Tuesday, July 17, 2007

pesky data strikes again

from The New York Times:
Being without health insurance is no big deal. Just ask President Bush. “I mean, people have access to health care in America,” he said last week. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”

This is what you might call callousness with consequences. The White House has announced that Mr. Bush will veto a bipartisan plan that would extend health insurance, and with it such essentials as regular checkups and preventive medical care, to an estimated 4.1 million currently uninsured children. After all, it’s not as if those kids really need insurance - they can just go to emergency rooms, right?
A recent article in Business Week put it bluntly: “In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems.”

A cross-national survey conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that America ranks near the bottom among advanced countries in terms of how hard it is to get medical attention on short notice (although Canada was slightly worse), and that America is the worst place in the advanced world if you need care after hours or on a weekend.
Besides, not all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

This can lead to ordeals like the one recently described by Mark Kleiman, a professor at U.C.L.A., who nearly died of cancer because his insurer kept delaying approval for a necessary biopsy. “It was only later,” writes Mr. Kleiman on his blog, “that I discovered why the insurance company was stalling; I had an option, which I didn’t know I had, to avoid all the approvals by going to ‘Tier II,’ which would have meant higher co-payments.”

He adds, “I don’t know how many people my insurance company waited to death that year, but I’m certain the number wasn’t zero.”
On the other hand, it’s true that Americans get hip replacements faster than Canadians. But there’s a funny thing about that example, which is used constantly as an argument for the superiority of private health insurance over a government-run system: the large majority of hip replacements in the United States are paid for by, um, Medicare.

That’s right: the hip-replacement gap is actually a comparison of two government health insurance systems. American Medicare has shorter waits than Canadian Medicare (yes, that’s what they call their system) because it has more lavish funding - end of story. The alleged virtues of private insurance have nothing to do with it.

The bottom line is that the opponents of universal health care appear to have run out of honest arguments. All they have left are fantasies: horror fiction about health care in other countries, and fairy tales about health care here in America.
Why do we continue to allow a for-profit system to determine who gets quality of life improving or even life saving drugs, surgeries, etc.? Why do we leave it up to callous corporations to determine who lives and who dies? Why do we make our doctors jump through extra hoops, instead of just treating us with all necessary care?

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Who needs science?

from The Baltimore Sun:
As the nation’s top doc from 2002 to 2006, Dr. Carmona was ordered not to discuss embryonic stem cell research or the emergency contraceptive known as Plan B, he said last week in testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He was ordered to water down a report on the dangers of secondhand smoke.

He definitely couldn’t point out the failings of abstinence programs. In speeches that were vetted by other political appointees, he was ordered to mention President Bush three times for every page.

Politics and a hard-right ideology, Dr. Carmona learned, trumped everything else, including the hard facts offered by science. “Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology [and] perceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect,” he said.

Dr. Carmona, an Army Special Forces veteran and former leader of the Pima, Ariz., SWAT team, is just the latest in a parade of former Bush administration officials to criticize a White House that is hostile to science and impervious to the conclusions driven by its research. Modern-day know-nothings, Bush administration officials share with Islamist jihadists a profound distrust of modernity.
Ever get the feeling that "us" is starting to look more like the "them" we're supposed to hate every day?

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yet another reason to buy things made close to home

from the Guardian:
Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are double those of aviation and increasing at an alarming rate which will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics. 90% of the world’s goods are carried by sea and world trade is increasing all the time.

Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken. The figures from the oil giant BP, which owns 50 tankers, and researchers at the Institute for Physics and Atmosphere in Wessling, Germany reveal that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 and 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or up to 5% of the global total. This is nearly double Britain's total emissions and more than all African countries combined.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

yet another reason to buy things made close to home

from the Guardian:
Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are double those of aviation and increasing at an alarming rate which will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics.

90% of the world’s goods are carried by sea and world trade is increasing all the time. Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken. The figures from the oil giant BP, which owns 50 tankers, and researchers at the Institute for Physics and Atmosphere in Wessling, Germany reveal that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 and 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or up to 5% of the global total. This is nearly double Britain's total emissions and more than all African countries combined.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

meat v. machine

Okay, so maybe I will give away a hint or two about 'seamlessness'...take this article, for instance, which reports that a carnivorous diet can be responsible for releasing more CO2 and other greenhouse gases than a daily commute. From Food for Thought on Global Warming:
A November 2006 report published by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions - 18 percent - than transportation. The FAO also reported that the livestock industry is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic (generated by human activity) methane and 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, both of which have a higher "global warming potential" than carbon dioxide. The FAO also blamed the livestock sector for heavy deforestation, and according to the World Resources Institute, deforestation is responsible for approximately 20 percent of all global warming emissions.

The FAO report followed an April 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, who compared the amount of fossil fuel necessary to produce various foods, taking into account the fuel needed to run machinery, provide food for animals and irrigate crops. They found that the typical U.S. meat-eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan (pure vegetarian), simply because of the difference in food choices. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report by David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel indicated that it takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make a calorie of animal protein as it does to make a calorie of plant protein.

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A little while back, I came across a story about a poll done on the most annoying cliches. A quick google turned up this article, on CNN:
At the end of the day, it's the most irritating cliche in the English language.

That abused and overused phrase has topped a poll to find the most annoying cliche, the Plain English Campaign said Wednesday.

Second place went to "at this moment in time," and third to the constant use of "like," as if it were a form of punctuation. "With all due respect" came fourth.

