Trespasser Chased Off
Weather the last couple of days has been outstanding. More like the dry season than the rains. Yesterday was cloudy but dry the whole day, with some rain during the night, and cool enough that I did not have to run the fan last night. And today was sunny, bright, cloudless most of the day, and with only a very brief rain in the afternoon.
Well, the gardener arrived a bit late, but went right to work spraying weeds, and got everything sprayed early. That meant that the sun could set the spray, and I was delighted for that - this means that the weeds should be killed well and truly. I had him spray on the other side of the street, too - the weeds growing in the desagua (roadside drainage ditch) were choking the ditch and the water was overflowing during heavy rains and running across the street onto my side. Once they're done, I will probably have to get out there and dig the ditch out.
The gardener was in a very cooperative mood today. He got a number of things done that I had wanted but hadn't asked for, and even cleaned out the desagua in front of the house. The last few rains have brought some loose gravel into it, and it was getting rather choked. He had it cleaned out in a couple of minutes - and it would have taken me an hour or more in the present state of my health. I think he sees that I physically can't do much anymore, and feels sorry for me, so he is cheerfully stepping in there to do things without even being asked. I really treasure that. He's a good hearted person.
Late this afternoon, I was sitting on the porch reading the paper, when I heard some machete sounds out back. They sounded like they were on my property, so I figured I had better check it out. I discovered a peone (laborer) cutting down weeds along the fence between me and my neighbor that is building the new house. The weeds he was cutting were on the other side, so I didn't really mind, but figured I had better keep an eye on the guy. Well, a bit later, when I checked on him, he was walking through my banana patch, and there was no excuse for that, so I walked over there to confront the guy. When I arrived, he had seen me coming, and had high-tailed it over onto my neighbor's property. He had some large tangerines from my tree in his hands. He claimed that he was only on the other side of the fence. The weed cutting, he said, is in preparation for the planting of a bamboo fence. Well, Ok, but if he keeps showing up on my side, I will have to say something to my neighbor. I can't tolerate everyone coming onto my property and stealing my tangerines.
I met that neighbor at the bank today. He said that they are going to start putting the windows and doors in the new house next week, and then will get the place painted on the outside. It is getting close! He said he is going to sell it, though, as he is interested in moving back to Panama, where he is from, and where most of his family still is. He thinks it is going to be cheaper, but I don't think so, based on what I found when I was there just under two years ago - at that time, it was considerably more expensive than here. Oh well... Hate to see him go. He's been a good neighbor.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: With Tom DeLay stepping aside because of his indictment on a Texas conspiracy charge, the House Republican Caucus in the House of Representatives has dumped their first pick for Majority Leader, Rep. David Dreier apparently because it's an open secret that he is gay and lives with his chief of staff, Brad Smith, and that wouldn't look good when Hustler Magazine's planned expose hits the streets. Another thing that wouldn't look good is the fact that Smith is the second highest-paid staff member in the House, pulling down only $400 per year less than Andy Card, the Chief of Staff to Smirkey himself. Instead, they have picked Roy Blunt, a Missouri politician who comes to the job with his own well-stuffed baggage. He apparently hired and is regularly paying fees to a consultant who is under indictment in the TRMPAC scandal - the very same scandal that got DeLay in trouble. The House Republican caucus would seem to be made up of slow learners - or maybe they're just having trouble finding someone who isn't ethically challenged.
With leadership like that in Congress, hypocritically bashing gays right and left, it is hardly a surprise that organized homophobia is on the rise in the United States. The American Library Association has released its list of the ten most frequently banned books in the U.S. for the past year, and three gay-themed books made the list - that is the most in a decade. This is apparently due primarily to Internet-based email campaigns organized by Christian hate groups.
Smirkey has threatened to veto a $440 billion defense appropriation bill if it comes before him with the current limitations on the use of torture intact. The threat, in the form of a letter to the Senate, comes at a difficult time - battling to retain the right to commit acts of torture - remember Abu Ghraib - could be politically embarrassing for a president who is already so low in the polls. I can't imagine very many senators supporting the legalization of torture, but that is what Smirkey is effectively asking for.
Gallup is reporting that Smirkey's poll numbers are up. CNN is quoting Gallup as saying that they are now at an approval rating of 45%. Given the Gallup organization's well-known pro-Republican bias, I'll believe that when I see confirmation in Zogby and maybe some others. If it is true, it means that there are a lot of Americans that are slow learners.
