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August 31, 2007

Point, Click, Wiretap Black Ops  Rights, Law  Science/Technology

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the FBI has developed a capability to instantly wiretap almost any communications device in the country. Wired:

The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.

It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.

DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.

Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.

The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information — primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone — but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)

DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.

A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists. [Emphasis added]

The article says that the telecom companies retain control of their switches and only turn on a wiretap when presented with a court order. But it also says that the system is highly insecure, especially against abuse by FBI insiders.

To my mind, the most significant revelation is the degree to which surveillance capabilities are baked into the system. It's set up to be tappable from end to end. Even if the FBI doesn't abuse it, even if the NSA and the CIA and all the other agencies whose names we don't even know don't abuse it, it all sounds eminently hackable. As one of the computer scientists said in the article:

Any time something is tappable there is a risk. I'm not saying, "Don't do wiretaps," but when you start designing a system to be wiretappable, you start to create a new vulnerability. A wiretap is, by definition, a vulnerability from the point of the third party. The question is, can you control it?

A hacker's playground.

[Thanks, Mark]

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GOP Sleaze Politics

Every time you turn around, there's another news story about GOP scandal and corruption. Somebody should make a list.

Well, somebody has.

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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

President Bush was in New Orleans for the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. When he arrived in New Orleans he told the mayor, "I got here as quick as I could." — Jay Leno

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August 30, 2007

Flashing Red Iran

Is the US ramping up for an attack on Iran? It seems too insane to contemplate, but a number of warning lights are flashing red.

In a speech to the American Legion Tuesday, Bush said:

The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late. (Applause.) [...]

Every day we work to protect the American people. Our strategy is this: We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America. (Applause.) [...]

We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people — instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

That last paragraph is the tell: it's regime change they're after.

More signals — Barnett Rubin writes at Juan Cole's group blog:

Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this — they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty." [Emphasis added]

Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then there's the detailed study by two prominent British analysts reported at RawStory:

Plesch and Butcher examine "what the military option might involve if it were picked up off the table and put into action" and conclude that based on open source analysis and their own assessments, the US has prepared its military for a "massive" attack against Iran, requiring little contingency planning and without a ground invasion.
The study concludes that the US has made military preparations to destroy Iran’s WMD, nuclear energy, regime, armed forces, state apparatus and economic infrastructure within days if not hours of President George W. Bush giving the order. The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely. The US retains the option of avoiding war, but using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Iran’s actions.
  • Any attack is likely to be on a massive multi-front scale but avoiding a ground invasion. Attacks focused on WMD facilities would leave Iran too many retaliatory options, leave President Bush open to the charge of using too little force and leave the regime intact.
  • US bombers and long range missiles are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.
  • US ground, air and marine forces already in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan can devastate Iranian forces, the regime and the state at short notice. [...]
  • Nuclear weapons are ready, but most unlikely, to be used by the US, the UK and Israel. The human, political and environmental effects would be devastating, while their military value is limited. [...]

Most significantly, Plesch and Butcher dispute conventional wisdom that any US attack on Iran would be confined to its nuclear sites. Instead, they foresee a "full-spectrum approach," designed to either instigate an overthrow of the government or reduce Iran to the status of "a weak or failed state." Although they acknowledge potential risks and impediments that might deter the Bush administration from carrying out such a massive attack, they also emphasize that the administration's National Security Strategy includes as a major goal the elimination of Iran as a regional power. They suggest, therefore, that:

This wider form of air attack would be the most likely to delay the Iranian nuclear program for a sufficiently long period of time to meet the administration’s current counterproliferation goals. It would also be consistent with the possible goal of employing military action is to overthrow the current Iranian government, since it would severely degrade the capability of the Iranian military (in particular revolutionary guards units and other ultra-loyalists) to keep armed opposition and separatist movements under control. It would also achieve the US objective of neutralizing Iran as a power in the region for many years to come.

However, it is the option that contains the greatest risk of increased global tension and hatred of the United States. The US would have few, if any allies for such a mission beyond Israel (and possibly the UK). Once undertaken, the imperatives for success would be enormous. [Emphasis added]

"Once undertaken, the imperatives for success would be enormous" — while the probability of "success" would be vanishingly small. And if "success" is defined as turning Iran into a failed state, with the kind of chaos and disintegration now spreading in Iraq, it would be the most Pyrrhic of victories, an unimaginable nightmare, an abyss. It would be hard to overstate the insanity — and evil — of such a course of action.

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Chaos And Disintegration Iraq

A month ago, we noted that southern Iraq is fragmenting into a failed state, with various warlords carving out their piece of turf. Forget Sunni v. Shia. It's way more fragmented than that, way more terrifying.

John Robb points to another disturbing story along those lines (AP):

Fighting erupted Tuesday between rival Shiite militias in Karbala during a religious festival, claiming 51 lives and forcing officials to abort the celebrations and order up to 1 million Shiite pilgrims to leave the southern city.

Security officials said Mahdi Army gunmen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fired on guards around two shrines protected by the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Residents of Karbala contacted by telephone said snipers were firing on Iraqi security forces from rooftops. Explosions and the rattle of automatic weapons fire could be heard during telephone calls to reporters in the city 50 miles south of Baghdad.

In addition to the deaths, security officials said at least 247 people were wounded, including women and children.

The clashes appeared to be part of a power struggle among Shiite groups in the sect's southern Iraqi heartland, which includes the bulk of the country's vast oil wealth. [Emphasis added]

A million pilgrims forced to flee amid explosions and automatic weapons fire. Impossible to imagine.

There's no telling where the fragmentation will end. Humpty-Dumpty is not going to come magically back together. Chaos, suffering, and collapse — and it will deepen and spread. As Robb says, "We haven't found the bottom yet."

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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

As you know, the administration conduct concerning prosecuting the war on terror has been questioned by some. But as the president himself explains, there is a perfectly good reason why we don't understand what he's doing [on screen: Bush, in multiple interviews, saying Iraq is "a totally different kind of war"]. Obviously, we invaded Iraq initially because this war is historically unprecedented. Last week, the president explained to us why we must stay in Iraq — historical precedent. Yes, that was the message as Bush addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars, an organization whose numbers he has personally done so much to boost. [on screen: Bush citing the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor to make the case for the Iraq war]. And that is why, in 1941, America invaded China. Yes, with the pivotal Petraeus surge report just weeks away, Bush began his surge to gain support for the Iraq war the only way left — by talking up a bunch of other wars. — Jon Stewart

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August 29, 2007

The China "Miracle" Environment

Capitalism's achilles heel is that there generally is no cost associated with robbing from the future by polluting and depleting non-renewable resources. That, and the fact that capitalists' decisions are driven by a single numerical quantity: profit. Life's too complicated to be reduced to a number.

