Friday, September 30, 2005

Another great Leno quote

Former FEMA Director Mike Brown testified before Congress. He rejected criticism that he was inexperienced. He said, 'I've overseen over 150 presidential-declared disasters.' So, it turns out he wasn't inexperienced, he was just incompetent. What a relief that is!

-- Jay Leno

Friday Cat Blogging!

Henry holding down the bed!

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Bird flu

The Guardian is reporting on the bird flu pandemic that is said to be imminent. The article is entitled, "Bird flu pandemic 'could kill 150m'" and is by James Sturcke. Here's some of what it says:

A global influenza pandemic is imminent and will kill up to 150 million people, the UN official in charge of coordinating the worldwide response to an outbreak has warned.

David Nabarro, one of the most senior public health experts at the World Health Organisation, said outbreaks of bird flu, which have killed at least 65 people in Asia, could mutate into a form transmittable between people.

"The consequences in terms of human life when the pandemic does start are going to be extraordinary and very damaging," he said.

He told the BBC that the "range of deaths could be anything between five and 150 million".

A highly pathogenic form of bird flu, known as the H5N1, has led to the culling of tens of millions of birds in south-east Asia, but efforts to contain it have not prevented it spreading as far as the Ural mountains in Russia.
Last week, veterinary and medical chiefs from the European Union held talks aimed at drawing up an EU-wide action plan to prevent the spread of bird flu. Experts say spotting any outbreak immediately and treating local people with anti-viral drugs and vaccines will be the key to containing any outbreak.
"A flu outbreak is imminent but no one knows if it will be next week or in three years' time," a WHO spokeswoman said. "It is really difficult to know how many people will be infected but we know we have to get prepared."

Okay. Do you really trust the Federal government we have now to do what it takes to be prepared? Right. I didn't think so. Call your doctor and ask for a prescription for Tamiflu. Then build your immune system. Take plenty of vitamin C and other anti-oxidants. Go to the health food store and get an immune system building supplement that has echinacea and goldenseal in it. Be pro-active. This bug is nothing to fool around with. And good luck.

UPDATE: It seems bird flu is resistant to Tamiflu. See article here.

UPDATE #2: CNN published an article today entitled, "U.N. backs off 150m flu deaths". Here's part of what it says:

GENEVA, Switzerland -- The U.N. health agency has distanced itself from a top official's prediction that a global influenza pandemic could kill as many as 150 million people.

On Thursday, Dr. David Nabarro said a pandemic could come at any time and claim anywhere between 5 million and 150 million lives depending on the world's response to bird flu.

However on Friday, a spokesman for the U.N.'s World Health Organization said it was impossible to estimate how many people could die from a possible new pandemic triggered by bird flu.

"There is obvious confusion, and I think that has to be straightened out. I don't think you will hear Dr. Nabarro say the same sort of thing again," Reuters quoted WHO influenza spokesman Dick Thompson as telling reporters.

Nabarro was named Thursday as the U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza.

Thompson referred to WHO's long-standing forecast of 2 million to 7.4 million deaths, which comes from a study by the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), according to Reuters. "We think that this is the most reasoned position," Thompson said, because the last two flu pandemics have been relatively mild.

Well, personally I think 2 million is a horrible number and I wouldn't call that "mild". Either way the pandemic will be a terrible thing, in my opinion.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Arctic ice melting

It's time for another climate change article. This one is from the Guardian and is entitled, "Fears over climate as Arctic ice melts at record level". Here's how it gets started:

* Coverage is 20% below average for time of year
* Destructive cycle could affect Earth's weather

Global warming in the Arctic could be soaring out of control, scientists warned yesterday as new figures revealed that melting of sea ice in the region has accelerated to record levels.

Experts at the US National Snow and Data Centre in Colorado fear the region is locked into a destructive cycle with warmer air melting more ice, which in turn warms the air further. Satellite pictures show that the extent of Arctic sea ice this month dipped some 20% below the long term average for September - melting an extra 500,000 square miles, or an area twice the size of Texas. If current trends continue, the summertime Arctic Ocean will be completely ice-free well before the end of this century.

Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the Colorado centre, said melting sea ice accelerates warming because dark-coloured water absorbs heat from the sun that was previously reflected back into space by white ice. "Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold. We could see changes in Arctic ice happening much sooner than we thought and that is important because without the ice cover over the Arctic Ocean we have to expect big changes in Earth's weather."

The Arctic sea ice cover reaches its minimum extent each September at the end of the summer melting season. On September 21 the mean sea ice extent dropped to 2.05m square miles, the lowest on record. This is the fourth consecutive year that melting has been greater than average and it pushed the overall decline in sea ice per decade to 8%, up from 6.5% in 2001.

Walt Meier, also at the Colorado centre, said: "Having four years in a row with such low ice extents has never been seen before in the satellite record. It clearly indicates a downward trend, not just a short term anomaly."

I shudder to think what this means for humanity. We could well be sowing the seeds of our own extinction. Certainly we are in for massive displacements and undoubtedly more wars due to drought, famine and parts of the earth where people now live simply becoming uninhabitable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Practice what you preach, Mr. President

In an announcement today President Bush said all federal workers should travel less to save fuel. He decided on this in Texas, right before he flew to Colorado then back to Washington to prepare for tomorrow's trip back to Texas.

--Jay Leno

Let's not forget about the torture

With Lynndie England's conviction we really need to remember that torture is what we do these days. Here's an article entitled, "Torture is US policy, not aberration" by Jennifer K. Harbury.

As the United Nations intensifies its scrutiny of torture practices in Iraq, many Americans feel outrage and confusion.

How could this have happened?

The truth lies in the realities that led to the Katrina disaster. The horrors are not new, but long-term and deep-rooted.

The photographs of Abu Ghraib torture practices left many of us with a chilling sense of deja vu. Anyone who survived torture in Latin America or lost a loved one to death squads there, remembers these techniques.

We also remember the U.S. participants. Although our government leaders insist that the recent abuses were acts of a few "bad apples"--young MPs out of control--we can only shake our heads. We have heard it all before. While our young soldiers face prison time for following orders, those who authorized and ordered the torture continue to violate our laws with full impunity. Why?

Given the extraordinary flow of disclosures, confirming the use of identical U.S. torture practices throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, the "bad apple" defense is coy at best. It is impossible for so many soldiers to dream up identical techniques by coincidence. We are dealing with official policy, not individual excess. Legal responsibility goes all the way to the top.

We must also remember that these horrific practices were not invented during the war against terror. Throughout Latin America, secretly held prisoners were subjected to raging dogs, excruciating positions, simulated drownings, long-term sleep and food deprivation, blasting noises and terrifying threats.

U.S. responsibility was hardly limited to funding and training military death squads. In many cases, U.S. intelligence agents visited cells, observed battered prisoners and gave advice or asked questions. Instead of insisting on humane treatment, these agents simply left the detainees to their fates.
We are repeatedly told that we must permit torture to maintain our national security. True? Experts agree that torture does not yield reliable intelligence because the victims will say anything to stop the pain. Tried-and-true police methods yield far better results. Worse yet, as military people like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have said, we greatly endanger our own servicemen and women by discarding anti-torture protections.

I have to confess that I just don't let myself think very much about the fact that we are regularly torturing people. Probably because I feel so helpless and hopeless about the issue. But I'm glad this article showed up on Smirking Chimp this morning because it's important not to forget. We need to make our voices heard and say in what ever way we can, "Not in my name!"

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A rant I agree with

My friend, the photographer Walter P. Calahan, and I go way back. I hear from him every now and then and that's really nice. Fortunately we're pretty compatible politically speaking. Today he sent me his commentary on the president's latest shenanigans and I reproduce it for you in full here:

To Conserve Gas, President Calls for Less Driving

A New York Times Web Headline.

Asking American's to drive less amounts to asking Americans to fart less!

