Friday, August 03, 2007

Marketing 101

Taste the fear...

So, the Gret Stet gets a D- when it comes to aggregate conditions of bridges...but maybe you could spin it as "an A+ when it comes to sheer terrifying excitement."

You must be this tall to cross to the West Bank...
Friday Historic Submarine Voyage Re-enactment Blogging

Full information here, based on this original idea. In the past, something like this might have been treated as little more than a typical city nuisance; in today's spooked era, looks like Riley'll get the book thrown at him.

And...unrelated, but, I couldn't help noticing this headline: A Bridge in American Just Shouldn't Fall Down. Shouldn't that go for levees and floodwalls, too?
Breathing Just a Little Easier

Emphasis on "just a little," but I'll take good news where and when I can:

Forecaster lowers 2007 storm estimate

"We've lowered our forecast from our May predictions because of slightly less favorable conditions in the tropical Atlantic," said Philip Klotzbach, a member of Gray's team at Colorado State University.

The new forecast calls for three named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in August; five named storms, four hurricanes and two intense hurricanes in September; and five named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in October and November combined.

Better than a poke in the eye, as the saying goes.
Clouds on the Horizon

h/t to Oyster for pointing out this article from Time about the Federal Flood.

About time, no pun intended.

I couldn't help but wonder just Brian Williams really meant last night when Keith Olbermann asked him to, well, set the long-term story line/perspective for the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul: have to remember this area, no one who spent time in the Twin Cities, no one has come away not impressed with the quality of life here and the good people to be found here. They have a good thing going. It‘s a kind of compact population of 400,000 and so this will be acutely felt.

Okey-dokey, Mr. Williams. Seriously, though, while I'm sure the Twin Cities DO have "a good thing going" (provided you don't mind the seasonal deep freeze), and yes, the tragedy will definitely be "acutely felt," I find it instructive that similar verbiage is missing when discussing New Orleans. Interestingly, New Orleans has--or maybe I should say had--a similar sized population, and, whether or not Mr. Williams is "impressed with the quality of life" down HERE, the fact is that, pre-Federal Flood, an exceptionally high percentage of residents were very satisfied with their quality of life.

So, Brian, I wonder what you really meant...channeling a bit of your inner Rush Lamebone, perhaps?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Gun Giveaway

Our foreign policy men of genius have become one of the insurgency's...biggest weapons suppliers. And, topping it all off, we taxpayers were forced to foot the bill, to the tune of almost three billion dollars (plus an extra 19 billion dollars for 'training'). Nice work, Team Bush--you've enabled our OUR expense.
Court Finds Fountain-Pen Robbers "Not Guilty"

Well, can't say this is all that surprising, given that a quick review of my own homeowner policy specifically excludes water damage "whether or not driven by wind" (and also states, unambiguously on the first page, that flood losses aren't compensated) however, others have already noted the underhanded ways insurance companies have been dealing with policy holders who've acted in good faith (often for years)...and this further places a moral if not legal burden on the federal government, which was responsible for not maintaining THEIR levees, and, ergo, responsible for flooding 80 percent of the city.

Oh, and I see (also via First Draft) that the "personal responsiblity" administration has already embarked on a "blame the victim" strategy re: the Minneapolis tragedy. Sheez.
When the Walls...and the Bridges...and the Levees...Come Tumbling Down

Maybe it's just me, but watching and reading the initial reports coming from Minneapolis was sort of a déjà vu-all-over-again thing: aging infrastructure, questionable designs, poor maintenence...gee, where have I heard THAT before?

Oh, yeah. The Federal Flood. Too bad the article cited above ignores our local glaring example of government malfeasance and criminal negligence. Well, as others (and yeah, me too) have noted of late, New Orleans really IS the proverbial canary in the coal mine. The next disaster could happen anywhere and affect anyone. Sure, the odds are individually small, but tell that to the folks in Minnesota who've lost friends or loved ones.

In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys the burgeoning Islamic theocracy in Iraq, the flip side of this bitter coin. We've sure spent a lot of money over there, but I wouldn't call that much of an investment either.
Taliban Dick

WIIIAI points to this startlingly open admission by the Dick that his deepest held principles undermine the war effort:

At his confirmation hearings...Michael Mullen...said [Iraqi politicians] "need to view politics and democracy as more than just majority rule, winner-take-all, or a zero-sum game." On Larry King, possibly at that very moment, Dick Cheney was saying, "Remember, success for a politician is 50 percent plus one, you don’t have to have everybody on board."

As the picture of the bumper sticker posted at Dependable Renegade said, "Dick Cheney before he Dicks You."