Witness China, the capitalist's wet dream. This is a long article, but it's essential. NYT:

[J]ust as the speed and scale of China's rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.

Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.

China is choking on its own success. The economy is on a historic run, posting a succession of double-digit growth rates. But the growth derives, now more than at any time in the recent past, from a staggering expansion of heavy industry and urbanization that requires colossal inputs of energy, almost all from coal, the most readily available, and dirtiest, source. [...]

China's problem has become the world's problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by China's coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research. [...]

Experts once thought China might overtake the United States as the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases by 2010, possibly later. Now, the International Energy Agency has said China could become the [greenhouse gas] emissions leader by the end of this year, and the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency said China had already passed that level.

For the Communist Party, the political calculus is daunting. Reining in economic growth to alleviate pollution may seem logical, but the country's authoritarian system is addicted to fast growth. Delivering prosperity placates the public, provides spoils for well-connected officials and forestalls demands for political change. A major slowdown could incite social unrest, alienate business interests and threaten the party’s rule.

But pollution poses its own threat. Officials blame fetid air and water for thousands of episodes of social unrest. Health care costs have climbed sharply. Severe water shortages could turn more farmland into desert. And the unconstrained expansion of energy-intensive industries creates greater dependence on imported oil and dirty coal, meaning that environmental problems get harder and more expensive to address the longer they are unresolved. [...]

Provincial officials, who enjoy substantial autonomy, often ignore environmental edicts, helping to reopen mines or factories closed by central authorities. Over all, enforcement is often tinged with corruption. This spring, officials in Yunnan Province in southern China beautified Laoshou Mountain, which had been used as a quarry, by spraying green paint over acres of rock.

President Hu Jintao's most ambitious attempt to change the culture of fast-growth collapsed this year. The project, known as "Green GDP," was an effort to create an environmental yardstick for evaluating the performance of every official in China. It recalculated gross domestic product, or GDP, to reflect the cost of pollution.

But the early results were so sobering — in some provinces the pollution-adjusted growth rates were reduced almost to zero — that the project was banished to China's ivory tower this spring and stripped of official influence.

Chinese leaders argue that the outside world is a partner in degrading the country’s environment. Chinese manufacturers that dump waste into rivers or pump smoke into the sky make the cheap products that fill stores in the United States and Europe. Often, these manufacturers subcontract for foreign companies — or are owned by them. In fact, foreign investment continues to rise as multinational corporations build more factories in China. Beijing also insists that it will accept no mandatory limits on its carbon dioxide emissions, which would almost certainly reduce its industrial growth. It argues that rich countries caused global warming and should find a way to solve it without impinging on China's development. [...]

Indeed, Britain, the United States and Japan polluted their way to prosperity and worried about environmental damage only after their economies matured and their urban middle classes demanded blue skies and safe drinking water.

But China is more like a teenage smoker with emphysema. The costs of pollution have mounted well before it is ready to curtail economic development. But the price of business as usual — including the predicted effects of global warming on China itself — strikes many of its own experts and some senior officials as intolerably high. [...]

For air quality, a major culprit is coal, on which China relies for about two-thirds of its energy needs. It has abundant supplies of coal and already burns more of it than the United States, Europe and Japan combined. [...]

Emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal and fuel oil, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as acid rain, are increasing even faster than China's economic growth. In 2005, China became the leading source of sulfur dioxide pollution globally, the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, reported last year. [...]

Perhaps an even more acute challenge is water. China has only one-fifth as much water per capita as the United States. But while southern China is relatively wet, the north, home to about half of China’s population, is an immense, parched region that now threatens to become the world’s biggest desert.

Farmers in the north once used shovels to dig their wells. Now, many aquifers have been so depleted that some wells in Beijing and Hebei must extend more than half a mile before they reach fresh water. Industry and agriculture use nearly all of the flow of the Yellow River, before it reaches the Bohai Sea. [...]

This scarcity has not yet created a culture of conservation. Water remains inexpensive by global standards, and Chinese industry uses 4 to 10 times more water per unit of production than the average in industrialized nations, according to the World Bank.

In many parts of China, factories and farms dump waste into surface water with few repercussions. China's environmental monitors say that one-third of all river water, and vast sections of China’s great lakes, the Tai, Chao and Dianchi, have water rated Grade V, the most degraded level, rendering it unfit [even] for industrial or agricultural use. [...]

This spring, a World Bank study done with SEPA, the national environmental agency, concluded that outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution. [...]

But other international organizations with access to Chinese data have published similar results. For example, the World Health Organization found that China suffered more deaths from water-related pollutants and fewer from bad air, but agreed with the World Bank that the total death toll had reached 750,000 a year. In comparison, 4,700 people died last year in China's notoriously unsafe mines, and 89,000 people were killed in road accidents, the highest number of automobile-related deaths in the world. The Ministry of Health estimates that cigarette smoking takes a million Chinese lives each year. [...]

But Chinese experts say that, if anything, the Western models probably understate the problems.

"China's pollution is worse, the density of its population is greater and people do not protect themselves as well," said Jin Yinlong, the director general of the Institute for Environmental Health and Related Product Safety in Beijing. "So the studies are not definitive. My assumption is that they will turn out to be conservative."

As gloomy as China's pollution picture looks today, it is set to get significantly worse, because China has come to rely mainly on energy-intensive heavy industry and urbanization to fuel economic growth. In 2000, a team of economists and energy specialists at the Development Research Center, part of the State Council, set out to gauge how much energy China would need over the ensuing 20 years to achieve the leadership's goal of quadrupling the size of the economy. [...]

That worst-case situation now looks wildly optimistic. Last year, China burned the energy equivalent of 2.7 billion tons of coal, three-quarters of what the experts had said would be the maximum required in 2020. To put it another way, China now seems likely to need as much energy in 2010 as it thought it would need in 2020 under the most pessimistic assumptions.

"No one really knew what was driving the economy, which is why the predictions were so wrong," said Yang Fuqiang, a former Chinese energy planner who is now the chief China representative of the Energy Foundation, an American group that supports energy-related research. "What I fear is that the trend is now basically irreversible." [...]

In 1996, China and the United States each accounted for 13 percent of global steel production. By 2005, the United States share had dropped to 8 percent, while China’s share had risen to 35 percent. [...]

Similarly, China now makes half of the world's cement and flat glass, and about a third of its aluminum. In 2006, China overtook Japan as the second-largest producer of cars and trucks after the United States. [...]