Then yesterday President Bush calls for the military to come to the aid of national disasters. What is this guy smoking? Talk about diluting our military's primary mission! Then why the hell did he and Congress create Homeland Security? I guess to downsize the federal government it was a good idea to create a whole new bureaucracy that doesn't do much very well?

Imagine Donald Rumsfeld leading this great nation in a hurricane or earthquake disaster, and at his first press conference saying "stuff happens" just like he described our military's poor preparation for post-invasion Iraq?

Hey Mister President, did you ever hear of the US Coast Guard. They were out there plucking people off roofs before the wind stopped blowing. Fully fund the Coast Guard to aid and coordinate nation disaster relief and you'll see a job well done.

Or you can simply fly to an Aircraft Carrier after a hurricane and declare "Mission

Is our president on crack?

Perhaps we can change our nation's name during the cover of night, get rid of this guy, and wake up tomorrow called Canada?


Way to go, Walter. Looking forward to hearing from you again soon!

Biased mainstream press

I've recommended Media Matters to you before as a watchdog organization for spotting inaccuracies and bias in the mainstream press. Here's an article about how the Frist insider trading story has hardly been noticed by mainstream television. The article is called, "Network news broadcasts give scant coverage to Frist stock scandal":

Despite having found the time to cover Kate Moss's purported cocaine use and to put one of its correspondents in a wind tunnel to demonstrate the effects of hurricane-force wind, ABC's World News Tonight has yet to mention the brewing scandal over the sale of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) stock in HCA Inc., the hospital chain founded by Frist's father, just two weeks before a bad earnings report caused the stock price to drop sharply. The nightly news broadcasts of CBS and NBC didn't do much more, both giving the story brief mentions on September 23.

Look, this is big. This is the same offense that sent Martha Stewart to prison. (Except that it involves a LOT more money.) And I'm telling you, if Frist doesn't do time for this I'm going to know that Martha was sent up because she's a woman and a Democrat.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Could be...

Now here's some sad information coming out of Washington. According to reports, President Bush may be drinking again. And I thought, "Well, why not? He's got everybody else drinking."

--David Letterman

The president's security blanket

Every Monday morning, Smirking Chimp publishes an article called Pundit Pap - a run down of the Sunday morning political talk shows. Usually I'm not home on Sunday morning and, even if I am, I really can't stomach those shows. But I think they're a fair indicator of what the news media are committed to emphasizing and they also are vehicles for the administration to communicate its spin of the week through the Republican guests that appear. So I like to read Pundit Pap. This morning, a hilarious bit of transcript from the McLaughlin show was published. I just have to share it with you:

Former Texas Gov. Bush [on video from Wednesday, 9/21/05]: Ya know something we, ahh, I've been thinking a lot about how America has responded and it's clear to me that Americans value human life and value every person as important.

And that stand in stark contrast, by the way, [next clause said slowly] to the terrorists we have to deal with.

You see, we look at the destruction caused by Katrina and our hearts break. They're the kind of people who look at Katrina and wish that they had caused it [dramatic pause].

We're at war against these people.

It's a war.... [dramatic pause] on terror.

These are evil men who target the suffering [dramatic pause].

They killed 3,000 of our people on September 11, 2001 [with an 'I'm not makin' this up' look on his face].

And they've continued to kill.

John McLaughlin: Does that ring true?

Larry O'Donnell: There are few Presidents in our history more lost than that. [Members of panel laugh out loud.] For him to find this desperate pathway from Katrina, from lives lost because of government mishandling of the hurricane that hit New Orleans. To get a path from there to his war on terror, and somehow link the hurricane to Al Qaeda, is as large as possible flight of mental illness as we've seen in a President. [More laughter.]

Tony Blankley: Now look...

Larry: There is no coherent objective to what that man said....

Eleanor Clift: He was like a child reaching for his security blanket.

Tony: Oh, lets be more respectful of the President.

Larry: Why?!

Eleanor: And putting everything in the framework of terrorism is the only thing that has sustained him. Except the public is now catching on, because they feel that Katrina revealed that we are less safe, that the Department of Homeland Security doesn't work, and that this President doesn't make us safer! He can't reach for the terrorism security blanket anymore!

When Eleanor Clift is good, she is very, very good. And I'll never again hear Bush use the "terror" without visualizing him looking like a scared little boy and clutching his security blanket for dear life.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


I just have to share Cindy Sheehan's speech of yesterday with you. She entitles it, "Patriotic Dissent". Isn't that a wonderful expression? Here's a paragraph that is simply steaming it is so biting and energetic:

We, as a young colony of Great Britain, broke from another tyrant, King George the Third. Well, I wish our George the Third were here today to see us out here in force protesting against his war and against his murderous policies. George is not here, though, because he is out galavanting around the country somewhere pretending that he cares about the people who are in the path of hurricane Rita. We know that he cares nothing for the people of America: Katrina, Iraq, and his idiotic response to 9/11 are evidence of that. He is just out and about play-acting like a President whose country is in crisis, just like he pretends to be a Commander in Chief and a Cowboy (I wonder if before he took off to Texas or Colorado or wherever he went, he watched a movie like Independence Day to see how that other fake president acted?). The reason he is out today is that his handlers told him that he got a little flak for playing golf and eating birthday cake with Senator McCain while some of his employers were hanging off rooftops and treetops in New Orleans. He swaggers around arrogantly like he is a macho dictatorial tyrant who doesn't have to answer to his employers, the people of the United States of America. Those days are over George, we are here today to tell you that we are a majority and we will never rest until you bring our young people home from the Middle East, and until you start putting money into rebuilding OUR communities: the ones natural disasters destroy with your help, and the ones which your callous and racist war economy are decimating. We won't allow you to take anymore money out of social programs to finance Halliburton to rebuild the Gulf States: there is no money. Our bank account is empty. George, this is our rainy day and you have failed us miserably. Stop pouring money into the pockets of the war profiteers and into building permanent bases in Iraq ... It is time to bring our billions of dollars home from Iraq too!!!

Will enough people listen? That's the question.

Protest in London

Here's an update on the anti-war protests story I blogged earlier today. It seems a solidarity protest was held in London yesterday. Did the American press report that? Not that I've come across. The Independent did, however. I'm so glad I regularly read foreign newspapers. Otherwise I wouldn't know what's going on. Our press just disgusts me, sometimes.

The article is entitled, "Thousands March to Demand Withdrawal of Troops from Iraq". Here's an excerpt:

More than 10,000 protesters descended on London yesterday for a mass demonstration against the war in Iraq.

Many of the protesters, who marched from Parliament Square to Hyde Park blowing whistles and carrying placards, were demanding the immediate withdrawal of British troops.

Buses were used to bring people from all over Britain to join the demonstration, organised by the Stop the War Coalition.

Scotland Yard estimated that crowds had swollen to 10,000 people by the time the march reached Hyde Park in the early afternoon, although organisers put the numbers at up to 100,000. Other marches were planned for the United States.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be pro-active in searching out unbiased news sources. Please don't depend on cable or broadcast evening news. You will get a lot of sensationalism that way and will not get thorough reporting on what really is happening.

Give peace a chance

Yesterday there was a massive anti-war protest in Washington D.C. with solidarity protests in many other cities in the U.S. Needless to say, the mainstream press is all but ignoring it - preferring to give wall-to-wall coverage to Hurricane Rita. Why they can't report on two stories at once is beyond me. I really had to look on a number of mainstream news websites to find an article that reported on the protest in any depth. Fortunately the Washington Post came through. Here are some excerpts from an article entitled, "Antiwar Fervor Fills the Streets:
Demonstration Is Largest in Capital Since U.S. Military Invaded Iraq

Tens of thousands of people packed downtown Washington yesterday and marched past the White House in the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation's capital since the conflict in Iraq began.

The demonstration drew grandmothers in wheelchairs and babies in strollers, military veterans in fatigues and protest veterans in tie-dye. It was the first time in a decade that protest groups had a permit to march in front of the executive mansion, and, even though President Bush was not there, the setting seemed to electrify the crowd.

