Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Word of the Week: lu.di.crous: 1. the name of a popular rap singer; 2. a one word description of U.S foreign policy towards the Middle East. As in her response to the evidence of deceit was ludicrous.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The legal closure of the child abuse cases here brings me, in a circuitous way, to collective responsibility for a terminal case of abuse in a remote place: the Haditha atrocity. Two dozen Iraqis were apparently executed by US Marines in retaliation for a bomb that blew up one of their patrol vehicles and its occupants. A marine was gruesomely killed. In the opinion of an investigating Army general, the Marine Corps command deliberately ignored reports of civilian deaths to protect their own, and fostered a culture that allowed marines to considered Iraq civilian deaths to be insignificant. There was virtually no follow up investigation withing the Corps after the November 19, 2005 incident was exposed by a local journalist shooting video. Civilian witnesses maintain the marines went on a killing rampage. The lieutenant in command at the time believes the marines did nothing wrong despite the execution of five unarmed men sitting in a car at the scene, and the killing of the occupants in nearby houses including women and children lying in bed. The officer has received immunity to testify against three marine enlisted men charged with unpremeditated murder in the incident. Four officers are accused of dereliction of duty for failing to report what happened. All charges against a sergeant have also been dropped in return for his testimony.
Whatever the outcome of the courts martial, and the outcome is doubtful because the criminal investigation was mishandled, the impact of the Haditha atrocity cannot be understated. It is only one of several authenticated incidents of the US military using unauthorized force against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each incident undermines any claim to moral ascendancy the US makes to justify it's occupation. Each incident motivates civilians to resist the foreign occupiers. Each alleged war crime involves a uniform that represents every American. No American soldier has the cover of an anonymous bomb maker. These young soldiers have been sent to Iraq in our name stuffed with heads full of lies about fighting terror or bestowing democracy to accomplish a mission impossible. Their best efforts will not end an Iraq civil war that our cynical "regime change" triggered. So its our responsibility to end their hellish predicament and bring them home. Collective responsibility is hard to accept.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
It would be a lot more satisfying and purgative if Gonzo was fired for the constitutional wrongs he has committed, such as approving the immoral use of torture or illegal domestic spying programs. The Vermont State Senate by voting 16-9 for impeachment of the President and Vice President is doing more to protect us than most of the politicians in the District of Bizarro where political power is the coin of the realm.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
California sea lions (zalophus californicus) are intelligent and resourceful predators. The collapsing marine food chain in the Pacific has encouraged them to seek out other sources of food. An enterprising few have entered the Columbia River and have found a veritable protein bonanza at the base of the Bonneville Dam. They are feasting on what remains of the spring Chinook salmon run milling before their first major man made obstacle. Fish and wildlife managers have tried a variety of methods to dissuade the protected mammals from eating the fish. None of the methods have succeeded. The current estimate is that sea lions consume about three to four thousand salmon. When salmon runs were numbered in the millions, that amount lost to natural predation could be tolerated. Not anymore. Salmon seasons have been curtailed because of crashing salmon populations. Expensive salmon restoration programs promise less than the 3% increase in adult Chinooks that are being consumed by sea lions. The states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Columbia basin tribes have asked the federal government permission to kill feeding sea lions. Sea lions have increased in number since 1972 when Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Salmon have always been prey for sea lions. Before European arrival there was a natural balance between prey and predator. Industrial man and his works have upset nature's scales and are bringing salmon to the brink of collapse, just as in the 19th century he nearly exterminated the bison. In an important decision, the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled that the government's plan for salmon recovery in the Northwest is little more than analytical legerdemain and therefore violates the Endangered Species Act. The appeals court upheld district court Judge James Redden who was presented with a biological opinion that considered the Columbia basin dams part of the environment since they existed before enactment of the Endangered Species Act. Returns of wild Chinook in the Snake river once exceeded 1.5 million fish or about half of the total Columbia basin salmon run. Even in the late sixties and seventies after the lower Snake river dams went up, salmon returns often exceeded 60,000. Last year only 17,000 exhausted fish made it pass Lower Granite Dam. The Appeals Court called the government's approach to recovery a "slow slide to oblivion" for salmon.
