Saturday, January 20, 2007

Here's to the Home Team

To paraphrase a local saw, I've always wondered what hell would look like frozen over...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mr. Bush, Let Me Remind You, You're Under Oath
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I'd be happy to have George McGovern represent the people:

Mr. President, Sir, when reporter Bob Woodward asked you if you had consulted with your father before ordering our army into Iraq you said, "No, he's not the father you call on a decision like this. I talked to my heavenly Father above." My question, Mr. President: If God asked you to bombard, invade and occupy Iraq for four years, why did he send an opposite message to the Pope? Did you not know that your father, George Bush, Sr., his Secretary of State James Baker and his National Security Advisor General Scowcroft were all opposed to your invasion? Wouldn't you, our troops, the American people and the Iraqis all be much better off if you had listened to your more experienced elders including your earthly father? Instead of blaming God for the awful catastrophe you have unleashed in Iraq, wouldn't it have been less self-righteous if you had fallen back on the oft-quoted explanation of wrongdoing, "The devil made me do it?"

And Mr. President, after the 9/11 hit against the Twin Towers in New York, which gained us the sympathy and support of the entire world, why did you then order the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11? Are you aware that your actions destroyed the international reservoir of good will towards the United States? What is the cost to America of shattering the standing and influence of our country in the eyes of the world?
Reflections of Evil
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And I wonder if Juan Cole chuckled just a bit when he noted Cheney "shot down" an offer from Iran to help stabilize Iraq in 2003.

On a more serious note, the very fact that Team Bush has, over and over again, demonstrated a ghoulish disregard for bloodshed, even to the point of allowing totally needless casualties in the ranks, should be MORE THAN ENOUGH to not merely impeach, but to shun as utter disgraces.

The fact that they evidently have no problem sleeping at night merely confirms their status as ghouls.
Cue Up the Deliverance Theme
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Krugman calls it a "rolling constitutional crisis," that is, the next two years of lawless dimwit and Dr. Evil. I guess we'll find out.

Still, though, I can't help but think how far we've fallen in 220 years ago or so since George Washington personally led an assault on foreign forces that had invaded his country...Shrub and Big Time, in contrast, won't even attend funerals for those they've sent off to die...over there.

Oh, off topic but: another busy day here. Sorry for the slow posts...
Got Yer Freedom Right Here
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The Bush administration unveils their vision for America. But hey, I hear we get REAL freedom of choice: lemon chicken...or lemon fish, plus two types of vegetable.

Nutritious...and delicious. But don't touch the electrified razor wire...or they'll most definitely shoot you.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Through the Looking Glass
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William Lind refuses to see the pretty flowers:

The military situation in Iraq is not a variable. All that can change is the speed of our defeat. Some actions might slow it, although the time for such actions, such as adopting an "ink blot" strategy instead of "capture or kill," passed long ago.

Other actions could speed our defeat, an attack on Iran chief among them. It now looks as if the Bush administration may have realized that an out-of-the-blue, Pearl Harbor-style air and missile attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is politically infeasible. Instead, the White House will order a series of small "border incidents," pinpricks similar to last week's raid on an Iranian mission in Kurdistan, intended to provoke Iranian retaliation. That retaliation will then be presented as an Iranian attack on forces, with the air raids on Iranian nuclear targets called "retaliation." Fabricated border incidents have a long history as casus belli; perhaps the Bushies can dress some German soldiers up in Polish uniforms.

As Bush made clear in last Wednesday's speech, his policies are not a variable. He will pursue the neocons' dreams all the way to Hell, where they originated...

The war in Iraq was lost long ago. In terms of the administration's objective of a "democratic Iraq," which Bush re-stated in his Wednesday speech, it was lost before the first bomb fell, because it was unattainable no matter what we did. Now, not even the minimal objective of restoring an Iraqi state is attainable, at least until Iraq's many-sided, Fourth Generation civil war sorts itself out, and probably not then. Events in Iraq are simply beyond our control; the forces our invasion and destruction of the Iraqi state unleashed far overpower any army we can deploy to Iraq, surge or no surge.