The UK-based Plain English Campaign said it canvassed 5,000 people in 70 countries to find the most irritating phrases of all...
Personally, I find the use of the word 'literally' to be more annoying, though maybe that doesn't count as a cliche. No, I just checked, it does. Anyway, the use of 'At the End of the Day' as my blog title was an expression of my intent to up-date the blog, literally, at the end of the day. (See what I mean about that literally thing? Everytime I hear someone say it, I want to say "Still not using it right, Joey.") But yesterday, while listening to a podcast of Democracy Now!, I heard one interviewee use 'at the end of the day' 10 times in 5 minutes. Literally! No, actually he only used it three or four times, but it was annoying enough.

So, now I'm going seamless. And what does that mean? At the end of the day, I haven't decided - literally. But I'll let you know when I do.
Here's a thought provoking piece from Sojourners. Do we have any idea what the true cost of our consumption is? Ignorance truly is bliss, as we carelessly drive our economy, the environment, and the living standards of hundreds of thousands of people - including ourselves - right to the brink. What if we had to pay the full cost of a product - any product?

Everyday low prices are part of our American birthright. Right?
When we take a vehicle for repair, we get a bill that says something like, "Parts $55. Labor $300." What if the price tag of every item we bought broke down the cost that way? One of Karl Marx's more reasonable ideas held that the value of a commodity was comprised of the labor that went into it. Today we might add to that calculation the environmental damage. If we think of prices that way, when I confront a $300 personal computer or a $20 pair of blue jeans, I am witnessing a robbery. And when I buy it, I am an accomplice. But we rarely think about that because we have come to expect those everyday low prices as our American birthright and to believe that our consumer economy would grind to a halt if we ever had to pay the true price of our commodities.

Someday, if the earth survives our petroleum binge, people may look back at archived editions of early 21st-century consumer catalogs and think that same thought. "It's amazing what you can afford when you don't have to pay for the labor." Of course, our slaves are mostly in China, but the distance only makes us more vulnerable to the corruption of our unearned loot.
My favorite line comes at the end:
The point here is that when we don't pay the real price for things, we don't appreciate them, and, worse, we become addicted to filling our days with the acquisition of cheap disposable items...

The slaveholders of the 19th century left neo-classical monuments to their crimes. Our monuments will be giant heaps of broken plastic and crumpled shrink-wrap.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

it just keeps getting scarier

from Bush Directive Increases Sway on Regulation:
President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.
This "suggests" that they still "have ways to exert power"? No - it suggests that Bush and his cronies are desperately grabbing at every chance for power, control, and deception they can muster. Oh, but you'd have no reason to think anything is amiss from this lovely piece in the New York Times. Check out this quote, and excerpts of the following commentary:
In an interview on Monday, Jeffrey A. Rosen, general counsel at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said, “This is a classic good-government measure that will make federal agencies more open and accountable.”

Business groups welcomed the executive order...

Consumer, labor and environmental groups denounced the executive order...
Great. More "he said, she said." There's the just as you'd expect quote from a Democrat about how bad this is, and then a hiccup - a repeat. What the hell?
Business groups hailed the initiative.
Oh, I get it. First we heard that, big surprise, business groups "welcomed" this "executive order." And now we find out that business groups "hailed" what is now, for some unknown reason, called an "initiative." This, ladies and gentlemen, is first rate reporting. Clearly worthy of appearing in the New York Times. Fortunately, there's a well placed quote from a V.P. of the US Chamber of Commerce, who tells us that, "Because of the executive order, regulations will be less onerous and more reasonable." Oh, well, I'm glad we got that cleared up from a party so disinterested as the Chamber of Commerce.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

russian remarks

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, offers some thoughts on world affairs.

from History is Not Preordained: A New Cold War Can Be Averted:
A watershed in international relations has occurred in recent months. Indeed, the past year may well have seen the end of an entire era in world affairs - the post-cold war period of unilateralism and missed opportunities.
There is a real danger of a new division of the world; the possibility of a new cold war is being widely discussed. Without regard for the security council or for the opinion of other countries, including its partners and allies, the United States invaded Iraq with disastrous consequences. The arrogance of military power has led to a grave crisis - and to a decline of the United States' role and influence.

Another consequence of unilateralist policies and attempts to claim exclusive leadership is that most international institutions have not been able to address effectively the new century's global challenges - the environmental crisis and the problem of poverty. The unprecedented scale of international terrorism and the proliferation of ethnic and religious conflicts are disturbing signs of troubles to come.
Both in the United States and elsewhere, the prevailing view is often negative. The administration gives ample reason for this view, because it seems to prefer the inertia of the old course. It would appear that all the Bush administration wants is to persuade the world that it is still firmly in the saddle. The president's recent statements and the plans being discussed in his administration are cut from the old cloth.
And yet I think the possibility of change is still there. The administration and Congress still have the time to forge it. They should begin with the Middle East. Not only should America start pulling itself out of the Iraqi quagmire, but it also needs to return to a constructive policy in the region. It is essential that the Middle East peace process be resumed, along with a serious dialogue with Iraq's neighbours.

If America's leaders have the foresight and the courage to look at the world as it really is, they would choose dialogue and cooperation rather than force. What is needed is not a worldwide web of military presence and intervention, but a restraint and a willingness to solve problems by political means.

After all, the world has changed dramatically even when compared to the early 1990s. It has become even more interconnected and interdependent. New giants - China, India and Brazil - have entered the world arena, and their views can no longer be ignored. Europe is uniting, and its economic and political influence is bound to grow.