We should give both the sea lions and the salmon a brake by being honest with ourselves. Our endless demands have exhausted a once mighty natural system. Killing sea lions might make some frustrated managers feel better, but it will not solve the problem. Perhaps the easiest solution is to allow more water over the dams or even remove some dams in order to help the salmon migrate successfully. But of course, governments and business interests want their salmon and electricity too. Its a lot less painful to shoot the sea lions.
Weekend Update: An angry fisherman shot a federally protected sea lion twice in the head after it took a hooked salmon from his fishing line on Wednesday. The incident, which is a federal crime punishable by imprisonment and heavy fines, occurred in the Willamette River. The polluted urban river joins the Columbia River approximately eighty miles from the sea. The sea lion was not killed outright. It was found later in serious pain and distress. One guide said that several sea lions are killed each year by frustrated anglers. "They shouldn't be here", he observed. "They are sea lions, not river lions." It seems not only sea lions are hungry for fish.
Monday, April 16, 2007
A new American record set a Virginia Tech. See my previous post, Whack Jobs with Guns, 10/12/06.
Other states, such as Colorado, are considering adopting the compact. Hawaii's legislature has already passed a bill. It is becoming increasing clear that by the current electoral convention, voters in states not considered "battleground states" are being effectively disenfranchised-- made mere spectators of the process in competitive states with enough votes to give a candidate an electoral majority. The interstate compact plan makes every citizen's vote for President count, thus requiring a candidate to solicit votes from all fifty states. Way to go, Maryland!
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Weekend Update: Senator Karl Levin released a Pentagon IG report yesterday that confirms what we have known for a long, long time. There was no operational connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. But that did not stop the fantasizers in Douglas Feith's shop of dreams. They issued briefings and reports to "make the case" of an Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection despite the CIA and DIA concluding none existed. It was pure and simple misinformation intended to sell the war. Incredibly, on the same day the Inspector General's report was released, Darth Cheney continued to spew forth the Big Lie on Limpbutt's radio show. The only thing I can't understand is why the guy is still in office. Soldiers are dying for Cheney's lies as you read this.
The Republican Party apparently knew its boys in the White House would have big problems at the end of eight years in power. The GOP issued email addresses and lap tops so staffers could use an unofficial back channel to discuss official business that could not bear the light of day. Now that congressional investigators want the e mails, four years of communications have conveniently disappeared. It makes Nixon's 18 1/2 minute gap look like a hiccup.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
It is hard in Iraq and it will get worse. The situation has deteriorated so much that turning Baghdad neighborhoods into concentration camps will simply add more fuel to the fire of resistance. Its a tactic used before and it has failed (Tal Afar, Vietnam, Algiers). As the candid officer points out our continued occupation is accomplishing one thing: further dividing Iraq into armed camps with no loyalty to a national government. Invading Iraq again with an army of a half million, imposing total American military rule and sealing it's artificial borders is politically, if not militarily, impossible. We should begin withdrawal now. Is one Senate Democrat willing to stand up and say enough? The sad truth is, no.
"The first loyalty of any Sunni who is in the Iraqi army is to the insurgency,"Any Shia's first loyalty is to the head of his political party and its militia. Any Kurd in the Iraqi army, his first loyalty is to either Barzani or Talabani. There is no independent Iraqi army. These people really have no choice. They are trying to save their families from starvation and reprisal. At one time they may have believed in a unified Iraq. At one time they may have been secular. But the violence and brutality that started with the American invasion has burnt those liberal ideas out of people ... Every American who is embedded in an Iraqi unit is in constant mortal danger." quote from The Independent.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Purchasing the entire opium crop from farmers is a solution to both problems. The idea has gotten little respect from governments. But that may be changing according to Christopher Smallwood writing for the Independent. The possibility of making opium production legal in Afghanistan is creeping onto European agendas. The idea is to allow opium poppies to be purchased from farmers by licensed dealers so that it can be sold for use by pharmaceutical companies making opium based pain killers. That is a beginning, but for the idea to work at all, the opium market must be entirely cornered by the government and its western allies. All of the poppy crop has to be sold to regulated buyers in order to deprive the Taliban of income. The pharmacies could use an additional 55 tons in their business. Afghanistan produces 6,000 tons annually. Obviously, drug companies cannot use it all. What is not resold must be rigorously destroyed. Teaching Afghan farmers to grow something benign and then providing a lucrative market for their product would also help.