Long before the Al Qaeda "fighters" at Guantanamo, there were the Haitians. And before them, there were the Cubans. It seems that Guantanamo has a long and venerable history in the annals of detainee abuse, and so new revelations should be hardly a shock to anyone. But now a whole new batch of habeas corpus petitions is heading in the direction of the Supreme Court, some with conflicting lower court judgments behind them, so there may finally be a resolution.
Get thee to a nunnery: It seems there is yet another moral panic sweeping the land of the used-to-be-free. This time it is college campuses. More specifically, the things that go on in dorm rooms when the lights are out. The "moral entrepreneurs" (those who start moral panics, often for ulterior political or economic motives) are warning us in the Washington Times of "sexual chaos" on campus, and Vigen Guroian, a theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland, is comparing college to a "sex carnival" in an article entitled "Dorm Brothels" in an article in Christianity Today. Well, that's hardly surprising, given all those young walking bags of raging hormones on campus, but the real question is whether this is new. Given the memories of my own college experience, on the campus of a major religious university, I think not. It is just the latest example of a phenomenon called a "moral panic," a phenomenon with a long and venerable history.
In spite of its social programs and welfare state, Finland continues to rank ahead of the United States in international competitiveness, with the other Scandinavian welfare states of Sweden, Norway and Denmark close behind. Proving that you really can take care of your people while remaining internationally competitive. The reason most often given was the sound fiscal management and astute governmental leadership in the Scandinavian countries. The World Economic Forum Competitiveness index was drawn from a survey of 11,000 business leaders worldwide.
The percentage of overdue credit card bills in the United States continues to increase, hitting an all-time high of 4.81% last quarter, up from the 4.76% of the previous quarter. This reflects a continuing trend of Americans to maintain their lifestyles in the face of declining real incomes by simply increasing their indebtedness.
A dangerous force: A nine-member commission, headed by the chief of staff to former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, has issued a report that found that the United States is no longer viewed abroad as a beacon of freedom, liberty and hope, but is increasingly regarded as a "dangerous force" that must be contained. Glad they're finally figuring out that what they're doing is screaming so loudly in the world's ears that the world can't hear any longer what they are saying - and continuing to say it just makes them look silly.
Making us look better than ever, the Bush Administration is doing a "its-mine-and-you-can't-have-it" with the root servers that provide authoritative domain name resolution for the entire Internet. The servers make it possible to use names rather than being forced to use numbers to navigate the Web. Because they are so important, the Bushies are not willing to cede control to a United Nations agency or the ICANN organization, which was set up for this purpose among other things. The reason given? "We think that's unacceptable" according to Ambassador David Goss. Yeah, he really said that. Hey, that's a really convincing argument there.
Fossil Fuels are going to become a relic, and sooner than had been thought. The World Watch Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, has issued a report saying that the shift to renewable energy sources, long predicted, has begun and some nations have already made remarkable progress. Norway, for example, gets 45% of its energy from renewable sources already. Costs for renewables are coming down as fossil fuel prices are going up, and that means the shift has begun - dramatically, in some places. Meanwhile, Smirkey still doesn't get it and is doing nothing to encourage the trend in the U.S., which remains near the bottom of the industrialized nations in terms of the shift. And the high and rising fuel prices are driving down consumer confidence - and economic activity.
Fully 60% of female veterans of the National Guard and Reserve surveyed nationally say that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, and 8% of the incidents involved rape or attempted rape. Only a fourth of them reported it, and most of those were strongly encouraged to drop the charges.
John "two-tone" Bolton does it again - the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is now suggesting to the United Nations that contributions to that body should be voluntary on the asinine belief that it would increase accountability. We're not entirely sure of his reasoning, but that was his excuse. It is widely known that he would like to see the organization to which he is an ambassador be abolished.
Elian Gonzales, the little Cuban boy who was found adrift in the Florida Straights six years ago, and after a protracted legal battle, was returned to his father in Cuba, has given his first interview about the incident. He says that he had always wanted to go back to his father in Cuba, and resented his relatives attempting to keep him in Miami. His view has not changed, and he still feels that going back to his father was the right thing. He was interviewed by CBS News, with his father, but no Cuban officials, present.
Britons, who are fond of vacationing in Florida, are being warned that Floridians are armed and can shoot to kill, under a new law being pushed by Jeb Bush and the National Rifle Association, called the "shoot first" law. The ads, running in British newspapers, are being placed by the Brady Campaign to Control Gun Violence.