Once Democrats accept and announce that Congress cannot lose a war that is already lost, they will have the freedom of action they need to get us out. Polls suggest the public will go along; most Americans now realize the war is lost, regardless of what President Bush may say or do.

It is probably true, as Senator McCain constantly reminds us, that chaos will follow an American withdrawal. But that chaos became inevitable, not with America's withdrawal (it is already happening, even with troops present), but with its destruction of the Iraqi state. Again, the Democrats need to make this point to the American people, and make it often.

Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put it best. According to the January 5 Washington Post, he said in an interview,

"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost. ... Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy – literally, not figuratively."

I believe Senator Biden is correct; I said the same thing in an earlier column. If the question the Democrats put to the American people is, should we allow thousands more American kids to get wounded or killed so the Bush administration can put our withdrawal off until it is out of office, the public's answer will be clear. Killing our kids for national objectives is one thing; doing so for political advantage is something else.

The key variable thus comes down to this: do the Democrats in Congress have the courage and the communication skills to level with the people about why the war in Iraq is continuing after we have lost it? If not, they will have proven themselves as unfit to govern as the Republican majorities they replaced.
This is What's Meant By the Term "Working Coast"
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The BP Refinery in Texas City, Texas

Sorry for being slow to post today--work stuff had to take precedence. However, a friend sent me this from behind Pravda-Upon-Hudson's "Select" wall, and although it's about the Texas Gulf Coast, I can assure everyone that the Gret Stet has very similar refineries...and accidents.

The Flooding of New Orleans and hurricanes Katrina and Rita did NOT instill a "let's-make-like-we-won-the-lottery" mentality down here. We're asking the government to, first, provide renumeration based on their moral (if not legal) liability, and second, to recognize the strategic importance of the region...without us, you'd be LUCKY to pay even $5 for a gallon of gasoline.

The Price of Oil in Texas

In the history of accidents, the March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City, Tex., oil refinery might have been another Exxon Valdez — a catastrophe that changed the way we perceive and regulate the industry. But the BP disaster hasn’t captured the public’s imagination the way the 1989 Alaska oil spill did, even though the explosion killed 15 people and injured 180 more. Yesterday James Baker, the fix-it man for both the Iraq war and BP’s safety record, released a 374-page report on how BP’s corporate culture contributed to the disaster.

The findings were harsh — pointing fingers at people at the highest levels of the company for not paying enough attention to safety — and they helped persuade John Browne, BP’s chief executive, who once was considered a model oil company executive, to resign. But the soul searching should go way beyond Browne.

Most of us speed past refineries, with their steel towers and scary flares, never stopping to consider what goes on inside. Daily, refinery employees manage high pressures and volatile chemicals while pumping out millions of gallons of gasoline. If you want to see what it looks like when those systems are dangerously out of balance, watch this video re-enactment of the Texas City disaster, made by the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. It shows a minute-by-minute reconstruction of flammable liquids overwhelming the plant’s safety devices and eventually blowing up.

“What BP experienced was a perfect storm where aging infrastructure, overzealous cost-cutting, inadequate design and risk blindness all converged,” said Carolyn W. Merritt, chairwoman of the investigation board at a news conference in late October, cautioning that no company should consider itself immune from this kind of disaster.

That statement wouldn’t surprise the residents of Texas, who refine more than a quarter of America’s gasoline and are the largest onshore producers of both petroleum and natural gas. If you use gasoline, you owe Texas a debt of gratitude for shouldering so much of the burden of pollution and the risk of handling dangerous chemicals and fuels.

Harris County, which includes Houston, reports more toxic releases to the Environmental Protection Agency than any other county in the United States. The region along the Gulf Coast is home to 250 petrochemical plants, and in Houston alone, an estimated 78,000 kids go to school within two miles of a refinery or chemical plant. Between 1995 and 2005, 27 of the 48 Americans who died in accidents at major refineries were from Texas. Oil provides a paycheck for many Texas families, but refineries also pollute their air and water, and cause them to worry about their safety.