Although the Islamic world is finding it difficult to adapt to new realities, its adjustment will continue and this great civilisation will insist on being treated with respect. Finally, the democratic transition of Russia (as well as the other former Soviet republics), for all its considerable problems, is bringing a new, strong player to the international scene.
I have always said that in this day and age we cannot afford to be pessimists. There are many reasons to be concerned and even alarmed. But history is not preordained. A new division of the world, a new confrontation, is not inevitable. A democratic world order is not mere rhetoric. It can be built.
*emphasis mine

what's for dinner?

from Vegetarian is the New Prius:
President Herbert Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." With warnings about global warming reaching feverish levels, many are having second thoughts about all those cars. It seems they should instead be worrying about the chickens.

Last month, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." It turns out that raising animals for food is a primary cause of land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and not least of all, global warming.
Last year researchers at the University of Chicago took the Prius down a peg when they turned their attention to another gas guzzling consumer purchase. They noted that feeding animals for meat, dairy, and egg production requires growing some ten times as much crops as we'd need if we just ate pasta primavera, faux chicken nuggets, and other plant foods. On top of that, we have to transport the animals to slaughterhouses, slaughter them, refrigerate their carcasses, and distribute their flesh all across the country. Producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels--and spewing more than ten times as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide--as does a calorie of plant protein. The researchers found that, when it's all added up, the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by going vegetarian than by switching to a Prius.

According to the UN report, it gets even worse when we include the vast quantities of land needed to give us our steak and pork chops. Animal agriculture takes up an incredible 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmed animals are probably the biggest cause of slashing and burning the world's forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder. These forests serve as "sinks," absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, and burning these forests releases all the stored carbon dioxide, quantities that exceed by far the fossil fuel emission of animal agriculture.
It's a little hard to take in when thinking of a small chick hatching from her fragile egg. How can an animal, so seemingly insignificant against the vastness of the earth, give off so much greenhouse gas as to change the global climate? The answer is in their sheer numbers. The United States alone slaughters more than 10 billion land animals every year, all to sustain a meat-ravenous culture that can barely conceive of a time not long ago when "a chicken in every pot" was considered a luxury. Land animals raised for food make up a staggering 20% of the entire land animal biomass of the earth. We are eating our planet to death.

What we're seeing is just the beginning, too. Meat consumption has increased five-fold in the past fifty years, and is expected to double again in the next fifty.
Not just a cooler planet, also a cleaner one. Animal agriculture accounts for most of the water consumed in this country, emits two-thirds of the world's acid-rain-causing ammonia, and it the world's largest source of water pollution--killing entire river and marine ecosystems, destroying coral reefs, and of course, making people sick. Try to imagine the prodigious volumes of manure churned out by modern American farms: 5 million tons a day, more than a hundred times that of the human population, and far more than our land can possibly absorb. The acres and acres of cesspools stretching over much of our countryside, polluting the air and contaminating our water, make the Exxon Valdez oil spill look minor in comparison. All of which we can fix surprisingly easily, just by putting down our chicken wings and reaching for a veggie burger.
Ever-rising temperatures, melting ice caps, spreading tropical diseases, stronger hurricanes... So, what are you do doing for dinner tonight? Check out www.VegCooking.com for great ideas, free recipes, meal plans, and more! Check out the environmental section of www.GoVeg.com for a lot more information about the harmful effect of meat-eating on the environment.

in advance of the 'state of the union,' context

While there certainly are many issues weighing on our nation's collective conscience (and many that Bush would like to weigh on us as a great distraction), the one issue American's have become increasingly united over is the war and our concern for it's quick end. Unfortunately, we will likely hear little about the war tonight, other than, perhaps, our need for patience (we can't let the terrorists win now, when we're so close to seeing democracy spread her wings and sore!). We need to remember. We need everyday to remember that it was lies that started this war, lies, false pretenses, and a selfish, greed-driven agenda. We need to remember the incompetence of our careless leaders, Bush and those: who have led our military into this mess and got stuck in quicksand; who have sent our nation's debt skyrocketing and passed the buck for their illegal war to our children and grandchildren; who have lost the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people and dramatically increased the possibility of terror attacks; who have ignored the real problems of real Americans; who continue to lie to us, who try to convince us that there is some way out of this mess - and especially who tell us that the way out is straight through Tehran, Iran. Enough is enough. We will learn nothing new from Bush tonight in his 'state of the union.' Everything we need to know, we can learn by looking back at the last six years.

from Bush the Empire Slayer:
Dick Cheney is a man of war, and a man on a mission: a crusader who won't rest until the name Bush Jr is etched in the history books—not lost in the microscopic print of the endnotes section, mind you, as is destined to be Senior's fate, but glowing in the radiant typeface of a chapter heading. That mission, for once, is all but accomplished. In January of 2001, George W. Bush took—er, grabbed—the reins of an American Empire at its zenith. He will soon hand back a smoldering wreckage of broken lives, enduring hatred, and vanished influence. Michael Ignatieff has called Pax Americana Empire Lite. A better phrase would be Empire Short-Lived, or, if you're William F. Buckley Jr and the vernacular ruffles your literary feathers, Imperium Brevissimum. At a recent ceremony for his son Jeb, George H. W. Bush was caught on national television sobbing uncontrollably. Pity the man who stands one short letter away from the worst president in US history. The letter is H, as in H for hubris.
The words Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, detainee bill, and extraordinary rendition are seared in the world's consciousness as the badges of shame of a democracy gone mad. According to Pew's most recent “Global Opinion” survey, “anti-Americanism is deeper and broader now than at any time in modern history.” The war effort's claim on the US treasury will soon exceed $600 billion: more than Vietnam; more than all the money ever spent on cancer research; more than enough to “race for the cure” all the way to Alpha Centauri. We're wosing big, Mr President.