Chinese steel makers, on average, use one-fifth more energy per ton than the international average. Cement manufacturers need 45 percent more power, and ethylene producers need 70 percent more than producers elsewhere, the World Bank says.

China's aluminum industry alone consumes as much energy as the country's commercial sector — all the hotels, restaurants, banks and shopping malls combined, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Houser reported.

Moreover, the boom is not limited to heavy industry. Each year for the past few years, China has built about 7.5 billion square feet of commercial and residential space, more than the combined floor space of all the malls and strip malls in the United States, according to data collected by the United States Energy Information Administration.

Chinese buildings rarely have thermal insulation. They require, on average, twice as much energy to heat and cool as those in similar climates in the United States and Europe, according to the World Bank. A vast majority of new buildings — 95 percent, the bank says — do not meet China's own codes for energy efficiency.

All these new buildings require China to build power plants, which it has been doing prodigiously. In 2005 alone, China added 66 gigawatts of electricity to its power grid, about as much power as Britain generates in a year. Last year, it added an additional 102 gigawatts, as much as France. [...]

In the second quarter of this year, the economy expanded at a neck-snapping pace of 11.9 percent, its fastest in a decade. State-driven investment projects, state-backed heavy industry and a thriving export sector led the way. China burned 18 percent more coal than it did the year before.

China's authoritarian system has repeatedly proved its ability to suppress political threats to Communist Party rule. But its failure to realize its avowed goals of balancing economic growth and environmental protection is a sign that the country’s environmental problems are at least partly systemic, many experts and some government officials say. China cannot go green, in other words, without political change. [...]

"The main reason behind the continued deterioration of the environment is a mistaken view of what counts as political achievement," said Pan Yue, the deputy minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration. "The crazy expansion of high-polluting, high-energy industries has spawned special interests. Protected by local governments, some businesses treat the natural resources that belong to all the people as their own private property." [...]

Energy and environmental officials have little influence in the bureaucracy. The environmental agency still has only about 200 full-time employees, compared with 18,000 at the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.

China has no Energy Ministry. The Energy Bureau of the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s central planning agency, has 100 full-time staff members. The Energy Department of the United States has 110,000 employees. [...]

At least two leading environmental organizers have been prosecuted in recent weeks, and several others have received sharp warnings to tone down their criticism of local officials. One reason the authorities have cited: the need for social stability before the 2008 Olympics, once viewed as an opportunity for China to improve the environment. [Emphasis added]

It's not just China, it's just more obvious there. If a true accounting were done, with real costs assigned to environmental damage and loss, I think we would find that capitalism, at least as practiced heretofore, is a long-run failure. We seem prosperous, but that's only because we have been consuming our capital, eating our seed corn, sawing off the limb we sit on. Fishing's a good business — until the fish are gone forever. Etc., etc.

China now emits more greenhouse gas than the US. It already burns more coal than the US, Europe, and Japan combined, and it's coal usage is growing at a rate of 18% per year. At that rate it will double in four years.

There's a cliff ahead, and the capitalist response is to push the gas pedal to the floor. Even though we're all at least dimly aware of the cliff.

The compression of time scales in China make it all so horribly obvious. Not that we — or they — will take the point. Everybody pursues his/her individual short-term interest, and the end result is collective disaster.

It remains to be seen if humans, taken in the aggregate, are smarter than bacteria in a petri dish, who gobble all available nutrients, and reproduce, as rapidly as they can until it's all gone and they wipe themselves out. So that's the question: are we smarter than bacteria?

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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 Jokes Humor & Fun

Sen. Craig is married. Apparently he told his wife, don't worry about having dinner ready to me. I'm going to wolf down a hot dog at the airport. — Jay Leno

Sen. Craig said he made a mistake by pleading guilty. And I was thinking, maybe that was your second mistake. — David Letterman

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August 28, 2007

Dolphin Fighting Media

Too funny.

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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

There were record high temperatures yesterday. I blame Al Gore. Until he invented this global warming, none of this stuff happened. — Jimmy Kimmel

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August 27, 2007

Karma Politics

Payback's a bitch. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) then and now. What is it about these Republicans?

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Allawi Resurfaces Iraq

Ayad Allawi, darling of American neocons, is being pushed back into the limelight as a possible replacement for Prime Minister al-Maliki.

But let us not forget this (and here). Of course, here in the US you wouldn't even know it happened unless you read blogs.

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"Cage Bush, Not Sydney" Corporations, Globalization  Politics

When Bush and the other bigwigs arrive in Sydney next week for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, they will be ensconced behind a five-kilometer long security fence. Sydney's Deputy Lord Mayor's not happy. ABC (via Crptogon):

This Saturday, construction will start on a three-metre high, five-kilometre long fence in Sydney's CBD to protect leaders attending next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference.

The fence will cause major traffic disruptions throughout the city and local workers and residents will have to go through special ID checks at access points.

But Sydney's Deputy Lord Mayor is appalled by the security measures being taken to protect officials attending the conference and wants to hang a huge banner from the city's Town Hall saying, "Cage Bush, not Sydney". The council will vote on the proposal.

The city's chamber of commerce has attacked the idea as "madness", saying such a decision would be rude and could affect businesses all over Australia.

Just last week, New South Wales police unveiled a new $600,000 water canon, warning that if APEC demonstrators got wild, they would get very wet.

Another visible part of security will be a five-kilometre long, three-metre high steel fence separating the Opera House, Botanic Gardens and a large part of the CBD from public access.

Workers will start building the fence this weekend.

Greens Councillor Chris Harris, who is also Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney City Council, says he wants the council to take a stand against APEC - and particularly against US President George W Bush.

"I'm sitting in Town Hall today and there's Army personnel wandering through Town Hall with all these fancy devices," he said.

"This is the kind of stuff you see in despotic regimes. This is fearmongering, right-wing, red neck stuff that's being [exported] out of America [and] I think we should distance ourselves from it as far as we can.

"We're forcing the citizens of Sydney, the businesses that operate in the city, to forego hundreds of millions of dollars in business to protect one bloke. I just think this is extraordinary.

"So first of all we're asking that council acknowledge that and then the second thing I'm asking council to do is to demonstrate to our citizens how we feel by putting a banner up on Town Hall that says very simply, 'Cage Bush, not Sydney'."

Please do it, please do it, please do it, please!

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Rules Of Engagement Iraq

This isn't new, but I hadn't seen it before. Shameful on so many levels. Be sure to read the accompanying text.