From the Scandals Du Jour department:
The Pentagon is engaging in reprisals against one of the two whisleblowers who exposed the Able Danger scandal, discussed previously in this space. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, 42, is being accused of numerous minor infractions to justify removal of his security clearance, all in an attempt to discredit his testimony before Congress - if he is ever allowed to testify.
The legal mess that Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist is facing is apparently getting worse: the Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that it has begun a formal inquiry into his insider trading moves that have netted him between $2 million and $6 million. He is apparently about to learn that getting a clearance from a compliant ethics committee does not absolve him of his legal obligations to not engage in insider trading. This makes the third high ranking Republican official to be formally indicted or arrested for doing business as usual.
Yet another scandal surrounding Frist has just broken out as well. Rawstory.com is reporting that Frist's father quietly settled a massive Medicare fraud lawsuit for $630 million against the Hospital Corporation of America, the family business. The eleventh-hour deal - brokered with Justice Department attorneys after a seven-year court battle - was made as Frist secured the necessary votes to assume the Senate's top post.
Meanwhile, Texas Republicans are desperately struggling to prevent Tom DeLay, the indicted Senate Majority Leader, from having to do a perp-walk back in Texas. They don't want him to be photographed being fingerprinted and photographed. The prosecuting attorney has said it is up to the court how he will be arraigned.
An activist group, with a website called velvetrevolution.us, is offering a $100,000 whistleblower reward for the arrest and conviction of certain high officials that are currently involved in scandals. That includes the person who outed Valerie Plame, the people involved in the Ohio election theft, the arrest and conviction on bribery of House speaker Dennis Hastert, as detailed in Vanity Fair.
Several senators, suspicious of the timing of the Food and Drug Administration's last chief, Dr. Lester Crawford, are seeking an inquiry into whether any ethics laws may have been violated. They are suspicious of possible conflicts of interest that may have sparked his sudden and unexplained resignation.
The embattled Kentucky governor is facing the same problem as the Ohio governor - so many people in his administration have either been indicted or implicated in his scandals that he's having trouble keeping his administration staffed. It seems that his Commerce Secretary, Jim Host, has just stepped down. He, along with Governor Fletcher, declined to appear before a grand jury regarding the hiring scandals that have rocked the state, and now Host is resigning for "personal and other" reasons. We can only wonder what those "other" reasons are.
Mr. More Virtuous Than Thou, William "Bill" Bennett of "Book of Virtues" - and gambling addiction - fame, has done it again. He has said that crime would be reduced if black babies were aborted. Well, I suspect that fraud, corruption, bribery and influence-peddling would be reduced if Republican babies could be aborted too. But I somehow don't think Mr. Virtuous is going to tell us that.
New York Times "reporter" and White House shill Judith Miller is out of jail and back in the courtroom, testifying as to who it was who leaked the CIA indentity of Valerie Plame to her. It was Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, apparently, and he got it from Karl Rove. Like that was a shock to learn. She is testifying because he gave her a release from her confidentiality pledge. I guess the fix is in and he is not too worried about going to jail. Not that he would have anyway. And I guess she is not too worried about her connections with the White House being revealed either, as was discussed previously in this space.
The ACLU's lawsuit to force the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos is proceeding apace, and a New York judge has ruled that they must be shown. The government has 20 days to appeal, and probably will do so.
Wars and rumors of wars:
The senior officials in Nicaragua's embattled government are claiming that a slow-motion coup is in progress in the form of the attempts by the opposition - which consists of almost everyone in the country, the majority of whom support the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega - to isolate and remove the U.S. installed puppet president Enrique Belanos. Angered by this, Smirkey has sent U.S. congressman Dan Burton came to Managua specifically to rattle the sword over the rebellious colony. In the Sept. 30 edition of the Nica Times print edition (page 1), he was quoted as saying, "It's up to the people of Nicaragua who they want to lead this country. But, I would say to the people of Nicaragua: I know you don't want to go back to what happened when the wars were going on in the early '80's... As far as the Sandinistas are concerned, I was in Congress in the'80's. I saw the war. I was in Honduras. I was in Managua, I was in El Salvador. I saw the blood. I saw the women and children that suffered. I saw the bodies in the fields. And I don't want to see those anymore as an American. And I don't think Nicaraguans want to ever see that again." Noam Chomsky, interviewed by the paper for the article, was quoted as saying he didn't think a new war was likely. "Economic strangulation will suffice," he said.