Historians will ponder how one gangly caveman and nineteen scrawny associates turned America into the land of the kind-of-free (53rd freest press in the world, tied with Botswana ) and the home of the petrified. The sons and daughters of the nation that stood up to Hitler and Tojo now file through airport security barefoot, much as they would walk, shoeless, into a mosque—a mosque, they pray, empty of Muslims.
To talk the neocolonial talk from the plush comfort of the imperial capital is easy. To walk the walk is not. US military expenditures exceed those of all nations on earth combined. And yet battling a ragtag band of lightly armed insurgents was more than the world's mightiest army could take. It is “about broken,” laments Colin Powell—and, by the way, “We are losing.” A recent Marine Corps memo concedes that Coalition Forces “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar. ” Last summer's stabilization push in Baghdad, Operation Together Forward II, proved a dismal failure: the violence actually rose by 43 percent!
Could the invasion have succeeded? Not a chance. All the grousing about incompetent planning is the age-old excuse-making prattle of losers. Leave aside the not-so-trifling fact that the United States never had the proper DNA for empire (lite or otherwise). It is the incontrovertible reality of the 21st century that the time for the White Man's Burden has passed. Not only is the era of empire gone, but the days of the so-called liberal hegemonic order are numbered. Even before 9/11, the cumulative impact of European integration, the rise of Asian powers, and the resurgence of Muslim identity sounded the death knell for American hegemony. To hasten the burial will be one of Bush's legacies. Alas, incalculable misery in the Middle East, enduring anti-American hatred, and future terrorist attacks in London, Paris, and Seattle will be another one.
And so, today, we gather to honor the superior minds, all of these men (they are mostly men) who so decisively turned out the lights on the American empire. Heading the roll call is none other than the Decider himself. If you're among the wise who chose to sit out the Bush years at the bottom of a well, you need to know only two things about the man: the first is that he is President of the United States; the second is that he said:

“One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.”

To connect it to the war for terror would indeed be easier. A self-declared uniter, Bush is beginning to unite the country around the belief that he is the worst president in US history. Whether his reelection, ipso facto, makes the electorate the dumbest ever is a logical inference that a political culture drunk with self-admiration will have trouble getting its woozy head around.
Christmas 2003 came early in Iraq and WMD-stuffed stockings were spotted everywhere by late March. Or so Rumsfeld told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos: “We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” East, west, south and nowhere somewhat. In September of that year, the part-time AEI scholar, full-time slimeball Richard Perle got all his neurons firing at once to produce this marvel of crystal gazing:

“And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush.”

Or perhaps some grand morgue? Which naturally leads us to the 600-billion dollar question: where did they find these people? The answer: in that dank rodent house known as the American Enterprise Institute. Often found gnawing on the chicken wire, the rabid ferret Michael Ledeen needs no cage rattling to work himself into a froth of hysteria:

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

In their knockoff of Mein Kampf, retitled An End to Evil, Richard Perle and former Bush speechwriter David Frum give voice to their full-blown dementia by recommending all-out attacks on anybody ever so slightly Muslim. Why? Because “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.” Salon's Gary Kamiya calls the Perle-Frum worldview “a strange combination of Hobbes and Popeye.” Harsh on Popeye. Me, I have no patience for moral midgets who've seen their Napoleonic hour arrive. Like Alexander in Gordium, I head straight for the deliciously obvious: to end evil, end Perle and Frum.
It would be unfair to let Team Bush steal all the credit for the imperial collapse without a tip of the hat to the White House Dictation Office, also known as the mainstream media (MSM). Skipping right over the miniskirted hyena Ann Coulter (a risky stunt but I've got my spiked pogo shoes on), the oafish junkie Rush Limbaugh, and the assortment of one-trick performing fleas hopping mad on the AM dial, I shall ascend Mount Olympus to gaze at the brainy stars of the MSM.

Few shine more brightly than Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, the supernova of the Murdoch empire—unless red dwarf is a tighter cosmic fit for someone known to his friends and pet hamster as “Dan Quayle's brain.” The day after the 9/11 attacks, the surrogate brain seized the moment and began pounding the war drums: “There's a fair amount of evidence that Iraq had very close associations with Osama bin Laden in the past.” There was not a shred of evidence. A year later, Kristol nuzzled up to The New Republic's Lawrence F. Kaplan to break into a cakewalk jig on the National Review dance floor: “Having defeated and then occupied Iraq, democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for the world's sole superpower.” Brilliance of this magnitude is Kristol's trademark. Time magazine took longer than most to realize that and only this month got around to adding Kristol to its roster of columnists.
The war has given the American mainstream media a brilliant opportunity to prove its essential worthlessness. It has shown itself to be little more than a circus of entertainers and cheerleaders for whom every season is the silly season. Tragically, the media has failed in its sacred duty to keep a vigilant, skeptical, critical eye on the centers of power. Who is the American Robert Fisk, Gideon Levy, or Amira Hass? Whoever they are (and Sy Hersh proves they exist), why are their writings not filling the op-ed pages of the great American newspapers? How can the nation that produces the bulk of Nobel prize winners be stuck with such a sullen bunch of journalistic mediocrities? The sycophantic enablers of the Fourth Estate have blood on their hands.

The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq had a single cause: the reassertion of US hegemony after 9/11. Its trigger was a rare astral alignment. Big Oil, the neocons, the Christian fundamentalists, the liberal hawks, AIPAC, the MSM, and 9/11 all formed cosmic dots in the sky that only one power could—and did—successfully align: the president of the United States. No American leader has so much owned a war.