And...unrelated, but also at WIIIAI, this article demontrating how an Italian MP responded to allegations of soliticing prostitutes. Vitty might could learn a few lessons. Here's a sample:

Asked if he had paid the girl for sex, Mr. Mele replied: “Not exactly. I spontaneously gave her a present.” Pressed further, he admitted that the present had been a sum in cash, “though not excessive”. He denied reports that he had taken part in a threesome, saying that although there had been another woman present she had only chatted to the first woman in the suite’s sitting room while he lay in bed watching television. “I think I fell asleep while they were talking,” he said.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Trifecta

I don't know if you could find a better example of the sheer smug-ugliness that defines the Bush administration than these three stories...unless you consider that the "free press" has, yes, filed the articles...but given in to their inner, grinning-zombie.

On the one hand, you've got Shrub asserting executive privilege--which has ALWAYS been an at best murky understanding (it's certainly NOWHERE in the Constutution) over pretty much anything and everything he pleases, while Rummy would likely deny his own first name if he thought he could get away with it...if nothing else, today's hearing did offer insight into exactly HOW stupid Rumsfeld is, which stupid as the Milky Way Galaxy is massive.

Finally, the third story focuses on the trial of Pfc. Jesse Spielman, charged with being party to the rape and murder of 14 year old child Abeer Qassim al-Janabi (hmmm...I wonder if Dubya would insist that she's "better off" now). You know, Spielman's actions are totally, utterly contemptible, as are the actions of all who carried out this horrible, gruesome, sick crime...but two things: one, they're being held accountable, well, as much as a United States Military Court can do so, and two, Spielman and at least one co-conspirator seems to have some measure of remorse, unlike the creeps who ordered them to go to Iraq.

Apparently in Bushspeak, "whatever it takes" actually means "fuck you." I didn't realize...maybe they'll express regret about any confusion it might have caused.

Oh, and it must be a cold WEEK in hell, given that I actually appreciate Diaper Dave's reaction:

"I am stunned by the President's WRDA veto threat. And I have one basic response - I will enthusiastically work to override his veto," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in an unusually harsh rebuke to the leader of his own party. "Considering the well-publicized criticism of the way the administration handled this (Hurricane Katrina) disaster, I'm stunned. I'm afraid the promise the president made to the nation in Jackson Square comes across as hollow today."

I guess Dave didn't realize what Bush really meant, either.

h/t Jeffrey.

The NEW Wall Street Journal:
The Vetting of Vitter

Oyster has a couple of updates, and Blogenfreude's also on the story...but didn't Dandy Dave say he'd been changed?, I mean that he was a changed man?, nevermind...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Doubleplusgood News

"Only" 73 dead this month. Sugar ration's been increased, too.

What really rings hollow about this report, aside from the fact that the latest military death is essentially dismissed--"the report of [an unnamed] Marine killed in combat"--becomes clear once you get past the whole "glorious news" nonsense and begin really looking at the data...

Of course, be it 75 this month, or 100 last month, these aren't just abstract numbers. Also, factor in the climatic conditions--of course you'll see a slowdown in attacks during the harsh summer in Mesopotamia--and you realize that only the lizard-brained would tout "just 73 dead this month" as something to crow about...and yeah, the mixed metaphor is intentional, but I think apt...
Hard to Believe, but...

Fox Noise is actually right--there IS something wrong with this picture

Hmmm...oh, ok, now it's fixed
Fit for Duty

You know, while I doubt the gang-bangers and assorted low lifes deemed "fit" by Team Bush will ever comprise a substantial percentage of the ranks, the mere presence of even a small number of these types can really do damage to the military at large, in much the same way that just a few thugs and crooks can ruin a neighborhood.

This administration is burning through the Armed Forces faster than a trust fund baby can max out a credit card.
"So, Who Wants to Take a Month-Long Vacation?"

The Iraqi parliament makes Jenna Bush look like a tireless Peace Corps volunteer. No wonder Shrub's allied with them:

Iraqi representatives defended the decision to take off until Sept. 4, saying they had already cut their scheduled two-month summer break in half and extended their work weeks from three to six days.

Hard work, if you can get it.

And how much do you wanna bet that the "extended" work week is more to take advantage of, ahem, opportunities (i.e. graft) than anything else?

Geez, I swear: the Iraqi "government" makes South Vietnam look like a regional power.

And, worse still, is the mass-hallucination-brain-lock-nodding-zombie syndrome from the media, eating up every ridiculous lie about the "progress" being made. What a bunch of wussies.

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Unable to View Tonight's Broadcast..."

So, Dick's going to be on Larry King for the first time since his own "bring 'em on" moment of stupid, namely, his last throes remark.

Checking the numbers, it seems as if 1,985 members of our military won't be watching the show, either live or on tape...because they've been killed (if someone wants to check my math, please feel free--I used a calculator to count back to June, 2005). Cheney spat out his "last throes" nonsense on May 30, 2005. That's a lot of coffins, as I found out trying to create the picture above.

Some message we're sending to the insurgents...
Don't Know Much About Philosophy *

"Sorry about the death and destruction...but it was more important to prove a point..."