Signs, T-shirts, slogans and speeches outlined the cost of the Iraq conflict in human as well as economic terms. They memorialized dead U.S. troops and Iraqis, and contrasted the price of war with the price of recovery for areas battered by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Riffs on Vietnam-era protests were plentiful, with messages declaring, "Make Levees, Not War," "I never thought I'd miss Nixon" and "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam." Many in the crowd had protested in the 1960s; others weren't even born during those tumultuous years.

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, "That's as good a guess as any.
More than 200 counter-demonstrators set up outside the FBI building on Pennsylvania Avenue, and some back-and-forth yelling occurred as the antiwar marchers moved past. "Shame on you! Shame on you!" one counter-protester shouted at the antiwar group. Several dozen officers stood between the two groups, and no trouble erupted, police said.

Some organizations supporting the war in Iraq plan to demonstrate today on the Mall.

Antiwar groups staged smaller rallies yesterday in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Rome and other cities. In Washington, the events were sponsored by groups including the ANSWER Coalition and United for Peace and Justice and focused on a succinct theme: "End the War in Iraq and Bring the Troops Home Now."
The masses on the street served up a broad cross section of the United States by age, geography religion and ethnic group. The Raging Grannies, Presbyterians for Peace, Portuguese Against Bush and a group of Quakers were there. The Buddhist Peace Delegation took up most of 14th Street NW with its golden banner that read: "May all beings be safe and free from anger, fear, greed, dilution and all ill being."

Protest organizers made special note of military participants in the antiwar effort.

Army 1st Sgt. Frank Cookinham, with a Special Forces patch on one shoulder, scorpion tattoos crawling across the back of his neck and "LOCO" permanently inked on his Adam's apple stands out in most crowds. He was pretty uncomfortable yesterday.

"I've never done this before, but here I am, in uniform, figuring this is the only way I can shove it to Bush," said Cookinham, of Newport, R.I., a Persian Gulf War veteran who recently returned from a second tour in Iraq. "This war makes no sense."

He definitely has that right. This war makes no sense. When are we as a nation going to come to our senses and demand that the troops be brought home?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Global warming and hurricanes - Part 2

The Guardian gives us another article about global warming and the extreme weather patterns we're now experiencing. This one is by Jeremy Rifkin and is entitled, "Sorry, Mr President, homilies won't stop the hurricanes".

A new scientific report out this past week in Science Magazine, a prestigious American journal, gives fresh impetus to the connection between oceans warming as a result of climate change and the increased severity of hurricanes. Scientists report that the number of major - category four and five - hurricanes has nearly doubled in the past 35 years. Tropical storms, say the scientists, draw their energy from warm ocean water. As the global rise in temperature heats the world's oceans, the intensity of hurricanes increases.

Katrina and Rita, then, are not just bad luck, nature's occasional surprises thrust on unsuspecting humanity. Make no mistake about it. We Americans created these monster storms. We've known about the potentially devastating impact of global warming for nearly a generation. Yet we turned up the throttle, as if to say: "We just don't give a damn." What did anyone expect? SUVs make up 52% of all the vehicles owned in America, each a death engine, spewing record amounts of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere.

How do we explain to our children that Americans represent less than 5% of the population of the world but devour more than a quarter of the fossil-fuel energy produced each year? How do we say to the grieving relatives of the victims of the hurricane that we were too selfish to allow even a modest five-cent tax increase on a gallon of petrol in order to encourage energy conservation? And when our neighbours in Europe and around the world ask why the American public was so unwilling to make global warming a priority by signing up to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, what do we tell them?

Sadly, the religious right in America is telling them that Jesus is returning soon so it doesn't matter what we do to the earth. This attitude is both callous and tragic beyond description.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

It's Leroy!

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Global warming and hurricanes

An article in the Independent (a British newspaper) entitled, "This is global warming, says environmental chief" explains the relationship between global warming and current hurricane intensity:

The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."
Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: "If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation." As he spoke, more than a million people were fleeing north away from the coast of Texas as Rita, one of the most intense storms on record, roared through the Gulf of Mexico. It will probably make landfall tonight or early tomorrow near Houston, America's fourth largest city and the centre of its oil industry. Highways leading inland from Houston were clogged with traffic for up to 100 miles north.
Asked about characterising them as "loonies", he said: "There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate."

"I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."
A paper by US researchers, last week in the US journal Science, showed that storms of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina have become almost twice as common in the past 35 years.

Will the powers that be in the U.S. come out of denial any time soon? I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Here's a comment about this article that I found on AMERICAblog by someone named Jonathan:

It's pretty simple warming exists. In the last ten years, global water temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius, and another one degree C in the fifty years before that.

A calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to heat one gram of water (at 15°C and 1 atmosphere of pressure) by one degree celsius.

Consider how many grams of water there are in the ocean and how much extra energy the planet would have to absorb from the sun to warm the oceans that much. That's global warming.

The wholesale consumption and combustion of oil based energy products in the last century has created gasses that trap energy that should be radiating back off of the planet and into space.

There's no way for us to bleed that energy off, short of preventing the energy from being trapped by the greenhouse gasses in the first place. Short answer is: we're fucked.

That's putting it bluntly. And scarily.

Here's an article in the Guardian called, "Hurricane aid used 'to test out rightwing social policies'". It's really revolting how the administration is taking advantage of the Katrina situation to further its agenda:

President Bush's multi-billion dollar reconstruction plans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are being used as "a vast laboratory" for conservative social polices, administration critics claim.

The White House strategy involves the suspension of a series of regulations guaranteeing the going local wage and affirmative action for minorities, while offering tax incentives for businesses in the affected region.

Education aid for displaced children will include $500m (£276m) in vouchers for private schools, while a senior Republican has also proposed a new law permitting a wide-ranging waiver of environmental regulations.

The White House has argued that the deregulation measures are designed to disentangle the relief effort from federal red tape. But Democrats are furious at the proposals. They view them as an attempt to slip through unpopular policies under cover of the wave of sympathy for Katrina's victims. "The plan they're designing for the Gulf coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for rightwing ideological experiments," said John Kerry, the party's defeated 2004 presidential candidate.

It's simply vicious and underhanded.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Great snark

Hurricane Rita, hitting Florida, and this time President Bush is not screwing around. He is not taking any chances. Earlier today, President Bush sprang into action and evacuated all the crooked voting machines out of Florida.

--David Letterman

Global warming feeds on itself

Well, it seems that global warming itself causes more global warming. An article in the Guardian entitled "Killer heatwave may have fuelled global warming" explains:

*Heat and drought of 2003 stifled forest growth
*Carbon dioxide released as plants suffered

Europe's great heatwave of 2003, which claimed an estimated 35,000 lives and cost the continent's economies an estimated £7bn altogether, may also have fuelled further global warming. A team of more than 30 scientists reports in Nature today that the scorching temperatures and prolonged drought have stifled Europe's forest growth and released huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, to feed still warmer summers in future.
In temperate climates, forests act as a carbon "sink", with some of the greenhouse gases released from fossil fuels becoming locked away again as wood, leaf litter and buried vegetation. But the picture in the summer of 2003 was dramatically different. Plant growth in Europe dropped that summer by 30% overall, and much of the carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere in the previous four years was released again.

"Such a reduction in Europe's primary productivity is unprecedented during the last century," the scientists report. "An increase in future drought events could turn temperate ecosystems into carbon sources, contributing to positive carbon dioxide feedbacks already anticipated in the tropics and high latitudes."

This is the third warning in three weeks that global warming could be moving to a point of no return. A week ago, US scientists calculated that hurricanes categorised as the most violent had almost doubled in frequency over the past 35 years as sea surface temperatures rose. Two weeks ago a Cranfield University team, who sampled topsoil at 6,000 places in England and Wales over 25 years, reported in Nature that England's soils were sending back carbon to the atmosphere at the rate of 4m tonnes a year.