What’s it like to live near a refinery? Winifred J. Hamilton, the director of environmental health at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, described it to me like this: “When I go to Texas City, people tell me about the incredible sound of the flares and the smell that they say gives them headaches. They say that being told to ’shelter in place’ when there’s an emergency, particularly when they don’t know what’s going on, makes them anxious. And if the children are in school and the family members are home, putting wet towels under the doors, they’re separated from their children, and the stress and fear is immense. Even day-to-day life involves unusual worries — Is it safe to eat the vegetables in my garden?”

Hamilton said that despite the pollution produced by the refineries, many people in the area are ambivalent about leaving. “People have block parties and old trees,” she said. “They don’t want to move.” When I asked her about the Texas City accident, she said, “Well, headlines are about people who die, but the survivors often lose their fingers, toes, noses or ears, and they spend years in pain and at risk of infection. Some of them have to wear a ski mask. They’re lost in the statistics, basically, but their lives are deeply changed.”

While Californians vehemently oppose offshore drilling, and American environmentalists protest drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, residents of Texas can’t afford a not-in-my-backyard attitude. Texans sometimes excuse the odor of chemicals in their neighborhoods with the remark that it “smells like money.” To some extent they’re struggling to balance their livelihoods against unknown health risks. For the rest of us who drive, or for that matter, use lipstick, floor wax, plastic, antihistamines or any of the other products derived from petroleum at Gulf Coast plants, Texas is so far away we don’t associate it with our backyards at all.

“I try to tell people that if you’re getting gas from Texas, you’re probably polluting lots of neighborhoods,” said Dr. Neil Carman, an air quality expert with the Lone Star Sierra Club, “but there’s tremendous ignorance about where that gas comes from.” Carman said that the density of the Gulf’s petrochemical plants makes regulation difficult. In addition, many of the plants on the Gulf Coast are so old, it is difficult to update them to run as cleanly as new plants.

In any case, local emissions standards are extraordinarily loose, partly because of the petrochemical industry’s influence in local politics. A 2004 investigation by the Houston Chronicle found levels of toxic chemicals in some neighborhoods high enough to trigger a federal investigation — if they were found at a hazardous waste dump. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is now rewriting its allowable limits of toxic emissions, but has stated that the acceptable cancer risk is likely to end up at around 10 times the guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The level of carcinogens released in the processing of a barrel of oil is higher in Texas than anywhere else in the country, said Eric Schaeffer, a former regulator for the E.P.A. who’s now with the Environmental Integrity Project. “A release of chemicals in L.A. gets a strong reaction from California regulators,” he told me. “The same release in Corpus Cristi doesn’t — there just isn’t the same tradition of enforcement.”

At the national level, too, we don’t always take air pollution that seriously. Spill chemicals in water, and under the Clean Water Act, you’ll have to pay for the cost of cleanup, plus a penalty. But with air pollution, which generally blows away, cleanup fees are lower, and the Clean Air Act allows companies to avoid paying penalties by arguing that a release was accidental. Schaeffer believes that if companies were assessed fines for all releases, including accidents, they’d be more likely to incorporate the cost of potential releases into their spreadsheets. That, in turn, would push them to invest in the equipment and personnel it takes to avoid small accidents. This would not only provide cleaner air in Texas, but also make refineries safer. One of the Baker report’s conclusions was that BP failed to adequately track hundreds of “near miss” leaks and spills, and thus were unable to prevent the disaster.

BP is paying billions of dollars to victims of the 2005 accident and their families, as well as fines. The rest of us should realize that the gasoline we use comes from someone else’s backyard.
Terrorist Enablers and Friedman Units Forever
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Let the squabbling commence.

At first I was thinking that this is yet another indication this administration's end will come not with a bang, but a whimper...but this is Team Bush, and these evil fuckers might not stop at anything to stave off the utter humiliation that is their legacy.