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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

Karl Rove announced he is leaving the White House at the end of August. Of course, he has always served at the pleasure of the president. Of Halliburton. — Will Durst

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August 24, 2007

Arctic Ice Melt Shatters Previous Record Energy  Environment

When the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out, there were people who called it alarmist. It now appears that it may have been wildly over-optimistic. The summer melt of Arctic ice this year is proceeding so rapidly that it is on target — this year — to hit a level the IPCC projected wouldn't happen until 2050. The ice sheet has already shrunk to its smallest size on record, with another month of melting to go.

Here's the previous record, September 22, 2005 (source):

Here's what it looks like today — with another month of melting to go:

This is no trivial matter. As the ice melts, the Arctic absorbs more solar radiation, warming further, causing further melting, etc., in a feedback loop that will have significant effects on the climate of the planet. And as we've seen so many times before, it's all happening faster than anyone anticipated. Canada.com:

Scientific institutes in the U.S. and Japan confirmed [August 17] that the Arctic Ocean ice cover has shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded, prompting a startling prediction from one expert that the world could witness a total summer melt within 25 years.

The latest findings support an alarm issued last week by another climate expert at the University of Illinois that all-time records for maximum meltage of the polar ice cap will be "annihilated" by the time Arctic temperatures start turning colder in mid-September.

"Everyone is seeing the same thing," Mark Serreze, a senior researcher with the Boulder, Colo.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CanWest News Service on Friday.

"The sea ice seems to be on this death spiral," he said. "And this is not some nebulous thing like global temperature rises. You can see this with your own eyes." [...]

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency - expressing "fear that global warming will accelerate" as a result of the rapid melting - pegged the current size of the Arctic ice cover at 5.31 million square kilometres, just less than the historic low measured on Sept. 22, 2005.

But what worries researchers most is that there's still a month of melting left to go this summer.

"The absolute minimum is typically the first or second week of September," said Serreze, "but we've already set a record. That is amazing. That is just an eye-opener. We appear to be on the fast track of change."

The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is widely viewed not only as a key early indicator that climate change is well under way, but also as a portent of rapidly escalating global warming.

Reduced ice cover, and thus a darkened polar region, means the planet will absorb even more of the sun's energy and trigger higher temperatures, scientists believe.

"If you had talked to me a few years ago, I would have said total melting of Arctic ice might be possible by 2070 or 2100," said Serreze.

Noting that the rate of shrinkage has surpassed all climate models, he predicts that a complete summer melt could occur as early as 2030.

"For many of us, we might be looking at this within our lifetimes."

The Japanese agencies made similar forecasts, noting that the ice cover this year could shrink to 4.5 million square kilometres — a low that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change didn't expect to be reached until 2050. [Emphasis added]

So, how are governments reacting to this trend? By racing to establish territorial claims to the oil and gas buried under the Arctic seabed. Times of India:

If there were any lingering doubts as to how ill-prepared we are to face up to the reality of climate change, they were laid to rest this month when two Russian mini submarines dove two miles under the Arctic ice to the floor of the ocean, and planted a Russian flag made of titanium on the seabed. This first manned mission to the ocean floor of the Arctic, which was carefully choreographed for a global television audience, was the ultimate geopolitical reality TV.

Russian President Vladimir V Putin congratulated the aquanauts while the Russian government simultaneously announced its claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The Putin government claims that the seabed under the pole, known as the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of Russia's continental shelf, and therefore Russian territory. Not to be outdone, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hurriedly arranged a three-day visit to the Arctic to stake his country's claim to the region. Although in some respects the entire event appeared almost comical - a kind of late 19th century caricature of a colonial expedition - the intent was deadly serious. Geologists believe that 25 per cent of the earth's undiscovered oil and gas may be embedded within the rock underneath the Arctic Ocean.

The oil giants are already scurrying to the front of the line, seeking contracts to exploit the vast potential of oil wealth under the Arctic ice. The oil company BP has recently established a partnership with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, to explore the region. Aside from Russia and Canada, three other countries - Norway, Denmark (Greenland is a Danish possession that reaches into the Arctic) and the United States - are all claiming the Arctic seabed as an extensionof their continental shelves and, therefore, sovereign territory.

Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, adopted in 1982, signatory nations can claim exclusive economic zones for commercial exploitation, up to 200 miles out from their territorial waters. The US has never signed the treaty, amidst concerns that other provisions of the treaty would undermine US sovereignty and political independence. Now, however, the sudden new interest in Arctic oil and gas has put a fire under US legislators to ratify the treaty, lest it is edged out of the Arctic oil rush.

What makes the whole development so utterly depressing is that the new interest in prospecting the Arctic subsoil and seabed for oil and gas is only now becoming possible because of climate change. For thousands of years, the fossil fuel deposits lay locked up under the ice and inaccessible. Now, global warming is melting away the Arctic ice, making possible, for the first time, the commercial exploitation of the oil and gas deposits. Ironically, the very process of burning fossil fuels releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide and forces an increase in the earth's temperature, which in turn, melts the Arctic ice, making available even more oil and gas for energy. The burning of these potential new oil and gas finds will further increase CO2 emissions in the coming decades, depleting the Arctic ice even more quickly. [Emphasis added]

It's too grotesque for words. We respond to global warming by racing to dig up even more carbon so we can send it into the atmosphere. Talk about a feedback loop. I'm tempted to say that with stupidity like this we deserve whatever we get, except that most of humanity — not to mention all the other species of life on Earth — is not participating in this insanity, but they will all pay the price.

Greed kills, and that includes greed for comfort and convenience.

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America To The Rescue 9/11, "War On Terror"  Humor & Fun  Iran  Iraq

A little history lesson from Jon Stewart:

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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

Chris Wallace got Karl Rove's Sunday morning talk show tour going [on screen: FNC's Wallace saying, "Let's take a look at some of Karl Rove's greatest hits"]. Ohh, I just bought that on K-Tel! "Karl Rove's Greatest Hits," including "John McCain's Black Baby," "Max Cleland: The One-Limbed Pussy," "The Queers Are Coming," and, of course, "Schiavo-A-Go-Go." No need to call now, your phones have already been tapped. — Jon Stewart

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August 23, 2007

Foxtrot Tango Alpha Activism

I'm old enough to remember that the Sixties were a whole lot more political — tougher, more determined, more tumultuous, more dangerous and cataclysmic — but also more exuberant, more high-spirited, more giddily wild and joyous and free — than the sugar-coated image that has come down to us since. Political assassinations, urban riots, armed troops rolling through the streets, student rebellions worldwide, Black Power, mass mobilizations against the war — alongside free concerts, communal experiments of every kind, and of course sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And casting a shadow over it all: The War. But it was all political, all — dare I say it — revolutionary. An explosion of activism and a whole new culture, grass roots rather than corporate. We felt like we were creating a new world, and a lot of people put a lot on the line.