It's hard to know what comment to make here. It is apparent that we have passed the point of no return. It's very bad and things are only going to get worse. As time goes on there is going to be massive human displacement as new areas of the world become uninhabitable. Needless to say, the political implications are very troubling.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Is the Red Cross really effective?

You know, I've heard criticism of the Red Cross for some time from people whose wisdom and awareness I trust. Now I've come across an article in the New York Times entitled "As Its Coffers Swell, Red Cross Is Criticized on Gulf Coast Response". Here's how it gets started:

In New Orleans and the coastal flood plains of Mississippi, many people are complaining that the American Red Cross was missing in their worst hours of need and are worried that its billowing relief fund may bypass them entirely.

The organization did not open shelters in flood-prone areas and was therefore unable to provide food and other necessities to people closest to the coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"The Red Cross has been my biggest disappointment," said Tim Kellar, the administrator of Hancock County, Miss. "I held it in such high esteem until we were in the time of need. It was nonexistent."

Even some volunteers are disgusted. "I will never, ever wear the Red Cross vest again," said Betty Brunner, who started volunteering in 1969 when Hurricane Camille destroyed her house but quit last week over the organization's response in Hancock County.

Two days after Hurricane Katrina struck, the Red Cross had only one shelter in the county, and it was far from some of the most populated coastal towns. It had no shelter in New Orleans.

If you want alternatives to the Red Cross, I would like to recommend Episcopal Relief and Development as well as the American Friends Service Committee. Both are committed to long term response to disasters - not just immediate relief.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Religious right, listen up!

I never told my religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert nor wished to change another's creed. I have judged of others' religion by their lives, for it is from our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read. By the same test must the world judge me.

- Thomas Jefferson

This corrupt administration

I want to share an article from The Washington Post this morning. Registration is required for reading the Post online and if you haven't registered, I really recommend that you do. This article is worth reading in its entirety. Entitled "Bush Official Arrested in Corruption Probe", it is written by R. Jeffrey Smith and Susan Schmidt and is published on the front page in the print edition. Here's an excerpt:

The Bush administration's top federal procurement official resigned Friday and was arrested yesterday, accused of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. It was the first criminal complaint filed against a government official in the ongoing corruption probe related to Abramoff's activities in Washington.

The complaint, filed by the FBI, alleges that David H. Safavian, 38, a White House procurement official involved until last week in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, made repeated false statements to government officials and investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002.

It also contends that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area. Abramoff is the person identified as "Lobbyist A" in a 13-page affidavit unsealed in court, according to sources knowledgeable about the probe.

Until his resignation on the day the criminal complaint against him was signed, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government.

The article later reports more on Abramoff:

Abramoff was indicted by federal prosecutors in Miami last month on unrelated charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. He remains the linchpin of an 18-month probe by a federal task force that includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Interior Department and the Justice Department's fraud and public integrity units. His lawyer did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Abramoff's allegedly improper dealings with Indian tribes -- which netted him and an associate at least $82 million in fees -- prompted the federal probe. But investigators have found that his documents and e-mails contain a trove of
information about his aggressive efforts to seek favors for clients from members of Congress and senior bureaucrats.

Accompanying Safavian and Abramoff on the 2002 trip to Scotland, for example, were Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration committee, lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and Neil Volz, a lobbyist with Abramoff at the Washington office of Greenburg Traurig.

Pretty disgusting, isn't it?

UPDATE: I just discovered that Smirking Chimp has picked up this same story so you can go here to avoid registering with The Washington Post if you like. Also you might like to read the comments after the Smirking Chimp edition.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Clinton grows a spine

Well, I've been concerned with Bill Clinton cozying up to the Bush family lately and so I was very relieved to see an article in the New York Times entitled, "Clinton Levels Sharp Criticism at the President's Relief Effort". Here are some passages:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 - Former President Bill Clinton, asked by President Bush to help raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, offered harsh criticism of the administration's disaster-relief effort on Sunday, saying "you can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up."

Mr. Clinton's comments in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week" could prove awkward for the White House, given President Bush's eagerness to involve his Democratic predecessor in a high-profile role to raise money for the hurricane's victims. His remarks came days after the president gave a televised speech from New Orleans, trying to seize the momentum amid other attacks on the administration's performance.

The White House has been under siege from critics, assailed first for the effectiveness of its response to the storm, and challenged more recently by questions about the long-term fiscal implications of its plans for rebuilding in the Gulf states.
"This is a matter of public policy," he said. "And whether it's race-based or not, if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made. That's what they did in the 80's; that's what they've done in this decade. In the middle, we had a different policy."
Noting statistics that showed a significant drop in poverty during his presidency, Mr. Clinton said, "You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up, and when you tell people to go do something they don't have the means to do, you're going to leave the poor out."
Mr. Clinton drew a sharp distinction between the performance of the government's disaster-relief agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in his administration and today. "I think we did a good job of disaster management," he said.

While not using the name of Michael D. Brown, the FEMA director who resigned last Monday after criticism of his performance in the Katrina disaster, Mr. Clinton praised the performance of his FEMA director, James Lee Witt, and said Mr. Witt had been especially sensitive to the needs of low-income people because "both of us came out of environments with a disproportionate number of poor people."

I disagreed with Clinton on a number of issues while he was in office but, oh, I miss him. We had mostly peace and prosperity for eight years. How America has changed. It's tragic.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Undermining government

The Bush administration has made it clear that it is uninterested in truly governing -- in fact, it is against government on principle. Here is an article that explains how Bush is undermining government from within. You know, I think maybe I'm suffering from outrage fatigue because I just don't have enough outrage left in me to express how vile this is. Just when I think they can't possibly get any worse I learn something else about the administration that is beyond horrible.

The article is by Douglas J. Amy and is entitled, "Bush's strategy to hobble government".

Americans were rightly shocked to learn that Michael Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was totally unqualified for his job - gaining it because he was the college roommate of the previous director.

And it is certainly appalling that the man in charge of protecting lives and property during natural catastrophes had absolutely no experience in disaster management.

But what Americans should really be appalled about is that this kind of appointment is hardly the exception in the Bush administration. Brown is just one example of an ongoing pattern of inappropriate and disturbing appointments by President Bush - appointments that threaten to undermine the basic functioning of many key government agencies.

This administration's guiding political philosophy is that government is a bad thing and should be cut back to a minimum. It has a particular contempt for the federal bureaucracy, which it sees as the embodiment of "liberal big government." So it is hardly surprising that the administration has not made a great effort to ensure that the best-qualified people are running these agencies.

But the situation is actually much worse than this. It is not simply that Bush put incompetent political hacks like Brown in place. He has also been appointing officials who are actually hostile to the agencies that they run. Many of them have political values and views diametrically opposed to the very missions of these agencies.

Mr. Amy then explains how the strategy works:

An investigative reporter for the Denver Post found that more than 100 of the high-level officials appointed by Bush in his first term alone were overseeing the industries they used to represent as lobbyists, employees or lawyers. The foxes are now guarding the henhouse.

But there is a deeper political agenda at work here. These appointments have been part of the White House strategy to do an end-run around the democratic process. For years, Republicans have wanted to roll back environmental, workplace and consumer protection regulations. But the Republicans in Congress have been reluctant to do so because they fear a backlash from the public.

So the Bush administration has decided to use unelected administrators to sabotage these regulatory programs from within. These anti-regulatory appointees have been cutting their own budgets, purposefully delaying new regulations, discouraging vigorous enforcement of current regulations, firing inspectors and enlarging loopholes to the rules so that more businesses can escape regulation.

If Bush had tried to name a dedicated pacifist as secretary of defense, the public would have been outraged. But he has been doing virtually the same thing in many other agencies by appointing officials who are ideologically dedicated to subverting the purposes of the agencies they have joined.