The much-touted "Al Qaeda Number Two in Iraq," whose death was touted by Smirkey as evidence of progress in the war, apparently wasn't that significant after all. Evan Kohlman, a veteran terrorism analyst, has told newsweek there is plenty of reason to doubt that Abu Azzam was really the number two figure in the insurgency. “If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they’ve arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’d be a millionaire,” he wrote in the Counterterrorism Blog.
The American Legion, America's largest veteran's group and one of its most conservative, has started a letter-writing campaign to try to put a positive spin on the war. Coming from soldiers serving in Iraq, the "Letters to America From The Front" campaign is to try to tell the good things that are happening in Iraq, from soldiers serving there, directly to the folks back home. Well, I for one, am not expecting to get very many letters.
It was a meeting that was meant to be a reconciliation. Instead, it turned into a display of the hostility and division that the occupation is creating in Iraq: a meeting of soldiers and officers from Saddam's army met with tribal leaders in Baghdad, and the meeting turned in to a raucous display of frustration. General after general rose to his feet to express shock and anger at how the band of thugs, thieves and criminals that passes for the Iraqi government and army is only making matters worse instead of better.
The pornography site that was allowing members of the military to upload graphic pictures of combat has been cleared by the Pentagon. An investigation by the Pentagon concluded that there was nothing going on there that merited taking action. The soldiers can continue to get their free porn access after sending in a graphic picture of their activities. Iraqi corpses on display is OK. No soldiers, please.
The Sunnis say no: apparently the Sunni minority has stated unequivocally that it will not support the draft Iraqi constitution, no matter what happens between now and the referendum. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met President Jalal Talabani and other Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq on Wednesday, in an attempt to work out a resolution, but the Muslim Clerics Association, a leading Sunni group says it has not heard any proposals and views the talks with suspicion.
The war will go on and on: the top U.S. general in Iraq, Army General George Casey, testifying before congress on Wednesday, says that it is unlikely that there will be any significant troop reductions in 2006, and that the war is entering a heightened period of uncertainty.
The Iraqi people are expressing their outrage at what they consider to be the light sentence that Lyndee England received in the Abu Graib torture scandal. They are saying that many Iraqis are serving longer sentences for much more minor crimes. What they don't understand is that in America, apparently torture is a minor crime.
The Coalition of the Willing is steadily becoming the Coalition of the Gone: A Japanese newspaper is saying that Japan is likely to pull out its troops next year. Prime Minister Koizume is claiming that the decision hasn't been made yet.
News of Katrina/Rita:
Gas is going up: the price of gasoline in the United States is set to rise by about 15% as the refineries in the Gulf Coast region are failing to come back on line as quickly as had been hoped, and remaining inventories begin to tighten. Price rises have not happened so far as quickly as had been feared, because Americans have been using less gasoline than in the past - gas purchases are down by about 3%
Apparently, according to an audit by FEMA's own people, Mike Brown was warned at least three weeks before Katrina that his information and data systems were woefully ill-equipped, and would likely delay supplies and assistance in an emergency, but apparently little was done. FEMA's internal Inspector General stated that the response to several previous disasters indicated that information sharing was the most critical deficiency, and had led to many problems previously and would again if not corrected. Of course, Brown did nothing about it.
Texas displays its hospitality: After being swiftly whisked away from the disaster area after Rita struck, some evacuees are shocked to find that they are being housed in the Dallas jail, after spending three truly harrowing days on the bus, during which they were repeatedly refused aid and comfort by the towns through which they passed, sometimes with weapons pointed at them. Meanwhile, the cruise ships in Mobile bay continue to lay at anchor more than half-empty, even though FEMA is paying more than $1200 per week each for the bed spaces. Better to put them in jail than in comfort. Some of the evacuees are saying they'd rather be sleeping on the street.
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we have received from NASA, confirmation that the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is melting alarmingly fast - a 20% reduction in just the last two decades alone. Most worringly, the rate of melting is increasing, too. Ice is shrinking at the rate of 8% per decade, and the Arctic Ocean will be completely free of sea ice in the summer months as early as 2060, if this continues. Already, the shore of the Arctic Ocean along the North Slope of Russia was ice free this summer for the first time ever. The Alaska Native Science Commission in Anchorage has announced that at least one village is going to have to be evacuated because the permafrost on which it is sitting has melted to the extent that the homes are threatened, record wildfire seasons, and insect damage to the forests of Alaska are all evidence of a rapidly warming climate.