And none has so little owned up to it. Victors are never war criminals. That's because they get to write the history books. Bush won't have that chance. The die has been cast and the hour is too late for him or anyone to alter the unforgiving judgment of posterity. Therein, paradoxically, lies our quandary. For, if freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, then Bush is a free man—free to pursue the most malignant policies, heedless of the consequences to his unworsenable presidential standing. Beware the desperation of a cornered man.

The apostle of imperial dominance, Bush slew the “last empire.” The towering figure of our time, he is a piteously small man. The self-anointed emissary of a “higher father,” he is servant to no power but himself. The captain of the sinking ship has laid his command upon his fellow Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for me.” No sacrifice of life shall be too great, no damage to civil liberties too high, no expenses too vast for a vainglorious man deluded by fantastic dreams of redemption by force.

But who besides the bereaved will mourn? Who besides the orphan will whimper? Who besides the humiliated will stare back? Who besides the thugs and the craven will lead? Patriotism is a lovely thing. In its name, some go dying by the side of an Iraqi road in twitching agony; others go shopping in oversized automobiles festooned with yellow ribbons. We all play our part—and nobody else's.

Yeats bemoaned an era when the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were full of passionate intensity. Today, Kristol blusters and hectors, Cheney scolds and forebodes, Bush struts and smirks. Meanwhile, the giant, timid chorus listens politely to the deafening silence of the outraged—and the mad march of war goes on.

Bernard Chazelle is a professor of computer science at Princeton University. Reach him at chazelle@CS.Princeton.EDU

Friday, December 22, 2006

rest easy, everyone

There is little to worry about.
Forget about the fact that the number of people without health insurance has been climbing for years.
Forget about the increasing number of children who are living in poverty.
Forget about the continual creep of prices on basic goods like gas and food.
And forget about the fact that wages are at a 40 year low, that most people are working harder today and making less than they were at any point in their lives.
Forget about the growing climate crisis and the threat of the next hurricane, forest fire, drought or flood.
Oh, and forget about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are fighting or trying to recover from battle, not to mention their families and friends who live every day on edge.

Because the President isn't worried. In fact, he sleeps easy at night. So forget about your lack of health care - no need to lay awake at night worrying about one of the kids breaking a bone or getting sick. Forget about the bills that are piling up - no need to worry about how you'll pay the rent or mortgage, the electric bill, buy new shoes for the kids and still put food on the table. Forget about loved ones who are risking their lives for a lie - no need to worry about whether they'll be the next victim in an ever more violent civil war.

Because the President sleeps well. Take comfort in that. And rest easy, everyone.

from George & Laura Bush: The PEOPLE Interview:
[Q.] A lot of readers asked how you shut off the day's events. Do you ever take sleep aids?
THE PRESIDENT: Generally not. But occasionally when I travel, I'm expected to get on an airplane and fly eight hours and pop out and be fresh and diplomatic and on message. If I'm having trouble sleeping, I'll take a sleep aid. But I must tell you, I'm sleeping a lot better than people would assume.
If only more Americans could say that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Ho Ho Ho" in Chinese is "Ha Ha Ha" - as they laugh all the way to the bank

Nothing terribly new here, except for an interesting way to revisit a growing crisis that has been ignored for too long.

from Santa Claus is Chinese or, Why China is Rising and the US is Declining:
I know Santa Claus is Chinese because each Christmas morning after all the gifts are unwrapped and things settle down I systematically go through the presents to see where they are made. The results are almost always the same: roughly 70 percent are from China. After some research, it seems that my one-family survey is representative of the country as a whole.
This year Americans will spend over $1 billion on Christmas ornaments from China. And in perhaps the greatest irony of all, even nativity scenes are made in China. Last year Americans spent more than $39 million buying nativity scenes shipped in from the East. China’s success in attracting foreign investment capital and mobilizing this huge workforce has made it the workshop of the world.
Underneath the American Christmas spirit and good cheer is a debt-laden society that appears to have lost its way, marred in the quicksand of consumerism. As a society, we seem to have forgotten how to save so we can invest in a better future. Instead of leaving our children a promising economic future, we are bequeathing them the largest debt burden of any generation in history.
It’s not the fact that our Christmas is made in China, but rather the mindset that has led to it that is most disturbing. We want to consume no matter what. We want to spend now and let our children pay. It is this same mindset that introduces tax cuts while waging a costly war. Economic sacrifice is no longer part of our vocabulary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt banned the sale of private cars in order to mobilize the manufacturing capacity and engineering skills of the U.S. automobile industry to build tanks and planes. In contrast, after 9/11, President Bush urged us to go shopping.

In the United States we are so intent on consuming that personal savings have virtually disappeared. We have an average of five credit cards for every man, woman, and child. Of the 145 million cardholders, only 55 million clear their accounts each month. The other 90 million cannot seem to catch up and are paying steep interest rates on their remaining balance. Millions of people are so deeply in debt that they may remain indebted for life.

The official national debt, the product of years of fiscal deficits, now totals $8.5 trillion—some $64,000 per taxpayer. (See data at www.earthpolicy.org/Updates/2006/Update62_data.htm.) By the end of the Bush administration in 2008, this figure is projected to reach a staggering $9.4 trillion. We are digging a fiscal black hole and sinking deeper and deeper into it.
We have lost influence in world financial markets simply because of our mounting debt, much of it held by other countries. If China’s leaders ever become convinced that the dollar is headed continuously downward and they decide to dump their dollar holdings, the dollar could collapse.