You know, I rarely use the word "evil" - even in my thoughts - but I'm going to use it here. This strategy to undermine the basic safety of the American public is simply evil. We need a leader to help us rise up and stop it. I hope and pray that leader emerges before it is too late.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Media lies and distortions

From time to time I have recommended Media Matters to you for information on how the mainstream press distorts the facts or even out and out lies. Today I'm recommending a compilation of Media Matters articles as found on Smirking Chimp that is entitled, "Media compliment Emperor's new clothes". Here are some samples of the distortions reported:

CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Suzanne Malveaux falsely suggested at the beginning of the week that Bush's poll numbers were improving, with Blitzer excitedly exclaiming, "Mr. Bush's approval rating is up -- up! -- to 46 percent." But in order to claim that Bush's approval rating is increasing, Blitzer compared polls conducted by different news organizations using different methodologies -- a dubious comparison, at best, particularly in light of the fact that every recent poll has shown dismal results for Bush. As the week continued, it became increasingly clear that the rosy picture painted by Blitzer and Malveaux wasn't based in reality; new polls by Fox News, CBS/New York Times, and NBC/Wall Street Journal, among others, all showed poor results for Bush.

While CNN was putting a happy face on dismal poll numbers, CBS and Rush Limbaugh gave Bush credit he didn't deserve for steps taken by state and local leaders. CBS reporter Peter Van Sant repeated already debunked claims that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was slow to declare a state of emergency. (She made such a declaration before Katrina even hit, contrary to the false claims made by the Bush administration and repeated by The Washington Post.) Van Sant also repeated a baseless claim similar to one made by Fox's Brit Hume and others that Bush "convinced" Blanco to order an evacuation.
Fox News, of course, did its part. The "news" channel displayed a "timeline" of key Katrina events that curiously omitted two key details. The timeline included declarations of emergency by the Republican governors of Mississippi and Alabama but omitted Blanco's declaration, in keeping with the Bush administration's attempts to pretend that she was late to issue one. And the timeline indicated that three New Orleans levees broke on August 30 -- but omitted mention of two levees that broke on August 29, triggering catastrophic flooding. Coincidentally, a key (though false) Bush administration talking point has been that nobody anticipated the levee breaches and that, as of Tuesday August 30, everybody though New Orleans had "dodged a bullet." It is presumably nothing more than a coincidence that the Fox
timeline left out two key details and that, in each case, the omission works in Bush's favor.
CNN contributor Joe Watkins said on CNN's Paula Zahn Now that "under Bill Clinton, 15.1 percent of the population was poor; under President Bush, 12.7 percent of the population is poor. That's a reduction, that's a good thing." But that was a distortion, and that's a bad thing. The poverty rate was 15.1 percent when Clinton took office; it decreased every year during his presidency, falling to 11.3 percent in his last year in office. Since then, it has increased every year of Bush's presidency, to 12.7 percent now. The "reduction" Watkins referred to occurred entirely under Bill Clinton -- and has been reversed under George Bush.

Apparently the Republican Party was handing out misleading poverty talking points, because Watkins was joined by Bill O'Reilly, who noted that the poverty rate "halfway through President Bush's tenure" is "a full point lower" than it was "[h]alfway through President Clinton's tenure in office in 1996." But O'Reilly, like Watkins, was crediting Bush with a reduction in poverty that occurred before Bush took office, while Bill Clinton was still president. Incredibly, after Media Matters pointed out the dishonesty of this comparison, O'Reilly defended it, saying "That's the only fair comparison. You gotta go real time," adding that "[t]he poverty under Bush is down 1 percent."

There's more. Click through and read the whole article. And do you wonder that I no longer get my news from television?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Henry looking a bit annoyed at having his photograph taken!

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Photo by Ellie Finlay

If Bush is serious

An article published in The Nation about Bush's speech last night is entitled, "Accountability 101". Here's the part I want to quote for you:

Horrified by the realization that a great many Americans see him as an uncaring Herbert Hoover, the president who forgot New Orleans attempted with his address to the nation on Thursday night to remake himself as a Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the 21st century.

The president's speech from New Orleans was full of proposals, promises and pledges. But Americans will be excused if they wait for proof of this conservative's newfound compassion.
If the president is serious, he should:

1.) Make it clear that administration aides who engage in cynical and divisive efforts to discredit state and local officials will be removed immediately from their positions. In a time of national emergency, the White House should not be playing politics in order to shift the blame for the missteps and misdeeds of the president and his appointees.

2.) Support the immediate creation of an independent blue ribbon commission to investigate why the initial response to the crisis was so miserable. The president should recognize that if there are fundamental flaws in the nation's emergency management systems, they must be corrected now -- before the next disaster hits.

3.) Take steps to ensure that the federal response to the crisis and its aftermath will be fiscally responsible and ethical. At a time when massive new expenditures are being made, the administration should abandon its proposal to rob the treasury by cutting estate taxes for the wealthy. Additionally, while federal funding of relief and rebuilding initiatives should be generous, it should also be audited and appropriate.

Major contracts with private corporations should never be awarded without proper bidding, and strict limits should be set on the profits that firms are allowed to take away from those contracts.

One of Bush's predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, put it well when he said, "Big business is not dangerous because it is big, but because its bigness is an unwholesome inflation created by privileges and exemptions which it ought not to enjoy."

If George Bush is really going to take responsibility for the renewal of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, his most serious responsibility in the months and years to come will be to ensure that the hundreds of billions of federal tax dollars that are assigned to that endeavor do not merely enrich corporations that have contributed to his campaign and employed his vice president.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Original words to the Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Molly Ivins

I just have to call your attention to the recent column by Molly Ivins entitled, "The graft goes on: Halliburton takes lead in Katrina reconstruction". The title gives you the gist of the body of the article and what I want to quote here is the ending:

Some of you may have heard me observe a time or two -- going back to when George W. was still governor of Texas -- that the trouble with the guy is that while he is good at politics, he stinks at governance. It bores him, he's not interested, he thinks government is bad to begin with and everything would be done better if it were contracted out to corporations.

We can now safely assert that W. has stacked much of the federal government with people like himself. And what you get when you put people in charge of government who don't believe in government and who are not interested in running it well is... what happened after Hurricane Katrina.

Many a time in the past six years I have bit my tongue so I wouldn't annoy people with the always obnoxious observation, "I told you so." But, dammit it all to hell, I did tell you, and I've been telling you since 1994, and I am so sick of this man and everything he represents -- all the sleazy, smug, self-righteous graft and corruption and "Christian" moralizing and cynicism and tax cuts for all his smug, rich buddies.

Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.

You know what's so frustrating is the fact that now the Republicans can say, "See? Government doesn't work." By their own incompetence they've proven their main point. It's really quite diabolical, isn't it?

The immoral presidency

There's an article on Smirking Chimp this morning that comes right out and states that the Bush presidency is immoral. In fact, the title of the article is "The immoral presidency of George W. Bush" and it's by W. Christopher Epler. Here are a couple of excerpts:

George Bush can't "photo-op" away what he did to New Orleans. This man must answer, if not to God, at least to the conscience of all Americans, since his role in the anguish of New Orleans was flagrantly immoral.

The facts are simple: First he destroyed the protective wet lands, then he stopped the life and death funding for the levees, and then he couldn't be bothered by the inevitable horror which followed these criminally short sighted decisions (folks in New Orleans knew he had doomed their fabulous city long before Katrina).

Plus, why was Katrina so lethal in the first place? That's easy. It's because she picked up energy as she moved across the warmer than usual waters. And why were the waters warmer than usual? It's spelled: G-L-O-B-A-L W-A-R-M-I-N-G, Mr. President.
So simple. So heart breakingly simple. This man's administration is all about making pig rich people pig richer. That's it! That's the whole story. Where have our retirements disappeared to? Why has educational funding and medical/scientific research dried up? Why have millions of Americans (and children!) lost their health care during this man's administration? And why has Mother Nature been turned into a whore for Texas energy companies?