Rains Continue - But Not Here
The weather was in the hurricane mode yesterday, with bright sunshine and mostly cloudless skies all day, with rain happening only late last night. But this morning, it has been overcast, with sprinkles occasionally, but still no rain. The Hurricane Forecast Center in Miami indicates that a hurricane may possibly be forming, in the very earliest stages so far, southeast of Jamaica. And that simply dumps warm, dry air over us. Hence, no rain. The weather here in Arenal has been a delight.
That stands in sharp contrast to what has been happening just down the road in Puntarenas province, near the beach towns of Jaco, Manuel Antonio, and inland at Quepos and Orotina. Those areas, you may have heard, are being flooded by relentless rain that has swept away something like 37 bridges, more than 80 km. of roadway, and left more than 1500 people homeless. That weather is the result of strong winds off the west coast of South America, which have been moving over abnormally warm water off the south coast of Panama. Picking up all that moisture, they have been dumping it on southeastern Costa Rica, and along the Nicoya Peninsula as well. Floods happen every rainy season in this country, and usually a few families here or there are displaced, but not this year. The entire village of Portalon has been wiped out. Usually it is on the Caribbean side, too, in Limon Province. But not this year. This year it is what is usually one of the dryer parts of the country. Weird weather.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: House Majority Leader, the Texas Republican Tom DeLay, has been finally indicted by a Texas grand jury on state felony charges of conspiracy related to his campaign finance activities. Prediction: The jury will be locked up longer than he will. Scott McClellan, the White House press spokesman commented before cameras about DeLay's indictment that "there's a process in place, and we'll let that play out." Yeah. We're talking about Texas. I'll bet there's a process in place!
This comes as the Bush administration and the Republican Party are rapidly requiring an international reputation for sleaze. DeLay's indictment, the recent indictment of the administration's top procurement official, and the investigation of insider trading threatening to have Sen. Bill Frist doing a Martha Stuart-style perp walk, is leading overseas newspapers to comment on the corruption in the GOP and the administration.
Jeff Gannon has made a re-appearance. Who is Jeff Gannon, you ask? He is the skinhead gay male prostitute that was exposed as a shill in the White House press corps sometime back, from which he promptly disappeared. And now he has just as suddenly re-appeared. And just where you would expect to find him. He showed up, whoring for the White House as usual, at the pro-war rally last weekend, organized by the White House to counter the anti-war rally held the same day. Jeff was one of about 400 people who showed up at Smirkey's demonstration. The anti-war rally attracted at least 150,000 - but the pro-war rally got just as much attention from the "liberal biased media."
A leading Democrat in Congress, John Conyers, has accused the Park Police of mistreating the 400 arrested in the anti-war demonstration. Many were kept handcuffed in crowded buses for as much as 12 hours, and most were released only after 4:30 in the morning in a bad area of downtown Washington, after the Metro had closed and at a time when no cabs were running in the area.
The Republicans are apparently rushing to use the post Katrina/Rita emergency as cover to remove a whole host of environmental regulations on the pretext of helping the U.S. oil and gas industry to recover from the twin disasters. House committees are rushing to get the overturns into a new "energy bill" to be debated on the House floor as early as next week.
As reported previously in this space, the White House is determined to hush up the Able-Danger scandal at any and all costs. So the Congressional investigation that has been an on-again-off-again affair is now off again. The Pentagon has changed its mind for a second time and is refusing to allow members of the military who were involved it to testify before Congress, this time using even more lame excuses about "national security." Which has the Democratic members of the committee openly asking what the White House is trying to hide. Well, if they'd read this blog, they would know. It is the Bush family's close association with a heroin trafficking ring in Florida.
More details on Warrior Chang that I mentioned last time as Jeb Bush's imaginary friend. Turns out that he is George Senior's imaginary friend, too! We're finally learning some more details - there is evidence that he may actually be the imaginary ghost of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese opponent to Chairman Mao during the Chinese Civil War at the end of World War II. It was Chiang who was a darling of the anti-Communist far right, in spite of his having been a rather nasty and brutal dictator. George Senior apparently says he is "unleashing Chang" whenever he is losing in a tennis match. But unlike Jeb, Papa Bush doesn't talk about him much. This Bush family is a strange bunch!