Beholden to other countries for oil and to finance our debt, the United States is fast losing its leadership role in the world. The question we are facing is not simply whether our Christmas is made in China, but more fundamentally whether we can restore the discipline and values that made us a great nation—a nation the world admired, respected, and emulated. This is not something that Santa Claus can deliver, not even a Chinese Santa Claus. This is something only we can do.

Monday, December 18, 2006

our elected dictator

Remember prior to the 2000 elections (was it during campaigning?) when then Governor Bush said, "I don't have a problem with a dictator, as long as it's me." [followed by his idiotic snicker]

He spent his first six months as President doing nothing extraordinary at all; in fact, most of his activity seemed centered around differentiating himself from his two predecessors, daddy-Bush and Bill Clinton. That wasn't going real well, so his took his first of many month-long vacations and returned to the White House just in time for 9/11. Ever since then, he's grabbed at every excuse he can when it's convenient to justify legislating from the throne. He ignores Congress - even the weak efforts at accountability the Republican controlled House have attempted are merely shrugged off. And when the Supreme Court has effectively slapped his hand for a minor offense, he just gets a law passed that makes his illegal behavior - poof - legal (and often retroactively, too).

This article in the Associate Press highlights just another in a long string of Bush's illegal, immoral actions as our elected dictator.
from Showdown Looms Over Domestic Spying:
"As a practical matter, the president can do whatever he wants as long as he has the capacity and executive branch officials to do it," said Carl Tobias, a legal scholar at the University of Richmond in Virginia.
"He could take the position he doesn't have to comply with whatever a new Congress says," said Vikram Amar, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, and a former Supreme Court clerk.
Who is this Carl Tobias guy, and where did he go to law school? How on earth can he confuse the powers of an elected president with those of a hereditary king, or appointed dictator? And what Vikram Amar didn't say is that the President has alerady taken the position "that he doesn't have to comply with whatever a new Congress says," i.e. that he can break the law whenever he wants. You would think that, as with the illegal wiretapping, he'd lie about it and deceive the American people as long as he could (and often, he does act in that way). But he's actually put his intentions to break the law in writing in the form of "signing statements" - more than 100 times!

At least our dictator is term limited.

*emphasis mine

Saturday, December 16, 2006

on playing grown-up

and from We Were All Children Then:
In January of 1970 the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent called a 21-year-old pre-theology student at Oberlin College, Bill Schulz, to supply our pulpit.
That April our young minister organized discussions of "Institutional Commitments – Yes? No? Under Some Conditions?" about war, the draft, racism, environmental concerns. On Sunday, May 3, 1970, he preached on "The Nature of Religious Commitment – Part Two: "Why Not Take Up Serpents?"

The next day, scarcely two miles away, four Kent State students were killed. In the following weeks we did what we believed we should. In defiance of a city council ruling against gatherings of more than five people, Bill led a memorial service for the slain students. The congregation adopted resolutions censuring President Nixon and urging withdrawal of our troops from Vietnam, and we voted to withhold payment of the federal phone tax.

On Saturday December 9, 2006, as part of the church’s celebration of "140 years of Standing Witness" we invited Bill to return and speak to us. He had grown up into the Rev. William F. Schulz, retired from heading the Unitarian Universalist Association and Amnesty International. We had grown larger but were still involved with issues of war, human rights and civil rights, and had recently passed resolutions against torture and against the death penalty.

Despite the desperate world situation our reunion was full of merriment and stories – of Bill’s weakness for sequined jackets and rubber-chicken props, and of church coffee-hours with marijuana brownies. An e-mail from a former member recalled having tried, on Saturday nights, to get Bill too drunk to preach on Sunday. "It never worked," he noted, "but it was a fun game. Of course, we were all children then."

Later in the sanctuary decorated for Christmas, Bill told us how May 4 had been a transforming experience for him, his first direct encounter with government turning force on its own citizens. He also spoke about how his experience with Amnesty International taught him that our common humanity – we are more alike than different, and irreversibly connected to one another – is the one resource we have in dealing with the fundamental tragedy of creation. He reminded us that our responsibility is to take care of one another, especially the least among us, especially those damaged by poverty, sickness, hate, fear, injustice and war.

Afterward, as I read of the slaughter of three children in Palestine, of the shackling, blindfolding and muffling of a prisoner for a short walk to the dentist; of the intentional destruction of prisoners’ minds, spirits and bodies through the policies of a petulant child in the White House, my mind kept returning to the words: ‘we were all children then.’

We’re still all children. We thought we had grown up after Vietnam, after Nicaragua, after Kosovo, yet six years into the 21st century we’re still conducting real-time killing games not very different from the FPS video games we put under Christmas trees for our teenagers.

We’re still children trying to persuade ourselves that God will bestow peace on us if we just drop candy peaces into stockings, put more American soldiers under Iraq’s Christmas tree, or hang a nuclear bomb in the sky over Iran in lieu of a star.

We’re still children playing Christmas games of shopping and consuming, neglecting our adult responsibilities. We’re still little kids letting the big kids with money and power make the playground rules, letting our "Justice" Department justify torture, secret detention, and denial of due process, and providing our "Defense" Department with cluster-bombs to defend us from the children of the Iraq and Lebanon.

We’re children showing the world our expertise at murder, torture and destruction, teaching the world’s children fear, revenge and hate, and selling them bombs and deadly weapons. We talk childishly of what some bad guys are doing to other humans, but blow off our adult responsibility to care for and protect one another, to love our neighbors, and treat others as we would be treated.

