or at least one can hope so.

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Monday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

We are at that weird stage in this administration, where half the White House staff is on C-SPAN and the other half is on Court TV. — Jay Leno

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February 04, 2007

Super-Veep Politics  Rights, Law

Under the Constitution, the Vice President is an executive branch officer who also serves as President of the Senate. But because of the veep's Senate role, Cheney has decided that (via Digby):

The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter.

The US theory of government rests on the principle of three coequal branches. Separation of powers. But in Dick Cheney's world, the Vice President is some kind of super-official. He, and he alone, is bigger than the system. Belonging to neither the executive nor legislative branch, he need follow the rules of neither. So when Cheney's office was asked to submit the required list of its staff, they submitted the statement quoted above. Super-Veep. If it was any other Vice President, you'd have to laugh. But it's Cheney. No laughing matter.

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Sunday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 05:02 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Critics of Venezuela say they now have a radical lurch towards a dictatorship by a leader with unchecked power. They told President Bush about this. He said, "What? Cheney's in Venezuela?" — Jay Leno

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February 03, 2007

Saturday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

Posted by Jonathan at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

This weekend, the President of the United States went on National Public Radio to explain that he knows Cheney. Cheney is not delusional, just optimistic [on screen: Bush saying Cheney reflects a 'half-glass-full' mentality]. How twisted is your administration when this guy is your Pollyanna? — Jon Stewart

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February 02, 2007

Fool Me Once Global Guerrillas  Iran  Iraq  Politics

The influence of Israel (via AIPAC) on US politics is enormous, and that influence is pushing us towards war with Iran. The Democrats are, if anything, more in AIPAC's debt than the Republicans. On Iraq, the Dems are making gestures, at least, of opposition, but Iran is another story. Digby has a very important post on this subject. It deserves to be read in full, but let me just highlight a few things.

First, Hillary Clinton speaking the other night at an AIPAC dinner (IHT):

Calling Iran a danger to the U.S. and one of Israel's greatest threats, U.S. senator and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "no option can be taken off the table" when dealing with that nation.

"U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons," the Democrat told a crowd of Israel supporters. "In dealing with this threat ... no option can be taken off the table."

And John Edwards, speaking in Israel (RawStory):

Although Edwards has criticized the war in Iraq, and has urged bringing the troops home, the former senator firmly declared that "all options must remain on the table," in regards to dealing with Iran, whose nuclear ambition "threatens the security of Israel and the entire world."

"Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons," Edwards said. "For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse."

Their rhetoric is utterly indistinguishable from the White House's. So much for the opposition party. Digby says he's "starting to get agitated" about the Democrats' approach to Iran. He calls it "discouraging," a misguided political strategy. But it goes way beyond just a strategy. It's who the Democrats are. Unfortunately.

All the hysteria about Iran getting a bomb is wildly overblown. As Jacques Chirac put it:

"Where would Iran drop this bomb? On Israel?" he asked. "It would not have gone off 200 metres into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground."

Iran doesn't want to nuke Israel. The Iranians want a deterrent, so they won't be attacked by the US and/or Israel. The US attack on Iraq — but not North Korea — has proved the importance of a deterrent. Especially, if you've been designated a member of the "Axis of Evil." In any case, international inspections could keep a rein on an Iranian weapons program. But, as was the case with Iraq, the US refuses to take yes for an answer and let inspections do their work.

The final, horrifying irony is that an attack on Iran is certain to be far more dangerous and destructive to Israel than would be a situation where Iran is sitting with a bomb or two as a deterrent. As Digby says:

It is very unfortunate that it came to this. But you also have to recognise that as unpalatable as it might be to have another nuclear armed nation in a volatile region, it doesn't really take us much closer to the end of the world or even the end of Israel, despite all the kooky talk coming from Ahmadinejad.

Attacking Iran, however, just might. The repurcussions of such a move would cut the last frayed ties with many allies, finally destroy all of our moral authority and convince the world that we are a super-power to be contained, not an international leader that can be relied upon to behave rationally. It is a disasterous strategic move on virtually all levels that only someone with a puerile "might makes right" strategic vision would even contemplate.

As John Robb says, a war between the US/Israel and Iran "would quickly destabilize every state in the Middle East and allow them to fall prey to open source war like Iraq." I.e., we'd have not just one Iraq on our hands, but many. Failed states, torn apart by tribal guerrillas, jihadists, and criminal gangs, as in Iraq. It's hard to imagine what centripetal force would ever put those Humpty-Dumptys back together again. There are right-wingers in Israel — and here in the US — who embrace that scenario: if the other nations in the Middle East collapse, Israel will be left to dominate the region. But it's lunacy. Once those atomizing forces are put in motion, chaos will be inexorable. These people are playing with matches in a world of gasoline.

But more and more people seem to buy that Iran is "on the brink" of getting nukes (plural), that that's "unacceptable," that the Iranians are madmen, worse than Hitler, etc., etc. Why? Because that's what they're saying on the teevee? It's exactly the same script that was used to sell Iraq, but for some reason a lot of people think this time it's on the level. Please.

The people telling us what to think about Iran are the same people who lied through their teeth to get us into Iraq. They are the same people who were absolutely wrong about what the outcome of that would be. Everything they have ever said on the subject was a lie or wrong. Everything.

What are we, suckers?

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The Great War Powers Flip-Flop Iraq  Politics

This post by Glenn Greenwald is fascinating.

The wingnuts love to say that President Clinton "emboldened" terrorists by "cutting and running" from Somalia after the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993. Something I didn't realize, pardon my ignorance, was that it was Republican senators who forced Clinton to withdraw by setting troop withdrawal deadlines and threatening further restrictions. The same Republican senators who today say Congress lacks the power to limit troop deployments to Iraq.

Leading the way, the great flip-flopper himself, John McCain, who in 1993 said:

Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long — longer than necessary — then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible. [Emphasis added]

As Glenn Greenwald says, the Constitution hasn't changed since 1993.

[Thanks, Ken]

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Friday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is now being criticized by conservatives for living in a mansion while talking about poverty. As opposed to Republicans, who live in a mansion and talk about a tax cut. — Jay Leno

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February 01, 2007

When Presidents Lie Politics

There are lies about sexual indiscretions, and there are lies about stuff that matters.

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Thursday Gumpagraph Gumpagraphs
 
Today's Gumpagraph. Kent is 'Gumpa' to his grandson Sebastian.
© Kent Tenney 

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Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

The perjury trial of I. Lewis Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, is underway in Washington. This case dates back to 2003 and the State of the Union address. So, perhaps a quick refresher would be appropriate. Once upon a time, there was a very bad man [on screen: Saddam Hussein] who was doing a very bad thing [on screen: Pres. Bush saying he learned from the British gov't that Hussein sought large quantities of uranium from Africa]. Slam dunk. Amazing story. How did the president know? Because the British told him — but the British weren't so sure. So, we really wanted to kill this guy, but you can't just go around killing people just because you think they have weapons of mass destruction. You'd look idiotic. — Jon Stewart

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