Desperate to burnish their image in any way they can after the FEMA disaster, the White House has approached the producers of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" to have Laura Bush appear on the show. Just what she would actually do on the show is unclear; I seriously doubt if she has ever wielded a hammer or crosscut saw in her life. But there she will be, supposedly helping while trying to not get in the way of builders working on shelters for Katrina/Rita victims. Series producers have accepted the White House's offer. What Laura won't do for Smirkey.
Consumer confidence has plummeted in the wake of Katrina: the Conference Board has said their index has dropped by a whopping 18.9 points to 86.6, from a revised reading of 105.5. That is the biggest drop in one month for fifteen years, since the last Bush was president.
The ultra-rich can't even do charity without corrupting it: we are learning tonight that there are credible allegations that the Getty Museum in Los Angeles has been buying stolen art and archaeological artifacts out of Italy. Not a new allegation, but what is new is that there is strong evidence that they knew it was hot and went ahead with the purchases anyway.
Venezuela continues to take its assets back: the Chavez government has announced that oil fields being operated by private companies will be required to be under joint-venture contracts with the Venezuelan state petroleum company by the end of the year or lose their concessions. Operators that had simply gotten a concession to pump oil without involvement of the state petroleum company are operating illegally, Chavez claims, and will be required to convert their contracts or else. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is still doing nothing to wean America off of its dependence on imported oil, but continues to antagonize Chavez. Can we say "five dollar gas" boys and girls?
The U.S. has the best medicine that only money can buy: The St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles has suspended its liver transplant program after it has come to light that a Saudi national jumped the queue to get a liver that should have gone to a much higher-priority patient. Staff members apparently falsified documents several times to cover up the arrangement.
Don't look for much to change at PBS and NPR now that Tomlinson is out. Kenneth Tomlinson, the Bush crony and former editor of Reader's Digest who made waves by trying hard to turn the Corporation For Public Broadcasting into a forum for rich Republicans, has been replaced. The board has voted to replace Tomlinson and fill the Vice Chairman position with two Republicans, Cheryl F. Halpern and Gay Hart Gaines, respectively. Both are apparently Bush cronies, and Halpern's appointment has been compared to Mike Brown's appointment to FEMA. Her principal qualification seems to be that her family has given about $900,000 to Republican causes over the last 16 years. The board now consists of six Republicans and two Democrats - a real bipartisan mix there. So don't look for much to change in the ideology department, in spite of Halpern's flowery rhetoric.
The U.S. Supreme Court, which narrowly upheld campaign spending limits the last time they came up for review, has announced that it will review several pending court cases involving them. Now that Sandra Day O'Conner is about to leave the bench, you can expect spending limits to be overturned, so in effect, your freedom of speech will be directly proportional to the size of your bank account. That should do wonders for the principle of equal protection of the law.
News from the war:
Reuters, the international news wire service, has filed a formal complaint with the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, John Warner, that the U.S. Occupation Forces in Iraq are obstructing, apparently deliberately, the reporting of the war there. The obstructions, detailed in a letter to the senator, go well beyond a legitimate security interest, and detail the fact that two Reuters cameramen are currently being detained indefinitely without being charged.
Insurgents have captured five towns along the Syrian border, making a mockery of Occupation claims to be winning the war. Fleeing from Tal Afar as the occupation bombed that town into oblivion, the militants have overtaken the towns and forced the residents to flee, on pain of death if they remain behind.
The pornographic web site reported in this space previously that had become an inadvertent forum for the posting by soldiers of the carnage in Iraq, is now being investigated by the Pentagon. Word of it has finally filtered far enough up the chain of command that the brass is looking into it, and they don't like what they see. Posting to it is a breach of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they claim, and so they are considering prosecution of soldiers who uplink casualty photographs in exchange for access to the pornography. The pictures have been coming from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The "Salvador Option" death squads in Iraq have been busy little bees: The rotting corpses of 36 murdered men have turned up in a dry riverbed just south of Baghdad. They had been tortured, bound, gagged and shot. Very reminiscent of the El Salvador death squads of two decades ago. As then, the police are often involved in these incidents. This follows the discovery of 22 bodies found in an open field near the Iranian border.