And that's a sobering thought...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

OK, One More Time, Very Slowly

How slow? Slower even than Blogger today. Slow enough for a, no, THE decider to understand. Alright
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Broken egg
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Cracked egg
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Rotten egg

And to make it even MORE clear, this is the violence in Iraq
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Dim Bulbs, Dull Knives...and Not the Sharpest Tool, Either
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Sometimes "sacrifice" is just peace of mind, though I'm surprised he didn't add "or not to have a mind at all":

MR. LEHRER: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you've just said - and you've said it many times - as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it's that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military - the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They're the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we've got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

Now, here in Washington when I say, "What do you mean by that?," they say, "Well, why don't you raise their taxes; that'll cause there to be a sacrifice." I strongly oppose that. If that's the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I'm not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be.

Maybe it's just me, but Shrub's understanding of sacrifice is roughly on par with his understanding of how to behave when preparing to execute someone.
It Takes a Special Sort of Wingnut...

It's one thing to proudly display your batshit insanity and blame 9/11 on Bill Clinton, but Dinesh D'Douza must've struck a motherlode in whatever cave in which he mines his guano...

Blaming 9/11, in part, on Franklin Roosevelt? in short bus special, Dinesh.
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Paying the Price
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For the record, it's estimated that it would cost about $35 billion dollars to adequately protect New Orleans from Cat 5 hurricanes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Banality of Stupid
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If you haven't seen it yet--from The Rude Pundit, an link to an extremely good essay that underscores one of the most annoying, yet telling qualities possessed by the, um, president:

...he can't even fake the dignity and tact required to discuss Iraq without the cockeyed smirk of a stoned teenager who's being grilled by his parents after coming home late; the laughter seeming to bubble and tickle just below the surface of a thinly aloof facade. Maybe it's embarrassment. Maybe it's poorly-executed stage direction from his media consultants, i.e. "be more casual than last week's speech, sir." Or maybe he thinks it's all just a game. Maybe the unspoken financial goals of those who are profiting from the war have been achieved. Maybe his own hinted political goals have been achieved (re-election, for example). So other than some occasional ugliness, his mission really has been accomplished, and thus, good times.

I don't care if you're for or against this fiasco, but your president's willful lack of respect and dignity should be an outrage to us all -- every American and every human being. His behavior is supposed to set an example, but as the twisted bodies stack up, fewer and fewer of us can observe it all without faces contorted in anger, despair and shame.
Not Exactly Jackson Pollock
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My first impression--no pun intended--of the original picture was that it resembled a sort of particularly perverse piece of abstract art...blood, steel and concrete grimly substituting for paint, board, and canvas. Another day for some in Baghdad...a LAST day for others.

And while I see that Shrub's decided to adopt the role of admonishing parent--at least for the next day or two--in regards to the somewhat peculiar methods the Iraqi government uses in "administering justice," (after all, the man KNOWS his execution protocol), I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the media slackens its collective jaw and slowly nods...and maybe wipes a little drool off its collective chin...when Bush says things like, "you conducted a trial and gave Saddam justice that he didn’t give to others." Yes--but what about the 34,000 Iraqi civilians who've been killed this year.

Where's THEIR justice?
Throwing Away Troops Dice
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Krugman (h/t Jurassic Pork):

Hundreds of news articles and opinion pieces have described President Bush’s decision to escalate the Iraq war as a “Hail Mary pass.”

But that’s the wrong metaphor.

Mr. Bush isn’t Roger Staubach, trying to pull out a win for the Dallas Cowboys. He’s Charles Keating, using other people’s money to keep Lincoln Savings going long after it should have been shut down — and squandering the life savings of thousands of investors, not to mention billions in taxpayer dollars, along the way

The parallel is actually quite exact. During the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, people like Mr. Keating kept failed banks going by faking financial success. Mr. Bush has kept a failed war going by faking military success...

Oh, and one of the favorite techniques used by the owners of savings and loan associations to generate phony profits — it involved making high-interest loans to crooked or flaky real estate developers — came to be known as the “Texas strategy.”