A lot of that history has been erased. One chapter that is almost completely gone from the collective memory is the very important, very determined and widespread GI resistance to the war. But Feral Scholar alerts us to the documentary Sir! No Sir! that tells that forgotten story in compelling fashion. The trailers are electrifying.

The theatrical trailer:

And a 12-minute extended trailer:

Watch them both.

The DVD contains the feature film plus another 100 minutes of extras. Read about it here. Then buy a copy. I did. Well worth supporting, especially in times like these. And if you have a place to host a showing, what are you waiting for?

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Iraq Coup? Iraq

Juan Cole's sources say a military coup may be in the offing in Iraq. Spreading freedom and democracy.

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Google Earth Looks Up Science/Technology

Google Earth now maps the sky, including Hubble images and lots else. Free download here.

Amazing and beautiful.

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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

Presidential advisor Karl Rove has resigned. Were you aware about that? He's resigned. He says he wants to spend more time leaking information about his family. — David Letterman

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August 22, 2007

Plastic Bags Are Forever Environment

This was supposed to accompany yesterday's Gumpagraph, but I ran out of time. Salon:

The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions. They're made from petroleum or natural gas with all the attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they've been used to transport a prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It's equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.

Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide — about 2 percent in the U.S. — and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that's not always the case. "They're so aerodynamic that even when they're properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter," says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. [...]

Bits of plastic bags have been found in the nests of albatrosses in the remote Midway Islands. Floating bags can look all too much like tasty jellyfish to hungry marine critters. According to the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic. The conservation group estimates that 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. In the Northern Pacific Gyre, a great vortex of ocean currents, there's now a swirling mass of plastic trash about 1,000 miles off the coast of California, which spans an area that's twice the size of Texas, including fragments of plastic bags. There's six times as much plastic as biomass, including plankton and jellyfish, in the gyre. "It's an endless stream of incessant plastic particles everywhere you look," says Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of education and research for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which studies plastics in the marine environment. "Fifty or 60 years ago, there was no plastic out there." [...]

The problem with plastic bags isn't just where they end up, it's that they never seem to end. "All the plastic that has [ever] been made is still around in smaller and smaller pieces," says Stephanie Barger, executive director of the Earth Resource Foundation, which has undertaken a Campaign Against the Plastic Plague. Plastic doesn't biodegrade. That means unless they've been incinerated — a noxious proposition — every plastic bag you've ever used in your entire life, including all those bags that the newspaper arrives in on your doorstep, even on cloudless days when there isn't a sliver of a chance of rain, still exists in some form, even fragmented bits, and will exist long after you're dead. [Emphasis added]

"Paper or plastic?" is a false choice. (Paper has its own problems.) The real choices are between a bag and no bag, or between a new bag and one you've brought from home.

Go bagless, or BYOB.

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Poisoning Our Own Well Corporations, Globalization  Media

This story's a couple of weeks old, but it's too important to let slide. AP:

Anything made by McDonald's tastes better, preschoolers said in a study that powerfully demonstrates how advertising can trick the taste buds of young children.

Even carrots, milk and apple juice tasted better to the kids when they were wrapped in the familiar packaging of the Golden Arches.

The study had youngsters sample identical McDonald's foods in name-brand and unmarked wrappers. The unmarked foods always lost the taste test.

"You see a McDonald's label and kids start salivating," said Diane Levin, a childhood development specialist who campaigns against advertising to kids. She had no role in the research.

Levin said it was "the first study I know of that has shown so simply and clearly what's going on with (marketing to) young children."

Study author Dr. Tom Robinson said the kids' perception of taste was "physically altered by the branding." The Stanford University researcher said it was remarkable how children so young were already so influenced by advertising. [...]

The study included three McDonald's menu items -- hamburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries -- and store-bought milk or juice and carrots. Children got two identical samples of each food on a tray, one in McDonald's wrappers or cups and the other in plain, unmarked packaging. The kids were asked whether they tasted the same or whether one was better. (Some children didn't taste all the foods.)

McDonald's-labeled samples were the clear favorites. French fries were the biggest winner; almost 77 percent said the labeled fries tasted best while only 13 percent preferred the others.

Fifty-four percent preferred McDonald's-wrapped carrots versus 23 percent who liked the plain-wrapped sample. [...]

Fewer than one-fourth of the children said both samples of all foods tasted the same.

Imagine you're a visitor from Mars, suddenly plunked down in the middle of American society. How crazy would this look: everywhere you turn, you see corporations directing powerful mind-control tools at our own population — every one of us, cradle to grave — with all the skill, sophistication, and guile they can muster. Programming us with insatiable desire for that which will leave us sick and empty and drowning in garbage. Treating our psyches like things to be plundered. Consequences be damned.

And we wonder why we're collectively going crazy. A system that brainwashes its own children to make a buck is one that has clearly lost its way. But we're so immersed in it we scarcely even notice.

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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

From David Letterman's Top 10 Good Things About Marrying into the Bush Family: #1: "Little chance you'll be the dumbest guy in the family".

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August 21, 2007

Money As Debt Economy

With all the turmoil in the markets (real estate, stocks, you name it) and all the talk of a credit bubble, this might be a good time to stop and think about the fundamentals of money and credit. It's a story very few people understand.

Where does money come from? To the extent people think about it at all, they imagine government printing presses cranking out paper currency, like we've seen all those times on the tv. But the overwhelming bulk of money — something like 95% — is just numbers in accounting systems, on checks, or on some bank computer's hard drive. Where does it come from? It is created by banks, in the form of loans.

And where do banks get the money they lend? Again, to the extent people think about it at all, they imagine that banks take in money from depositors and lend that money back out to borrowers. But a moment's reflection tells you that this makes no sense: collectively, we save almost nothing, and our borrowing grows by leaps and bounds — all those unsolicited credit cards in the mail, all those home equity loans and second mortgages. Lending dwarfs saving, more so with every passing day. So it cannot be savings that the banks are lending out. Besides, when has anyone ever tried to take out a loan only to be told that the bank has run out of deposits to cover it? That's not how it works. In reality, banks lend out far more — many times more — money than they have on deposit (it's called fractional reserve banking).

It is debt that creates money. You sign a loan agreement, and they put a number in your account. Presto. Banks have a license to print money, metaphorically speaking — nice work if you can get it — and they'd just as soon you didn't understand what's really going on.

It's a difficult thing for most people to get their heads around: banks just create money out of thin air when people borrow. There's nothing backing up that money other than the borrower's collateral and promise to pay. And since people have to pay back more than they borrowed, the whole system depends, fundamentally, on continual growth in the supply of money — i.e., continual growth in the amount of indebtedness. It's a gigantic game of musical chairs. If the music ever stops, look out.