News from Katrina/Rita:
If you are a storm victim needing shelter, there's no point in going to Colorado Springs - the capital of "compassionate conservatism" - looking for shelter. The town, home of Focus On The Family's James Dobson, and known for its ultra-right wing Christian mega-churches, is often called "the most conservative town in America." So, doing what conservatives do best, It has abruptly jerked away the "welcome" mat from families looking for shelter from the storm. Evidently following closely the teachings of the Jesus they so much admire, the city council is in effect telling Katrina victims to go elsewhere. We gave to the church.
Instead of going to a shelter in Colorado Springs, go on a cruise on the taxpayer's nickel instead: FEMA's contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to provide 10,000 shelter spaces on three cruise ships for $236 million, will have taxpayers paying $1275 per week per space, more than half of which went unused. Meanwhile, the evacuees were herded, at great expense, into a variety of camps across the country that look more like concentration camps than emergency shelters.
NASA Director Mike Griffin has finally acknowledged what everyone already knows: the space shuttle and the International Space Station were incredibly costly mistakes. He says that only now is the space program getting back on track - exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Four days on from the devastation of Rita, victims are still waiting for help. The situation prompted one official to say that people are "living like cavemen" amidst the wreckage. Well, this is in Republican-controlled Texas, so don't expect a lot of news about it to filter onto your TV set. Deja vu all over again.
Well, Mike Brown went up to Capitol Hill to tell his side of the story of his disastrous tenure at the head of FEMA. And predictably, he towed to the party line with remarkable discipline - he admitted to some of the more obvious mistakes, but he claims that New Orleans mayor Nagin and Louisiana governor Blanco were so at odds with each other that nothing got done, and it wasn't all his fault. Of course, his compliance with the party line might have something to do with the fact that he has been recycled - he has landed a juicy contract "consulting" for FEMA - helping them understand how to do emergency management, of all things! No, I am not making this up!
Give me your tired, your poor: It seems that a group of Vietnamese boat people have finally made it to the United States. Twenty years on. Held up in the Phillipines for many years, the first of the 1400 refugees have finally arrived in Los Angeles, when the United States finally ran out of excuses to avoid their responsibility and take them in.
The Hypocrisy Watch department informs us that Rush Limbaugh's doctors are now under investigation - it seems the Palm Beach County (Florida) prosecutor is questioning doctors that have been "treating" Rush for his back pain, in connection with the allegation that Rush had been "shopping doctors" looking for multiple prescriptions for the pain killers to which he has acknowledged his addiction. Well, Rush, maybe we should treat you the same way that you have been advocating that other addicts be treated - by your own theory of justice, you made some bad choices, but those were your voluntary choices, so let's lock you up and show you exactly the same mercy and compassion you have advocated for other addicts over the years.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes news of a remarkable scientific discovery: Religion is a net negative force in society. I have been saying this for years, and have been laughed at, of course, but now there is hard evidence for what I have been saying all along. Societies are worse off when they have "God on their side." Published in the academic journal, "Journal Of Religion And Society," the study shows that there is a strong correlation between religious fervor and negative social indicators, and the correlation is too strong to be coincidental - there is abundant evidence in the data that it is religion that is the causative factor.
Yet another influence-peddling scandal emerging from the White House: Turns out that Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm had boasted to Tyco International that Abramoff's connections with the "highest officials in Congress," would enable them to help Tyco kill legislation that closed a loophole allowing corporations to avoid billions in taxes by moving their legal headquarters to a post office box offshore. Jack Abramoff, along with several of his associates, are under indictment for their involvement in fleecing several Indian tribes of millions for "consulting" fees. Abramoff has close connections to Karl Rove, Smirkey's chief of staff.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has gone on TV to try to defend his actions in selling his Hospital Corporation of America stock just before the price collapsed, and claimed that he was off the hook because he had gotten approval from the Republican-controlled ethics committee. Going to a Republican-controlled ethics committee for approval is kinda like two foxes and a chicken voting on what's for lunch.
Public Employees On Strike
The rainy season weather continues, but lightly: we had a severe thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, but no rain today to speak of, nor much yesterday morning, for that matter. Today it was bright and sunny in the early morning hours, but by noon had clouded over and it is starting to look threatening again as I write this about half-past three. We'll probably get a bit more rain and that will be fine; yesterday's rain was needed, but it won't be enough for more than a day or two. Temperatures have been just perfect - I have not been running the fan, nor have I closed up the windows. Couldn't be better.