This Christmas we face the reality that if we are not to destroy ourselves, we must start acting like grownups, stop killing, stop torturing, stop raping our earth, and stop thinking of humans as commodities to be marketed for profit, as partisans to be tweaked for politics, or as pawns to be sacrificed for victory. We have to take charge as adults and separate the child in the White House from his devilish games and monstrous toys of death and destruction.

The Rev. William Schulz reminded our small church anew that in our quest for human rights: "we must remember that it is our generous hearts that makes what we cherish worth guarding in the first place."

If we fail to control our childish impulses to kill and hurt each other, we not only mock the Christmas spirit, we fail our adult responsibility to conscience, to our human family, and to all creation.
She is right in what she says about our childish ways; but to say we are children is not fair to the real kids. If we are all children, we are the worst kind: we have lost our innocence and cannot cope with reality. Gone is the capacity to hope and dream - and in its place is callous indifference or passionate ignorance. The less we know, the easier it is to pretend that all is right in the world. And since (we believe the lie) we cannot make a difference, it is better to pretend that we do not know about the horrific crimes being committed, yes, in our name than to acknowledge what is really happening and be forced to do something about it. Children are lucky: they are unable to comprehend the macroscopic workings of a larger world. Adults do not have that luxury. Though we may be good at acting like children, our world needs us to stop.

*emphasis mine

Friday, December 15, 2006

praying for Peace

[it was pointed out to me that I hadn't posted in a while... well here's one to make up for lost time...]

from As Bush Loiters: A Christmas Toll:
...Those back-stories of young men’s lives [who died while fighting in Iraq] are all distinct and all the same. They’re all individuals and yet all, without exception, human beings with lives rooted in the lives of others—families, friends, enemies, companies, communities. Provincial newspaper stories capture shreds of those lives but couldn’t possibly capture them in their totality, in the true effect of a lost life’s shock to a human ecosystem that quivers down to the uncomprehending eyebrow of a four-year-old inflicted on his father’s funeral, or that intrudes an emptiness sudden and total and astonishing on an eight or nine year old, whose pain isn’t yet mature enough to feel what will come with age: sorrow that doesn’t—unlike the fortune cookies’ predictions—heal with time, but only deepens.
And the irony of all these lines here, these lines you’re reading now, is that they’re focused on an infinitesimally small, almost self-indulgent part of the tragedy. We write about the lives lost, the names, the high school sweethearts, the children left behind, because these are American lives. But what differentiates them from the lives being lost on the other side, the Iraqi side, if not the most puerile and ridiculous difference—a difference of geography, of culture, of nationality, differences that have nothing to do with the human loss, to say nothing of the humanity being lost. Here we are, mourning an American loss or two or three or four every day as if it were the limit of the unbearable. And yet two days ago, in a single bombing in Baghdad—one bomb, one explosion—seventy Iraqis lost their lives. The equivalent of a heavy month’s total losses for the American military. And that bombing was just one of several that day. And those bombings were just a few of the many means by which hundreds of Iraqis found their end that day. ... Who ever speaks of a shared humanity when an Arab dies anymore, the deaths—in Iraq, in Gaza or the West Bank, in Lebanon—being so routine, so disposably forgettable. (And none of this is nearly as bad as the disposability of African lives, which run in the millions.)

But President Bush wants to wait. He wants to delay. He wants to spend his holidays in peace. He wants us not to know what we’ve known all along. It isn’t indecision that’s keeping him from announcing his new strategy. It isn’t infighting among his staff, or figuring out how to navigate an opposition Congress. It is certainly not the possibility that he is incubating a Lincolnesque declaration. (He had his Lincolnesque moment, on the USS Abraham Lincoln, and look where that led us.) No. What we’ve known all along is what he’s been all along, in Iraq as elsewhere. Clueless. Pointless. And now we can safely add, heartless. His best strategy is to run out the clock on his term, to hand Iraq to the next president in the hope of making himself not be the president who lost Iraq, even as he’s been the only president, Saddam included, who managed to wreck Iraq. And the worst of it is to know that as reprehensive as the crimes committed in the name of “freedom” or “democracy” or “security” have been, they’re not nearly as horrific as the crimes being committed at the expense of Iraqis’ and Americans’ humanity, they’re not nearly as unpardonable as the crimes that will go unspoken except in grief’s inexplicable blooms, for years to come, from their little seed in that four-year-old’s eyebrow and that nine-year-old’s newborn emptiness. Here and in Iraq.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

more good news for Ohio

from In Final Weeks, G.O.P. Focuses on Best Bets - New York Times:
Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year’s fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said.
PS - just found this, deeper in the article:
Normally, a party would be averse to scaling back its help for a senator in a state with as many as five competitive Congressional races also on the ballot. But in this case, Ohio Republicans said, Mr. DeWine and Republican Congressional candidates face the added problem of being dragged down this November by the party’s candidate for governor, J. Kenneth Blackwell, who polls show is facing a double-digit loss to the Democrat, Representative Ted Strickland.
*emphasis mine

a new low

Talk about a sore loser - the election is still several weeks away, and, in a desperate move, Ken Blackwell is already acting like he lost the race for governor of Ohio! from And the Winner Is ... Me - New York Times:
Voters in Ohio can be forgiven if they feel they have been beamed out of the Midwest and dropped into a third-world autocracy. The latest news from the state’s governor’s race is that the Republican nominee, Kenneth Blackwell, who is also the Ohio secretary of state, could rule that his opponent is ineligible to run because of a technicality.
Of course, Blackwell is down by 28 points, so you can't blame him for feeling desperate. But acting like this ... well, it's yet another instance where Blackwell has proven himself unqualified for Governor.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

a voice crying out in the wilderness

from an AP piece:
"As a critic of the administration, I will be damned if you can get away with calling me the equivalent of a Nazi appeaser," [Keith] Olbermann [of MSNBC's "Countdown"] told The Associated Press. "No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country."
His latest verbal attack, this past Thursday, criticized the president's campaign attacks on Democrats.

"Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?" he asked.
Read one great commentary ("A Special Comment about Lying") here. Here's a teaser, including the line from the AP piece above:
Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said, ‘You know, we don’t think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.’”

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president’s seizure of another part of the Constitution.

Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn’t be listening to the conversations of terrorists.
No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.

You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is — why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?

In less than one month you have gone from a flawed call to unity to this clarion call to hatred of Americans, by Americans.
Okay, one more great line:
But if we know one thing for certain about Mr. Bush, it is this: This president — in his bullying of the Senate last month and in his slandering of the Democrats this month — has shown us that he believes whoever the enemies are, they are hiding themselves inside a dangerous cloak called the Constitution of the United States of America.

*emphasis mine

Monday, October 09, 2006

peak oil? try peak Earth

from Earth's Ecological Debt Crisis: [Humankind's] 'Borrowing' from Nature Hits New Record:
Today is a bleak day for the environment, the day of the year when [humankind] over-exploits the world's resources - the day when we start living beyond our ecological means.
So much for being good stewards of God's creation. We don't need to wait around for God's Armaggedon/Rapture/whatever the world-annihilation term du jour is for evangelical Christians today; we're driving ourselves toward it at break-neck speed. Some highlights from the article:
Global Footprint estimates that the human race is over-using the Earth's resources by 23 per cent. While each individual should use up no more than the equivalent of 1.8 hectares of the Earth's surface, the actual area we use is 2.2 hectares per person.
Consumption is particularly profligate in the West, where individuals consume air-freighted food, buy hardwood furniture, enjoy foreign holidays and own cars. Global Footprint estimates the world would need five planet Earths to sustain a global materialistic society such as that in the US while almost three would be needed for the UK.

By contrast, developing countries such as Kenya use a fraction of the resources. Nef highlighted the energy wasted in trade. In 2004, for example, Britain exported 1,500 tons of potatoes to Germany and imported the same amount. We [Britain] sent 10,200 tons of milk and cream to France and imported 9,900 tons.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

playing with nature, nature bites back

from Time to Move the Mississippi, Experts Say:
Like many major rivers, the Mississippi has tributaries, which feed water into it, and distributaries, which carry water away from it as it nears its mouth. Its tributaries include the Missouri and Ohio Rivers; one way or another, every stream, storm drain and parking lot from the Rockies to the Appalachians drains into the Mississippi.
Until people interfered with its flow, the Mississippi’s path to the gulf silted up naturally over time; water flow slowed and the river bed lost its capacity to carry a big flood. When next the big flood came, the river would suddenly turn one of its distributaries into its new main stem.

This kind of switching has occurred roughly every 1,500 years, geologists say, and since about 1950 the river has been ready for a change — to the Atchafalaya. The Corps of Engineers prevents that from happening with an enormous installation of locks, dams and power stations near Lettsworth, north of Baton Rouge and about 100 miles northwest of New Orleans.
People involved in the proposal recognize that the lower Mississippi is “a working landscape” that must continue to function, said James T. B. Tripp, a lawyer for Environmental Defense and a member of the Louisiana Governor’s Commission for Coastal Restoration.

“One of the major obstacles to doing any of this pre-Katrina was the navigation industry,” he said. “As a result of Katrina, everyone’s thinking has become more flexible. Katrina brought all that home: how vulnerable this economic infrastructure has become. So there is a greater readiness today to think more boldly about how we can manage the river in a way that will help restore and build wetlands.”
“Is it practical? Yes,” he said. “Will it be expensive? Yes. But when you look at the alternatives it’s very cost effective,” particularly in an era of rising sea levels.
But there is a growing recognition that the cost of not acting will be high as well.

Along the Louisiana coast, in the delta plain along the river and the oaky woods along Chenier Plain to the west, much of the land is only a few feet above sea level. If seas rise as expected by two or three feet, or more, in the next century, and if the muddy sediments that form this landscape continue to compact and subside, land loss will only accelerate.
Coastal erosion is not just a matter of concern for the communities that are being, bit by bit, washed out to sea. Coastal erosion is a major issue: it affects the power of storms and their ability to reach further inland; it affects entire ecosystems as salt water filters into bodies of fresh water; it affects major industries such as shrimping and the movement of oil & natural gas. The article mentions rising sea levels on several occassions as a cause for lost coast land. The fact is, thanks to the permanent diverting of the Mississippi in the first place, land is being lost at a dramatic pace simply due to coastal erosion. Rediverting the mighty Mississippi again seems like another dangerous move (as in 'two wrongs don't make a right'), but perhaps it would be enough.

Little Girl, 3 Million Years Old, Offers New Hints on Evolution - New York Times

from Little Girl, 3 Million Years Old, Offers New Hints on Evolution:
If the fossil Lucy, the most famous woman from out of the deep human past, had a child, it might have looked a lot like the bundle of skull and bones uncovered by scientists digging in the badlands of Ethiopia.

The paleontologists who are announcing the discovery in the journal Nature today said the 3.3-million-year-old fossils were of the earliest well-preserved child ever found in the human lineage. It was estimated to be about 3 years old at death, probably female and a member of the Australopithecus afarensis species, the same as Lucy’s.

An analysis of the skeleton revealed evidence of a species in transition, the scientists said in interviews yesterday.
On the 6 & 1/2 day of Creation, God created Australopithecus afarensis.