If you're like most people, you probably think I'm crazy. That can't be how it works. Well, here's an excellent animated video that explains it all in clear and entertaining fashion. Do yourself a favor and invest the time to watch and understand it. We'll come back to this topic in a little bit. Meanwhile, go watch the video.

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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

The Iowa straw poll, a quadrennial ritual for Republican candidates, was held Saturday in Ames, Iowa. And the big winner of this unofficial, preseason survey of the Iowa electorate? Former Massachusetts Governor/part-time J.C. Penny catalogue underwear model Mitt Romney with over 30% of the vote. In a big surprise, the second place finisher was Baptist minister and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee with 18% of the vote, despite spending less than a tenth of what Romney had. Huckabee himself seemed at a loss to explain his success [on screen: Huckabee comparing his Ames showing to "feeding the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves"]. Apt metaphor, governor. But I really have to say, don't you think Jesus would have won? — Jon Stewart

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August 20, 2007

The War As They Saw It Iraq

Yesterday's NYT carried an enlightening op-ed authored by seven US soldiers who served in Iraq. Worth reading. Here's an excerpt:

[T]he most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. "Lucky" Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Meanwhile, the dominant narrative will continue to be that the "surge" is "working". The media will continue to listen to the spin of people who have every reason to lie, and they will ignore the words of soldiers who have nothing to gain by coming forward. And collectively, we will all continue down the path to ruin.

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Petraeus Report To Be Written By White House Iraq  Media  Politics

We're supposed to all be waiting to hear what General Petraeus will say in his September "progress" report. But buried deep in an LA Times story about the upcoming report, we find this:

Administration and military officials acknowledge that the September report will not show any significant progress on the political benchmarks laid out by Congress. How to deal in the report with the lack of national reconciliation between Iraq's warring sects has created some tension within the White House.

Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data.

The senior administration official said the process had created "uncomfortable positions" for the White House because of debates over what constitutes "satisfactory progress."

During internal White House discussion of a July interim report, some officials urged the administration to claim progress in policy areas such as legislation to divvy up Iraq's oil revenue, even though no final agreement had been reached. Others argued that such assertions would be disingenuous.

"There were some in the drafting of the report that said, 'Well, we can claim progress,'" the administration official said. "There were others who said: 'Wait a second. Sure we can claim progress, but it's not credible to...just neglect the fact that it's had no effect on the ground.'"

The Defense official skeptical of the troop buildup said he expected Petraeus to emphasize military accomplishments, including improving security in Baghdad neighborhoods and a slight reduction in the number of suicide bomb attacks. But the official said he did not believe such security improvements would translate into political progress or improvements in the daily lives of most Iraqis.

"Who cares how many neighborhoods of Baghdad are secured?" the official said. "Let's talk about the rest of the country: How come they have electricity twice a day, how come there is no running water?" [Emphasis added]

Everybody pretends the report will be from Petraeus, but it's being cooked up by political hacks in the White House. Which is to say, it will be completely useless as a basis for deciding anything. Watch, though, as the mainstream media play along and portray it as a serious evaluation originating from Petraeus himself. Pardon me while I retch.

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3700, 4000 Iraq

The carnage continues in Iraq.

While I was gone from the blog, US troop deaths in Iraq passed the 3700 mark, and total coalition deaths surpassed 4000. Totals as of today: 3707 and 4004, respectively.


And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. For what?

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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

Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee, on Bush being on the verge of breaking Ronald Reagan's record number of vacation days:

People said that Reagan's 436 would stand forever, but right now this president stands on 423, meaning his record should fall less than two weeks from today. And they said it couldn't be done. And keep in mind, Reagan had a ranch in beautiful Santa Barbara. Bush has spent his time chasing the record in Crawford, Texas, which, by all objective accounts, is a genuine scorched shithole. And don't forget Bush is a war president. The 80s? If Bush had been president then, he might not have even come in at all. When the waters from Katrina began to rise, it would have been easy to rush back to Washington. This president stuck it out for two more vacation days. What do you call that? Dedication. Obviously, I wouldn't say 'actively' pursuing, but he's aware of it and looking forward to breaking the record and getting that congratulatory call from himself.

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August 07, 2007

Extreme Weather World-Wide Environment

The world weather system is heating up. As climate models have long predicted, the additional energy is resulting in greater extremes of weather around the world. The only surprise is how quickly it's all happening. CNN:

Extreme weather has plagued the globe this year, a U.N. agency says, causing some of the highest temperatures on record.

The World Meteorological Organization said "global land surface temperatures for January and April will likely be ranked as the warmest since records began in 1880," according to the United Nations.

WMO said temperatures were 1.89 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average for January and 1.37 degrees C (2.45 degrees F) higher than average for April.

The agency found that climate warming was unequivocal and most likely "due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels."

Here are some of the extreme instances the United Nations cites:

Four monsoon depressions, double the normal number, caused heavy flooding in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. On Monday, floodwaters receded in parts of South Asia, but the death toll rose to 347, officials said.

Millions remain displaced and homeless, and authorities fear waterborne disease could spread. Indian officials say more than 1,200 people have died in their country alone since monsoon season began in June.

England and Wales have experienced their wettest May-to-July period since record-keeping started in 1766. In late July, swollen rivers threatened to burst their banks. At least eight people died during weeks of torrential rain, and thousands were without tap water.

Late last month in Sudan, floods and heavy rain caused 23,000 mud brick homes to collapse, killing at least 62 people. The rainfall was abnormally heavy and early for this time of the year.

In May, swell waves up to 15 feet high swept into 68 islands in the Maldives, causing severe flooding and damage. Also in May, a heat wave swept across Russia.

Southeastern Europe did not escape the unusual weather. The area suffered record-breaking heat in June and July.

An unusual cold southern winter brought wind, blizzards and rare snowfall to various parts of South America, with temperatures reaching as low as 7 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-22 degrees Celsius) in Argentina and 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) in Chile in July.

In June, South Africa had its first significant snowfall since 1981, as almost 10 inches (25 centimeters) of the white stuff fell in some parts of the country.

And in the United States, temperatures climbed into the triple digits this week in Midwestern states. [Emphasis added]

It's happening very quickly in climate terms, but humans are hard-wired to sense danger that occurs on much shorter time-scales. When change happens over years or decades, people tend to become accustomed to it. Winters here in Madison are very different from what was normal 30 years ago, but who remembers? The scary thing is that we ain't seen nothing yet.

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I'm moving early next week (locally here in Madison) and this week is nonstop packing and weeding through my stuff. Too damn many books and CDs! Making progress, though it doesn't seem to leave any time for blogging. Tomorrow, with luck.