Answer: $$$$$. But not $$$$$ for us! $$$$$ for the top 2 or 3 percent of the country.

That's what happened to New Orleans. No money for the levees. Why not? Well, keeping the levees in repair would have dipped into tax breaks for multi millionaires -- and the much lied about war in Iraq.

What Epler is talking about is exactly what the mainstream press won't touch. The consequences of Bush's policies need to hammered home over and over on the nightly news. But it will never happen. Only the pictures of desperate, starving people and bloated bodies that could not be hidden in the early days of this disaster have caused people to wake up. And whether that awakened awareness is lasting remains to be seen.

The spam problem

I think I should tell you that the people who send out spam have now found blogs and have started sending advertisements and other commercial messages to blog comments sections. So whenever you see that I have removed a comment, that is the reason. I would not remove a bona fide comment about a posting unless it contained racist remarks or other hate messages or incitement to violence. Please feel very free to express your opinion at any time!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Oh what irony

Seriously, Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you anymore. There's no more money to spend; you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you also used up the army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.

--Bill Maher

Portent for the future

Katrina is not just about the Gulf Coast. It is a terrifying sign of things to come as explained by Bill McKibben in an article entitled, "Katrina Havoc Reflects the New America". Here are some passages:

If the images of skyscrapers collapsed in heaps of ash were the end of one story - the United States safe on its isolated continent from the turmoil of the world - then the picture of the sodden Superdome with its peeling roof marks the beginning of the next story. It is the one that will dominate our politics in the coming decades of this century: America befuddled about how to cope with a planet suddenly turned unstable and unpredictable.

Over and over in the last few weeks, people have said that the scenes from the convention center, the highway overpasses and the other suddenly infamous Crescent City venues didn't "look like America," that they seemed instead to be straight from the Third World. That was almost literally accurate, for poor, black New Orleans (whose life had never previously been of any interest to the larger public) is not so different from other poor and black parts of the world. Its infant mortality and life expectancy rates, its educational achievement statistics mirror scores of African and Latin American enclaves.

But it was accurate in another way, too, one full of portent for the future.

A decade ago, environmental researcher Norman Myers began trying to add up the number of people at risk of losing their homes from global warming. He looked at all the obvious places - coastal China, India, Bangladesh, the tiny island states of the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Nile delta, Mozambique, on and on - and predicted that by 2050 it was entirely possible that 150 million people could be "environmental refugees," forced from their homes by rising waters. That's more than the number of political refugees sent scurrying by the bloody century we've just endured.
Because so far, even as blogs and Web sites all over the Internet fill with accusations about the scandalous lack of planning that led to the collapse of the levees in New Orleans, almost no one is addressing the much larger problems: the scandalous lack of planning that has kept us from even beginning to address climate change, and the sad fact that global warming means the future will be full of just this kind of horror.
Katrina, a Category 1 storm when it crossed Florida, roared to full life in the abnormally hot water of the Gulf of Mexico. It then punched its way into Louisiana and Mississippi - the latter a state now led by Gov. Haley Barbour, who in an earlier incarnation served as a GOP power broker and energy lobbyist who helped persuade President George W. Bush to renege on his promise to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

So far the United States has done exactly nothing even to try to slow the progress of climate change: We're emitting far more carbon than we were in 1988, when scientists issued their first prescient global-warming warnings.

Our rulers have insisted by both word and deed that the laws of physics and chemistry do not apply to us. That delusion will now start to vanish. Katrina marks Year One of our new calendar, the start of an age in which the physical world has flipped from sure and secure to volatile and unhinged. New Orleans doesn't look like the America we've lived in. But it very much resembles the planet we will inhabit the rest of our lives.

The Bush administration is fond of saying that 9/11 changed everything. Soon we will be saying, "Katrina changed everything". Of course, it was not Katrina itself that made the changes. No, it is our own incomprehensible lack of regard for our own welfare as a species that is changing our earth to the point of one day making it uninhabitable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Just mediocracy or sheer incompetence

I came across and article this morning by Paul Campos entitled, "The Mediocre Frat Boy Theory of Life" that explains how Mike Brown ended up being head of FEMA:

Political patronage is one of the world's oldest professions, but, like some other venerable practices, it needs to be kept within certain bounds of decency.

When politicians pay off friends, financial supporters, campaign workers, and other assorted hangers on by giving them government jobs, the distributors of such gifts need to keep in mind that certain positions should be reserved for people who actually know what they're doing. In particular, any job where poor performance is likely to end up killing people ought to be staffed by someone who is qualified to do it, or who is at least competent enough to recognize that he isn't qualified, so that he can surround himself with people who are.

As I outline in an article in this week's New Republic, former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Mike Brown, who resigned on Monday, fit neither description. Nearly 15 years ago Brown abandoned a short and undistinguished legal career in his native Oklahoma and moved to Colorado, where for a decade he supervised judges at Arabian horse shows. In 2001 he resigned from that position under pressure, after members of the association that employed him accused him of mismanagement and possible impropriety.

At that point, Brown was a 47-year-old failed former lawyer who, in a world in which decisions were made wholly on merit, would have struggled to land another legal job. But needless to say that's not the world we inhabit.

Mike Brown had a powerful friend: his college buddy Joe Allbaugh, who was one of George W. Bush's key aides. When Bush became president he appointed Allbaugh to head FEMA, and within a couple of months Allbaugh had chosen Brown to be the agency's top lawyer. A few months later Brown was promoted to deputy director, and the year after that President Bush nominated him to head the entire agency.

Well, Mike Brown has resigned, blaming the media as he goes. And who do we have now? The same person who brought us duct tape and plastic sheeting as the solution to the preparedness problem. Oh, mercy!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Oh. My. God.

It pains me more than I can say to make this prediction but I honestly think it's just a matter of time before Bush takes us into nuclear war. The Washington Post published an article yesterday entitled, "Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan: Strategy Includes Preemptive Use Against Banned Weapons". How can it be possible that we are now saying we are willing to start a nuclear conflict? It is beyond incredible. But here it is:

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.

At a White House briefing that year, a spokesman said the United States would "respond with overwhelming force" to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its forces or allies, and said "all options" would be available to the president.

The draft, dated March 15, would provide authoritative guidance for commanders to request presidential approval for using nuclear weapons, and represents the Pentagon's first attempt to revise procedures to reflect the Bush preemption doctrine. A previous version, completed in 1995 during the Clinton administration, contains no mention of using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against threats from weapons of mass destruction.
To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."

The draft says that to deter a potential adversary from using such weapons, that adversary's leadership must "believe the United States has both the ability and will to pre-empt or retaliate promptly with responses that are credible and effective." The draft also notes that U.S. policy in the past has "repeatedly rejected calls for adoption of 'no first use' policy of nuclear weapons since this policy could undermine deterrence."

It is enough to make a sane person despair. All I can say is, please write your congressmen and congresswomen to protest and write to the president too. His email address is:

Sunday, September 11, 2005

True liberty

To be nobody-but-yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.


No compassion at all

It's a story that's been told before many times on progressive websites and it's turned up again in an article entitled, "Our modern-day 'Grapes of Wrath'". I'm referring to Bush's remarks about the poor he made in an economic class at Harvard:

President George W. Bush was introduced to the film "The Grapes of Wrath" as a student at the Harvard Business School, where he got admitted on his family's name. "I wanted to give the class a visual reference for poverty and a sense of historical empathy," macroeconomics professor Yoshi Tsurumi told a researcher for Kitty Kelley's book, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty."

"George Bush came up to me and said, 'Why are you going to show us that commie movie?'" Tsurumi recalled. "I laughed because I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. After we viewed the film, I called on him to discuss the Depression and how he thought it affected people. [Bush] said, 'Look, people are poor because they are lazy.' A number of students pounced on him and demanded that he support his statement with facts and statistics. He quickly backed down because he could not sustain his broadside."