What was the point of the Texas strategy? Bank owners were certainly gambling — with other people’s money, of course — in the hope of a miraculous recovery that would bail out their negative balance sheets...

Meanwhile, the nation pays the price. The heaviest burden — in death, shattered bodies, broken families and ruined careers — falls on those who serve. To find the personnel for the Bush escalation, the Pentagon must lengthen deployments in Iraq and shorten training time at home.

And the back-door draft has become a life sentence: there is no limit on the cumulative amount of time citizen-soldiers can be required to serve on active duty. Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be reservists.

The rest of us will pay a financial price for the hundreds of billions squandered in Iraq and, more important, a price in reduced security.

Escalation won’t bring victory in Iraq, but it might bring defeat in Afghanistan, which the administration will continue to neglect. And it has pushed the military to the breaking point.

Mr. Bush calls his critics “irresponsible,” saying that they don’t have an alternative to his strategy. But they do: setting a timetable for withdrawal, so that we can cut our losses, and trying to save what can be saved. It isn’t a strategy for victory because that’s no longer an option. It’s a strategy for acknowledging reality.

The lesson of the savings and loan scandal was that when a bank has failed, you shouldn’t let the owner string you along with promises — you should shut the thing down. We should do the same with Mr. Bush’s failed war.
Something to Consider...
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...while looking at this lovely photograph:

New Orleans, as of last week's march on City Hall, had recorded nine murders this year...a quick scan of today's headlines seems to indicate at least two more homicides...eleven, perhaps more, for 2007, and it's just the middle of January.

Yesterday police found thirty bodies in Baghdad. From what I've read or seen recently, that's a slow day.

Let me be CLEAR, by the way: New Orleans IS NOT OK. Eleven, maybe more, murders in the space of a couple of weeks--in a city half the size it used to be--might be the most visible sign of trouble, although it is not the only sign. Anybody who wants to can STILL drive through obscenely large parts of the city where it genuinely looks like a bomb went off...this morning. Basic city services that the rest of us take for granted have not been completely restored. Just making groceries can be an ordeal.

No, New Orleans IS NOT OK.

What I am saying is, given that New Orleans IS NOT OK, Baghdad must truly be a living hell. If the Crescent City is slowly bleeding to death, the capital of Mesopotamia has a severed artery, and blood is gushing like, well, oil from Rumallah...while a little man, with an even smaller brain, ignores the monster sized mess...both over here AND over there. Hard work? Hell, he doesn't have the first fucking clue.

Again, how can ANYONE expect this administration to fix Iraq when they either can't or won't fix New Orleans?

I keep hoping someone will ask him this...and I'd be interested to see "Mr. Thick Skin"'s reaction.

Monday, January 15, 2007

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Well, one bit of welcome news is the return of First Draft after a weekend off the internets. Huzzah! And Scout-Prime inspired the title of this post with her observation that Baghdad and New Orleans will forever be grimly intertwined as examples of just how badly wrong things can go when you've got an idiot for a president...and dolts filling out the rest of the Executive Branch.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, it seems as if Shi'a execution protocol is sort of doing the one-step-forward, two-steps-backwards dance...sort of a fitting metaphor for the whole sorry operation.

Speaking of sorry (as in pathetic, not apolgetic), I watched most of the Bush 60 Minutes interview, noting first, that the Gulf Coast is evidently no longer even a blip on the boy chimperors radar screen, and second, that it's almost uncanny that pretty much every word he says is directly, 180 degrees contradicted, by either the facts or his own body language. I mean, he actually insisted that he's got "thick skin." I don't think so
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Anyway--if you can stomach it. I try to think of these things as educational: how would I explain to someone in the distant future just what sort of mass dementia managed to grip the public at this time?

And, a side note: today will be a slow post day. I'm home for the the way, it literally rained on the parade, but at least there was a parade, and I'll be catching up with some chores...and, well, probably watching Secret Honor. A friend and I were talking about it the other day (years ago, I rented the video), and I FINALLY found a way to cash in a gift card to the local Barnes & Noble.

Catch you later...maybe.