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August 04, 2007

Lake Superior Warming, Levels Falling To Record Lows Environment

Another day, another grim environmental story. AP:

Deep enough to hold the combined water in all the other Great Lakes and with a surface area as large as South Carolina, Lake Superior's size has lent it an aura of invulnerability.

But the mighty Superior is losing water and getting warmer, worrying those who live near its shores, scientists and companies that rely on the lake for business.

The changes to the lake could be signs of climate change, although scientists aren't sure.

Superior's level is at its lowest point in eight decades and will set a record this fall if, as expected, it dips three more inches. Meanwhile, the average water temperature has surged 4.5 degrees since 1979, significantly above the 2.7-degree rise in the region's air temperature during the same period.

That's no small deal for a freshwater sea that was created from glacial melt as the Ice Age ended and remains chilly in all seasons.

A weather buoy on the western side recently recorded an "amazing" 75 degrees, "as warm a surface temperature as we've ever seen in this lake," said Jay Austin, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota at Duluth's Large Lakes Observatory.

Water levels also have receded on the other Great Lakes since the late 1990s. But the suddenness and severity of Superior's changes worry many in the region. Shorelines are dozens of yards wider than usual, giving sunbathers wider beaches but also exposing mucky bottomlands and rotting vegetation.

On a recent day, Dan Arsenault, a 32-year-old lifelong resident of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, watched his two young daughters play in mud on the southeastern coast where water was waist deep only a few years ago. A floatation rope that previously designated the swimming area now rests on moist ground.

"This is the lowest I've ever seen it," said Arsenault.

Superior still has a lot of water. Its average depth is 483 feet and it reaches 1,332 feet at the deepest point. Erie, the shallowest Great Lake, is 210 feet at its deepest and averages only 62 feet. Lake Michigan averages 279 feet and is 925 feet at its deepest.

Yet along Superior's shores, boats can't reach many mooring sites and marina operators are begging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge shallow harbors. Ferry service between Grand Portage, Minnesota, and Isle Royale National Park was scaled back because one of the company's boats couldn't dock.

Sally Zabelka has turned away boaters wanting to dock at Chippewa Landing marina in the eastern Upper Peninsula, where not long ago 27-foot vessels easily made their way up the channel from the lake's Brimley Bay. "In essence, our dock is useless this year," she said.

Another worry: As the bay heats up, the perch, walleye and smallmouth bass that have lured anglers to her campground and tackle shop are migrating to cooler waters in the open lake.

Low water has cost the shipping industry millions of dollars. Vessels are carrying lighter loads of iron ore and coal to avoid running aground in shallow channels. [...]

Precipitation has tapered off across the upper Great Lakes since the 1970s and is nearly 6 inches below normal in the Superior watershed the past year. Water evaporation rates are up sharply because mild winters have shrunk the winter ice cap — just as climate change computer models predict for the next half-century. [...]

Austin, the Minnesota-Duluth professor, said he's concerned about the effects the warmer water could have.

"It's just not clear what the ultimate result will be as we turn the knob up," he said. "It could be great for fisheries or fisheries could crash." [Emphasis added]

4.5 degrees since 1979. That's huge. It's got to be one hell of a shock to the lake's ecology. And not in a good way.

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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

The CIA has released some documents that detail illegal and scandalous activities they were involved in more than 30 years ago. The activities include wiretapping of phones, warrantless searches and opening citizens' mail. Thank God that kind of thing can't happen today. — Jay Leno

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August 03, 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

Earlier today, Iraq's parliament adjourned for the entire month of August. Experts predict there will be a lack of progress in Iraq during August, the likes of which hasn't been seen since June or July. — Conan O'Brien

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August 02, 2007

Stats Iraq

The spin doctors tell us that July saw the lowest number of US troop deaths since November. So, therefore, the "surge" must be working.

But here's a graph of US troop deaths since January '06:

The highlighted months are this July and July a year ago. That's progress?

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Bottled Water Is For Suckers Environment

Amy Goodman, via Alternet:

The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an embarrassing admission: Its bestselling Aquafina bottled water is nothing more than tap water. Last week, Pepsi agreed to change the labels of Aquafina to indicate the water comes from a public water source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, which has been leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water. [...]

The environmental impact of the country's obsession with bottled water has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles.

Economically, it makes sense to stop buying bottled water as well. The Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between bottled water and water from the city's municipal supply. A half-liter of Pepsi's Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs $1.39. The bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. From the tap, you can pour over 6.4 gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled stuff about 7,000 times more expensive, even though Aquafina is using the same water source. [Emphasis added]

Don't be a sucker. Keep some of the plastic bottles, refill them from the tap, stick them in the fridge. Drink, refill, refrigerate. Repeat. Like Carie taught me.

Posted by Jonathan at 04:24 PM | Comments (3) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

US Cannot Account For 190,000 Weapons Given To Iraqis Iraq

The US points the finger at Iran for supplying weapons to the insurgents in Iraq. But the foreign power who's supplying the most weapons is, evidently, the US. AFP, via RawStory:

The US government cannot account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to an investigation carried out by the Government Accountability Office.

According to the July 31 report, the military "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armour and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces."

The weapons disappeared from records between June 2004 and September 2005, as the military struggled to rebuild the disbanded Iraqi forces from scratch amid increasing attacks from Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.

Since 2004 the military "has not consistently collected supporting records confirming the dates the equipment was received, the quantities of equipment delivered, or the Iraqi units receiving the items," the report said. [...]

US commanders often accuse foreign powers such as Iran of supplying arms to illegal militias fighting in Iraq, but the report shows they cannot fully account for the hundreds thousands of weapons they brought in themselves.

Last month, Turkey raised concerns over reports that separatist Kurdish guerrillas launching cross-border raids from northern Iraq had received US-supplied guns supposedly destined for Iraqi security forces. [Emphasis added]

A circular firing squad of epic proportions. Unbelievable.

Posted by Jonathan at 01:27 PM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Why Fredo Won't Fire His Consigliere Politics

Even Time gets it:

If cabinet members were perishable goods, Alberto Gonzales would have passed his "sell by" date sometime last spring. Since January, when he first faced sharp questioning over the firing of U.S. Attorneys, the Attorney General has earned disastrous reviews for his inconsistent testimony, poor judgment and for appearing to place loyalty to the White House above service to the public. By June it was hard to find a Republican willing to defend him. Now Gonzales' dissembling testimony about a controversial domestic-spying program has raised suspicions about what he is hiding and fueled new calls for him to go. Senate Democrats have called for a special prosecutor to investigate his activities as Attorney General, and a group of moderate House Democrats has called for the House to weigh impeachment proceedings against him.