Krugman analyzes Shrub's core beliefs about government through the lens of his threatened veto of SChip expansion:

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush's philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

I think Krugman mostly has it dead-on there, no pun intended; however, as the much missed in blogaea Billmon once pointed out, it isn't really so much that Team Bush thinks goverment is bad, per se...instead, they think government that serves the GENERAL PUBLIC is bad. If government is serving their own, narrow interests, well, then bully for it:

Even the legally blind can see the Rovians are serious about the essential functions of government. It's just that in their value system, funneling federal money to sympathetic interest groups while simulatenously redistributing the tax burden away from those same groups are the two essential functions of government.

Likewise, the Bush family is prepared to spend almost unlimited amounts of federal money on preventative measures -- that is, on efforts to prevent them from losing an election.

It's instructive, on that score, to compare the current response to Hurricane Katrina (in which the Three Stooges apparently have seized control of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a bloodless coup) with the administration's efforts on behalf of the voters of Florida following last year's triple storms -- Charley, Frances and Ivan.

True, the 2004 disasters didn't completely take down a major metropolitan area by turning its urban center into a bowl of shit soup. But the difference in the federal goverment's performance before, during and after those storms had passed is stlll rather striking. It appears there's something special about years divisible by two -- and particularly every other year divisible by two -- that can inspire amazing feats of bureaucratic energy and competence, at least in large, populous swing states.

Unfortunately, SChip--and hurricanes in non-swing states during non-election years--are a little too general for Team Bush to worry about...on a philosophical level. THAT'S the strategy.

And, even though this is a little longer than my normal posts, I think Krugman is worth reading in full, so:

An Immoral Philosophy
When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem -- "After all, you just go to an emergency room" -- and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on "philosophical" grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn't about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage -- a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it's O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: "They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a -- I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy -- to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care."

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further "federalization" of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It's not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan "in any form," because "its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas."

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans -- including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans -- support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.
From the Department of "You've Gotta be Kidding Me"

David Vitter, image consultant? That's almost like Dollar Bill offering secure (cold) storage, Tom DeLay teaching ethics...or the Bush Administration demonstrating how to run the Executive Branch.
From Fuzzy Math to Crude Calculations

Patrick Cockburn:

The US and Britain may not want to dwell on the disasters that have befallen Iraq during their occupation but the shanty towns crammed with refugees springing up in Iraq and neighbouring countries are becoming impossible to ignore.

Even so the UNHCR is having difficulty raising $100m (£50m) for relief. The organization says the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees - Syria and Jordan - have still received "next to nothing from the world community". Some 1.4 million Iraqis have fled to Syria according to the UN High Commission for Refugees, Jordan has taken in 750 000 while Egypt and Lebanon have seen 200 000 Iraqis cross into their territories.

Potential donors are reluctant to spent money inside Iraq, arguing the country has large oil revenues. They are either unaware, or are ignoring the fact that the Iraqi administration has all but collapsed outside the Baghdad Green Zone. The US is spending $2 billion a week on military operations in Iraq according to the Congressional Research Service but many Iraqis are dying because they lack drinking water costing a few cents.

Kalawar refugee camp in Sulaymaniyah is a microcosm of the misery to which millions of Iraqis have been reduced.
"At least it is safe here," says Walid Sha'ad Nayef, 38, as he stands amid the stink of rotting garbage and raw sewage. He fled from the lethally dangerous Sa'adiyah district in Baghdad 11 months ago. As we speak to him, a man silently presents us with the death certificate of his son, Farez Maher Zedan, who was killed in Baghdad on May 20, 2006.

Kalawar is a horrible place. Situated behind a gas station down a dusty track, the first sight of the camp is of rough shelters made out of rags, torn pieces of cardboard and old blankets. The stench is explained by the fact the Kurdish municipal authorities will not allow the 470 people in the camp to dig latrines. They say this might encourage them to stay...

The uncertainty of the refugees' lives in Kalawar is mirrored in their drawn faces. While we spoke to them there were several shouting matches. One woman kept showing us a piece of paper from the local authority in Sulaymaniyah giving her the right to stay there. She regarded us nervously as if we were officials about to evict her.

There are in fact three camps at Kalawar. Although almost all the refugees are Sunni they come from different places and until a month ago they lived together. But there were continual arguments. The refugees decided that they must split into three encampments: one from Baghdad, a second from Hillah, south of Baghdad, and a third from Diyala, the mixed Sunni-Shia province that has been the scene of ferocious sectarian pogroms.

Governments and the media crudely evaluate human suffering in Iraq in terms of the number killed. A broader and better barometer would include those who have escaped death only by fleeing their homes, their jobs and their country to go and live, destitute and unwanted, in places like Kalawar. The US administration has 18 benchmarks to measure progress in Iraq but the return of four million people to their homes is not among them.

Interestingly, the refugee crisis in Iraq is, albeit on a much smaller scale, bookended by the domestic refugee crisis right here in the USA. In both instances, this administration has made an obscenely crude calculation, namely, that they can ignore the problem without any additional public concern...even as they shovel truckloads of money into their pockets...

How Christian of them.