Cost considerations do not make the buyout idea unfeasible either. The current program of military action and crop eradication will cost $155 billion through 2008. The program is not working. The poppy crop is bigger than ever and attacks on NATO troops are up. Estimates of a buyout program for the poppy crop are around $2.7 billion. The retail value of Afghanistan's heroin trade is around $120 billion. Why pay more?
Monday, April 09, 2007
Friday, April 06, 2007
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
The three main chemicals used in the US to put fluoride in drinking water are waste byproducts of the phosphate fertilizer industry according to the US Centers for Disease Control. This fact is also recognized by the National Research Counsel. The problem is that as waste byproducts the fluoridation chemicals are not pharmaceutical grade. They contain heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury which bio-accumulate and are toxic at minute levels. Fluoridation advocates do not dispute this, but argue that the concentrations are too low to present a health threat. But in the 135 Oregon communities that have already exceeded drinking water standards for toxins like arsenic, it does not make a lot of sense to those citizens to add more.
The rationale for fluoride gets weaker when you consider the evidence that swallowing fluoride does little to prevent tooth decay. What is proven effective is the topical application of fluoride to tooth enamel, such as using a fluoride toothpaste regularly. Statistical data from the CDC and the US Department of Health Services--both organizations continue to recommend fluoridation as effective--show that increasing the percentage of a state that is "fluoridated" does not correlate with fewer cavities in children. For example, in Washington state 58% of the people drink fluoridated water but it has a significantly lower percentage of poor children with good teeth than Oregon (7.1% less) where only 19% of its residents drink fluoridated water. What correlates strongly with healthy teeth in children is recent access to preventive dental care. Oregon does not do so well in this category. It has the dubious distinction of having the second lowest percentage of children in the US who had access to dental care within the previous year. A 2006 Harvard study funded by the US National Institute of Health found that drinking water fluoridation at an optimum level increased the risk of bone cancer in young boys (6-8 years old) by over 500%.
Weekend Update: If Congress was not spending money on the military and pork, we could spend it on making terrorism at home less effective. Iraqi insurgents recently blew up trucks carrying chlorine gas for treating potable water. Hundreds in Baghdad were made seriously ill. If the large explosions had been better engineered, the chlorine gas clouds would have been bigger and more toxic. Essentially, in high dosages chlorine gas burns the lungs causing death. The President's Homeland Security Counsel drafted a worse case scenario in 2004 that envisioned 17,000 deaths, 10,000 injuries and 100,000 hospitalizations if a large tanker was bombed in a high population density area of the U.S. Granted, chlorine gas is not invisible and is heavier than air, but its effective enough as a weapon to have been used in WWI. Tons of chlorine gas are transported daily by truck and rail. The American Center for Progress made a study of rail transportation of chlorine gas called "Toxic Trains" . The study found that only 24 drinking water and 13 waste water facilities use chlorine gas transported by rail. However, chlorine tank cars travel long distances and through metropolitan areas to reach these facilities from the 16 suppliers that use rail transport. There are other ways to disinfect water such as ultraviolet rays or safer chemicals like liquid bleach. A single days expenditure in Iraq could easily pay for the conversion of the twenty plants without plans to covert to safer means.
There are hundreds of chemical manufacturing facilities in the United States making tons of explosive and toxic chemicals besides chlorine gas every day. The Department of Homeland Security recognizes they are vulnerable to attack, but their corporate owners are resisting any rules to improve their facilities' security. Remember that the next time you have to take off your shoes at the airport. War on terror? Not so much.
Monday, April 02, 2007
The old saw is nothing succeeds like success, but for the good of their democracy Americans have to stop being enamored with money and its charisma. Presidential politics has turned into a contest to see which candidate can buy the most mass media and very little else. If we do not establish a more rational and neutral forum for political debate we will end up with a government worse than a legally imposed regime running the country. Here is one idea: PBS could be required to air a weekly series of free debates for each major party prior to the start of the primaries.
Check out Jib Jab for a good giggle about what used to be called 'The News'.