The incident and a semester of exposure burned into Tsurumi's memory a disturbing view of the future president. "His strong prejudices soon set him apart.... Most business students are conservative, but they are not inhumane or unprincipled. George Bush came across as totally lacking compassion, with no sense of history, completely devoid of social responsibility and unconcerned with the welfare of others."

The Harvard professor's recollection of his "abysmal" student is not inconsistent with what we have since learned about Bush as president. How else could a sitting president remain deafeningly silent on vacation for four days as a major city was destroyed by the greatest natural disaster ever to hit the continental United States?

I honestly think the man is a sociopath. He has no capacity for empathy whatsoever.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Truly shameful

Please read the New York Times editorial entitled, "A Shameful Proclamation" . Here's the pertinent bit:

On Thursday, President Bush issued a proclamation suspending the law that requires employers to pay the locally prevailing wage to construction workers on federally financed projects. The suspension applies to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

By any standard of human decency, condemning many already poor and now bereft people to subpar wages - thus perpetuating their poverty - is unacceptable. It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages invariably mean lower productivity.

The ostensible rationale for suspending the law is to reduce taxpayers' costs. Does Mr. Bush really believe it is the will of the American people to deny the prevailing wage to construction workers in New Orleans, Biloxi and other hard-hit areas? Besides, the proclamation doesn't require contractors to pass on the savings they will get by cutting wages from current low levels. Around New Orleans, the prevailing hourly wage for a truck driver working on a levee is $9.04; for an electrician, it's $14.30.

Those are outrageously low wages already and Bush is making it possible - inevitable, rather - for them to be even lower than THAT? When will ordinary working people in America realize that Bush is not on their side? He's only out for big business. And make no mistake about it. It's the big corporations like Halliburton that are going to benefit from this decision.

Water shortages loom

No, I'm not talking about the victims of Katrina this time. Rather I'm sharing an article with you that's about the drinking water shortages resulting from global warming - from the melting of the glaciers. The article is entitled, "Water crisis looms as Himalayan glaciers melt" and it's published by CNN:

It's a scary thought, but scientists say the 40 percent of humanity living in South Asia and China could well be living with little drinking water within 50 years as global warming melts Himalayan glaciers, the region's main water source.

The glaciers supply 303.6 million cubic feet every year to Asian rivers, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers in China, the Ganga in India, the Indus in Pakistan, the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh and Burma's Irrawaddy.

But as global warming increases, the glaciers have been rapidly retreating, with average temperatures in the Himalayas up 1 degree Celsius since the 1970s.

A World Wide Fund report published in March said a quarter of the world's glaciers could disappear by 2050 and half by 2100.

"If the current scenario continues, there will be very little water left in the Ganga and its tributaries," Prakash Rao, climate change and energy program coordinator with the fund in India told Reuters.

"The situation here is more critical because here they depend on glaciers for drinking water while in other areas there are other sources of drinking water, not just glacial."

Experts are alarmed.

About 67 percent of the nearly 12,124 square miles of Himalayan glaciers are receding and in the long run as the ice diminishes, glacial runoffs in summer and river flows will also go down, leading to severe water shortages in the region.

We seem to have passed the point of no return as earth dwellers. And the powers that be are still in denial.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging!

This little kitten belongs to Cynthia's friend, Sandy.

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Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Eight big lies

Well, the Bush administration is hell-bent on smearing the state and local governments of Louisiana as well as covering up its own ineptitude with regard to the shamefully inadequate disaster response. I want to share with you an article entitled, "Eight Big Lies About Katrina" that exposes some of these efforts. Here's how it gets started:

Big Media has given ample space for administration officials and conservatives to spread falsehoods about relief efforts.

In the past week, Bush administration officials and conservative commentators have repeatedly used the national media to spread misinformation about the federal government's widely criticized response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

1. Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees"

On the Sept. 1 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, President Bush told host Diane Sawyer, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that protected New Orleans from flooding. As Media Matters for America has noted, Sawyer did not challenge Bush's claim, despite numerous, repeated warnings by government officials, experts and the media that a major hurricane could cause levee breaches resulting in catastrophic flooding. A September 2 New York Times front-page article repeated Bush's false claim without challenge -- even though a Times editorial the same day declared, "Disaster planners were well aware that New Orleans could be flooded by the combined effects of a hurricane and broken levees."

A Sept. 5 article reported that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff falsely told reporters that "planners" did not predict a breach of the levees that would flood the city. As reported, Chertoff said, "That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight." But unlike the Times, noted that "officials have warned for years that a Category 4 [hurricane] could cause the levees to fail." The article added that in an August 31 interview on CNN's Larry King Live, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael Brown said, "That Category 4 hurricane caused the same kind of damage that we anticipated. So we planned for it two years ago. Last year, we exercised it. And unfortunately this year, we're implementing it." But in the same Larry King Live interview, Brown responded to complaints that rescue efforts were not moving quickly enough by insisting, "And I must say this storm is much, much bigger than anyone expected."

And that's just lie number 1. Do click through and read the facts about all eight. There are a couple of right wing acquaintances of mine who send me forwarded emails or and other articles on a more or less regular basis and it's appalling what is being said out there. Most of it is in the "blame the victim" mode. Fact checking is really important right now. May I once again recommend Media Matters for specific reporting on misinformation spread by the mainstream press.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The latest polls

Well, the president's poll numbers are slipping yet again (surprise, surprise) as reported in an article entitled, "Americans Give Bush Poor Marks on Handling Katrina, Polls Show":

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Two new polls show Americans give President George W. Bush poor marks for his handling of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, with one survey showing that Bush is now losing support even among his Republican base.

Both polls contain additional bad news for Bush. A poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press gives him an overall job approval rating of 40 percent -- down 10 percent since January -- and a disapproval rating of 52 percent, among the highest of his presidency.

Bush's job approval rating was 41 percent in a Zogby America poll, the lowest in that poll's history, and 53 percent of those questioned said the nation is headed in the "wrong direction.''

The surveys were conducted in the week following the hurricane's assault on the Gulf Coast and show that support for the president, at near-record lows before the storm's arrival, fell further amid anger over the federal government's response.

"Uncharacteristically, the president's ratings have slipped most among his core constituents -- Republicans and conservatives,'' Pew director Andy Kohut wrote in an e-mail.

And here's another poll result that is also not surprising:

The Pew poll found that blacks are more inclined to believe race played a factor in the federal response to the hurricane than whites; many of those who remained in New Orleans after the flooding were blacks.

Some 66 percent of blacks surveyed said the federal response would have been faster if most of the victims in New Orleans were white, while 77 percent of whites questioned said the issue of race made no difference in the government's response.

The president has got a lot to answer for. Let's hope the press and the Democratic Party make him do it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Misuse of firefighters

Firefighters who came from Utah and other parts of the country to help Katrina victims are being used by Fema not as rescue workers or to fight fires but as public relations workers. Here's an article from the Salt Lake Tribune entitled, "Frustrated: Fire crews to hand out fliers for FEMA" that explains:

ATLANTA - Not long after some 1,000 firefighters sat down for eight hours of training, the whispering began: "What are we doing here?"

As New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pleaded on national television for firefighters - his own are exhausted after working around the clock for a week - a battalion of highly trained men and women sat idle Sunday in a muggy Sheraton Hotel conference room in Atlanta.

Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.
"They've got people here who are search-and-rescue certified, paramedics, haz-mat certified," said a Texas firefighter. "We're sitting in here having a sexual-harassment class while there are still [victims] in Louisiana who haven't been contacted yet."

The firefighter, who has encouraged his superiors back home not to send any more volunteers for now, declined to give his name because FEMA has warned them not to talk to reporters.
"It's a misallocation of resources. Completely," said the Texas firefighter.