Yet the embattled Gonzales' grip on his job seems unshakable. Bush tossed Donald Rumsfeld last fall despite support from conservatives for the then Defense Secretary, and the President chucked Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace at the first sign of congressional resistance to his renomination. So why the extraordinary support for Gonzales in the face of a protracted meltdown at the Department of Justice (DOJ)? Here are four reasons why Bush can't afford to let Gonzales go:

1. Gonzales is all that stands between the White House and special prosecutors. As dicey as things are for Bush right now, his advisers know that they could get much worse. In private, Democrats say that if Gonzales did step down, his replacement would be required to agree to an independent investigation of Gonzales' tenure in order to be confirmed by the Senate. [...]

2. A post-Gonzales DOJ would be in the hands of a nonpartisan, tough prosecutor, not a political hand. Newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford is in line to take over until a new Attorney General could be confirmed. Morford, a 20-year veteran of the department, was brought in to investigate the botched trial of the first major federal antiterrorism case after 9/11. He is in the mold of James Comey, the former Deputy Attorney General who stood up to the White House over its domestic-eavesdropping program. Even New York Senator Charles Schumer, one of Gonzales' harshest critics, called Morford's appointment a positive step. Over the past six months, more than half a dozen top political appointees have left the department amid scandal. The unprecedented coziness that once existed between the Justice Department and the White House now remains solely in the person of Gonzales.

3. If Gonzales goes, the White House fears that other losses will follow. Top Bush advisers argue that Democrats are after scalps and would not stop at Gonzales. Congressional judiciary committees have already subpoenaed Harriet Miers and Karl Rove in the firings of U.S. Attorneys last year. Republicans are loath to hand Democrats some high-profile casualties to use in the 2008 campaign. Stonewalling, they believe, is their best way to avoid another election focused on corruption issues.

4. ...Gonzales remains the last line of defense protecting Bush, Rove and other top White House officials from the personal consequences of litigation. A high-profile probe would hobble the White House politically, and could mean sky-high legal bills and turmoil for Bush's closest aides.

Keeping Gonzales isn't cost-free. But for now, Bush seems to have decided that the importance of running out the clock on investigations by keeping his loyal Attorney General in place is worth any amount of criticism. [Emphasis added]

So there you have it. Bush needs a crooked AG to keep him and the rest of his crooked gang out of jail. Nice country we've got.

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

Posted by Jonathan at 09:53 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

A new survey says that 58% of the people who follow the news think Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign. Of course, President Bush is not in that group. You know, people who follow the news. — Jay Leno

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August 01, 2007

Gasoline On The Flames Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

The US has announced that it will send $63 billion in military aid to the Middle East: $20 billion for the Saudis and several small Gulf states, $13 billion for Egypt, and $30 billion for Israel.

William Arkin writes in the Washington Post:

There has been no official talk of a new U.S. military alliance in the Middle East. But my sense is that the Bush administration may be looking to solidify one before it leaves office — and the recently announced $63-billion Middle East arms deals are a stepping stone toward this goal.

The details are still sketchy. But from a strategic standpoint, the administration sees the alliance as serving at least two purposes. One, it ensures that some future president won't give up the fight. And two, it legitimizes future conflict with Iran.

"We are out here to talk about the long term," Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said at a press conference yesterday in Egypt. "The United States has been in this region and in the Gulf specifically for some 60 years. We have every intention of being here for a lot longer."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice equally spoke of "future security cooperation" beyond Iraq.

The new military alliance even has a temporary name: GCC 2. Yesterday, Rice and Gates met with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council of six nations: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — plus Egypt and Jordan.

"We have had historic interests in this region and we have pursued them through security cooperation for decades," Rice said, declining to go into the specific nature of any discussions. And indeed they were wide-ranging: Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, terrorism, Iran, Syria.

There is no question that the main event was enlisting the mostly Sunni-dominated governments to do more to prop up Baghdad and support the United States in Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Because if there's anything the Middle East needs more of, it's weapons. And I think we can pretty much conclude that all talk about a US withdrawal from Iraq is just that — talk. Just to placate us. Nobody, Democrat or Republican, who is serious about pulling out is ever going to be allowed to get in a position to make it happen. Not while there's oil in the ground.

See what they do, not what they say.

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The Beauty Of Wind Energy  Environment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote: "Wind farms are a thing of beauty, a monument to a better, saner future." A commenter took exception, saying, "the idea of wind farms as beautiful is purely subjective."

Well, maybe. But if anything is objectively beautiful, I think windmills have to be on the list. It's not just how they look, it's what they embody, what they portend, what they mean. We're not alone on this Earth.

Posted by Jonathan at 07:11 PM | Comments (1) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Visual Aids Corporations, Globalization  Economy

Evolution has made us especially good at processing visual input. Here are some pictures worth a thousand words:

Animation: Obesity in the US

According to Wikipedia, high-fructose corn syryp (HFCS) "was rapidly introduced in many processed foods and soft drinks in the US over the period of about 1975–1985." Corn subsidies made corn artificially cheap, and since 1982 sugar tariffs have made cane sugar prohibitively expensive. Coke and Pepsi switched to HFCS in 1984, and now it's found in just about every processed food. Agribusiness giants made a pile of money, and a lot of the rest of us got fat — and increasingly unhealthy. Picture a time-lapse picture of the average American over that period, swelling up like a balloon.

Animation: CEO Pay

Speaking of balloons, slide your cursor along the timescale to see how compensation for American CEOs has changed since 1970. Enough said.

Graphs: US Foreclosures

No wonder the financial markets are rattled.

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

Posted by Jonathan at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | Link to this  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Today's Bush Joke Humor & Fun

For months now, Democrats have talked tough, vowing they would hold the Bush administration accountable for their egregious mishandling of what many in the media are calling "the world." Well, numerous feckless Senate hearings, one useless all-night filibuster and three non-binding resolutions later, the Democrats finally decided it's go time [on screen: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) saying he will subpoena Karl Rove]. Karl Rove, the administration's turd-blossom has been called to account...The Democrats are going to feel really stupid though for doing that. You know why? Because compelling Mr. Rove to testify under an oath is completely unnecessary [on screen: WH spokesperson Tony Snow saying, "We have actually made Karl Rove available to that committee under conditions where he's going to tell the truth."] Under conditions where he's going to tell the truth? The room must be pitch black and festooned with lilies and beeswax candles. It must be a full moon, but not too full. His inquisitors must stand before him naked, holding a bowl of craisens, which are like raisins but with cranberries. And then, and only then, can the truth be heard. — Jon Stewart

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