"It's just an under-utilization of very talented people," said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote, who sent a team of firefighters to Atlanta. "I was hoping once they saw the level of people . . . they would shift gears a little bit."

Foote said his crews would be better used doing the jobs they are trained to do.
Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid.

But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

Right. The photo-op is more important than rescuing people. I should have known.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Students evacuate seven

I'm sitting here just stunned by the article I've just read. It's entitled, "3 Duke students tell of 'disgraceful' scene" and was dated September 4. Here's a passage:

DURHAM -- A trio of Duke University sophomores say they drove to New Orleans late last week, posed as journalists to slip inside the hurricane-soaked city twice, and evacuated seven people who weren't receiving help from authorities.

The group, led by South Carolina native Sonny Byrd, say they also managed to drive all the way to the New Orleans Convention Center, where they encountered scenes early Saturday evening that they say were disgraceful.

"We found it absolutely incredible that the authorities had no way to get there for four or five days, that they didn't go in and help these people, and we made it in a two-wheel-drive Hyundai," said Hans Buder, who made the trip with his roommate Byrd and another student, David Hankla.

The article then describes what happened when the trio reached the convention center:

"The only way I can describe this, it was the epicenter," Buder said. "Inside there were National Guard running around, there was feces, people had urinated, soiled the carpet. There were dead bodies. The smell will never leave me."

Buder said the students saw four or five bodies. National Guard troopers seemed to be checking the second and third floors of the building to try to secure the site.

"Anyone who knows that area, if you had a bus, it would take you no more than 20 minutes to drive in with a bus and get these people out," Buder said. "They sat there for four or five days with no food, no water, babies getting raped in the bathrooms, there were murders, nobody was doing anything for these people. And we just drove right in, really disgraceful. I don't want to get too fired up with the rhetoric, but some blame needs to be placed somewhere."

Unfortunately, Karl Rove is spinning it so that the blame is being placed on the local authorities. I only hope the people of this great nation don't buy it.

Her beautiful mind

Well, Barbara Bush has uttered another "Let them eat cake" pronouncement that shows her utter disregard for ordinary people who are not part of her social set. In case you missed her "beautiful mind" comment two years ago, here it is:

"Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

~Barbara Bush on ABC/Good Morning America, March 18, 2003

Well now she's saying that the poor are better off because of Katrina. Here's the quote:

First Mom Barbara Bush yesterday walked past rows of poor and ailing refugees at the Houston Astrodome, then said, "So many of the people here . . . were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.

They were underprivileged anyway so who cares that they're stuck in a sports arena and have no place they can call home. Sheesh.

The article is entitled, "The beautiful mind of Barbara Bush: Houston shelter is 'working very well' for poor" and it's by Kate Sheehy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Sheer callousness

Well, the White House is putting its energy into containing the political damage from its shameful response to Hurricane Katrina. This New York Times article, "White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage", explains how:

Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.

The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett.

So Karl Rove is at it with his dirty tricks even on this issue. The callousness simply defies description.

It was predicted

Here's an article from September of 2004 that makes it clear that the nightmare in New Orleans was indeed predicted. The article is entitled, "Experts paint doomsday scenario if Ivan strikes city". Here's an excerpt:

People floating through a polluted stew to treetops, competing with fire ants for a dry perch -- a direct hit here by Hurricane Ivan could be that horrifying, Louisiana storm damage experts say.

With New Orleans' saucer-shaped topography that dips as much as nine feet below sea level, there's nowhere for water to go if a storm surge is strong enough to top levees ringing the city.

"Those folks who remain, should the city flood, would be exposed to all kinds of nightmares from buildings falling apart to floating in the water having nowhere to go," Ivor van Heerden, director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Public Health Center, said Tuesday.

And that's not all. Flood waters, in addition to collecting standard household and business garbage and chemicals, would flow through chemical plants, "so there's the potential of pretty severe contamination," van Heerden said.

LSU's hurricane experts have spent years developing computer models and taking surveys to predict when hurricanes could flood the city and how many people would choose to wait out the storm at home. Both results paint grim pictures.

The enormity of the evacuation problem was also predicted:

The rescue operation, meanwhile, would be among the world's biggest since World War II, when Allied Forces rescued mostly British soldiers from Dunkirk, France, and brought them across the English Channel in 1940, van Heerden predicted.

How can the administration say that nobody anticipated how bad it could get? It's just not true.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bald-faced lies

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans has written a scathing article about the failures of the Bush administration in rescuing the people of that devastated city. Editor and Publisher reports on that article and prints it in full. Here's an excerpt:

Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn’t known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, "We’ve provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they’ve gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day."

Lies don’t get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President.

Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, "You’re doing a heck of a job."

That’s unbelievable.

There were thousands of people at the Convention Center because the riverfront is high ground. The fact that so many people had reached there on foot is proof that rescue vehicles could have gotten there, too.

We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued.

No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced. Especially not one as preposterous as the claim that New Orleans couldn’t be reached.

Heads ought to roll. But knowing Bush, Michael Brown will probably get a medal.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

My God. How can this be?

Did you know that Homeland Security is refusing permission for the Red Cross to enter New Orleans? I got it off the Red Cross website itself. Here's what they say:

Hurricane Katrina: Why is the Red Cross not in New Orleans?

* Acess to New Orleans is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities and while we are in constant contact with them, we simply cannot enter New Orleans against their orders.

* The state Homeland Security Department had requested--and continues to request--that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

* The Red Cross has been meeting the needs of thousands of New Orleans residents in some 90 shelters throughout the state of Louisiana and elsewhere since before landfall. All told, the Red Cross is today operating 149 shelters for almost 93,000 residents.

* The Red Cross shares the nation’s anguish over the worsening situation inside the city. We will continue to work under the direction of the military, state and local authorities and to focus all our efforts on our lifesaving mission of feeding and sheltering.

* The Red Cross does not conduct search and rescue operations. We are an organization of civilian volunteers and cannot get relief aid into any location until the local authorities say it is safe and provide us with security and access.

* The original plan was to evacuate all the residents of New Orleans to safe places outside the city. With the hurricane bearing down, the city government decided to open a shelter of last resort in the Superdome downtown. We applaud this decision and believe it saved a significant number of lives.

* As the remaining people are evacuated from New Orleans, the most appropriate role for the Red Cross is to provide a safe place for people to stay and to see that their emergency needs are met. We are fully staffed and equipped to handle these individuals once they are evacuated.

Maybe the Red Cross does not do search and rescue but they do provide food and water. The people in New Orleans have been starving and dying of thirst for days. Letting the Red Cross in could only help. I'm simply incredulous after learning of this information.

Halliburton cashes in

Well that didn't take long. Here's an article entitled, "Halliburton gets Katrina contract, hires former FEMA director". It seems that major decisions by our government are made with Halliburton's profits in mind. Here's what's happened:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1 ( -- The US Navy asked Halliburton to repair naval facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the Houston Chronicle reported today. The work was assigned to Halliburton's KBR subsidiary under the Navy's $500 million CONCAP contract awarded to KBR in 2001 and renewed in 2004. The repairs will take place in Louisiana and Mississippi.

KBR has not been asked to repair the levees destroyed in New Orleans which became the primary cause of most of the damage.

Since 1989, governments worldwide have awarded $3 billion in contracts to KBR's Government and Infrastructure Division to clean up damage caused by natural and man-made disasters. Earlier this year, the Navy awarded $350 million in contracts to KBR and three other companies to repair naval facilities in northwest Florida damaged by Hurricane Ivan, which struck in September 2004. The ongoing repair work involves aircraft support facilities, medium industrial buildings, marine construction, mechanical and electrical improvements, civil construction, and family housing renovation.

In March, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is tasked with responding to hurricane disasters, became a lobbyist for KBR. Joe Allbaugh was director of FEMA during the first two years of the Bush

Today, FEMA is widely criticized for its slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

How is it that these decisions favoring Halliburton are made with impunity?

Disgusting. Just disgusting.