I had a call a bit earlier from a friend who lives in San Jose. He tells me that the public employees are staging a one-day spontaneous strike to protest the fact that President Pacheco announced late last week that he intends to submit the Central American Free Trade Agreement to the legislature for ratification. The public employee unions are opposed to CAFTA, on the grounds that it will lead to the eventual sell-off of the state's crown jewels - the ICE cell telephone monopoly, RACSA's monopoly on international telecommunications, the state monopoly on insurance, the RECOPE oil-refining monopoly and a few others.
I don't normally comment on domestic Costa Rican politics in this space, but I feel compelled to make an exception today as it is affecting directly the experience of life here at the moment, which is the subject of this blog. I am told that the unions have shut down the public employee offices, including ICE, the power and telephone utility, and they have slowed down ICE's ADSL internet service to a crawl. RACSA, the international telecommunications monopoly has a monopoly on dial-up access, and so far, it seems to have been unaffected. Since I am on RACSA's dialup service, speed has not seemed to be affected for my usage.
Apparently, there are also sporadic street blockades and demonstrations in San Jose, but I do not know much about what is happening there, as I live a hundred miles away, and have seen nothing so far on the local television news. Out here in the campo (countryside) where I live, there is not much difference - Arenal is its sleepy old self. Don't know if the post office is open, but I don't have a need to go there anyway. Roll over and go back to sleep.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: "There are no good options," warns former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. The worst days in Iraq may be ahead of us. This was the warning she gave at a conference recently on the role of citizens in shaping international perceptions of America. "Instead of winning friends for America, it has poisoned our relations with many countries in the Mideast and the Muslim world."
The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is declaring that Iraq is hurtling toward disintegration and could drag the entire region into conflict. There is no dynamic pulling the country together - all the dynamics are pulling it apart, he warned. It was the starkest warning issued by a regional Middle East leader, and stands in sharp contrast to the rhetoric coming out of the White House.
A new report issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington D.C. think tank, has stated that the claim of large numbers of foreign fighters in Iraq, pushed endlessly by the White House, is a myth. It claims that about 4% - and certainly no more than 10% - of the insurgency fighters are foreign. This is a homegrown fight, it says.
Showing just how much progress is being made in human rights in Iraq, women there are now complaining that their rights are slipping away, and the influence of fundamentalist extremism is beginning to permeate the culture there, and they now have fewer rights than they did under Saddam. Our blood and treasure is buying a lot for the people of Iraq, no doubt.
Showing just what supporters they are for efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in compliance with its treaty obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention, the U.S. Army has announced plans for a bulk-buy of anthrax. It is to be shipped to the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, where nerve agents and biological weapons have been tested since the early Cold War.
The "extraordinary rendition" scandal just gets bigger - turns out that the U.S. Navy was involved in leasing many of the planes used by the CIA, and there were far more of them involved that has previously been understood - at least 33, including even a Boeing 737.
Duck and cover: the Pentagon has removed from its web site the draft document that stated under what conditions field commanders could request the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. When asked why, a Pentagon spokesperson said "that is not the kind of thing you want flying around on the Internet." I don't think you even want it flying around in the halls of the Pentagon, either.
Determined as they always are to undermine public education whenever they can, the neo-cons are now making it legal to apply religious tests as part of the hiring procedures for the Head Start program. One of the most successful education programs ever developed, Head Start serves nearly a million impoverished children, and gives them a proven advantage in the education process to help lift themselves out of poverty. Now it is being subverted to teach religion instead.
Speaking of teaching religion, the Dover, Pennsylvania school system is now being sued over its policies requiring the teaching of "alternatives" to evolution in high school biology classes. A show-down in the community is brewing as a result, with parents lining up on either side of the issue. At the center, of course, is Creationism-in-disguise, known as "intelligent design," which, of course, posits that if you can't figure out for yourself how evolution did it, then it clearly must have been God that did it.
There is more news about the United States' blatant hypocrisy on world trade: Brazil has sued and won in the U.S. in the World Trade Organization tribunal to halt the huge subsidies paid to American cotton farmers that distort world trade and give U.S. producers an unfair advantage. After the failure of months of attempts to negotiate the corrective measures, Brazil has asked the WTO for trade sanctions against the U.S.
Liberal-Biased Media Watch: Sean Hannity, the Fox News media shill for the Republican party, has stated publicly that he intends to give the maximum contribution allowed to the campaign of Jeanine Pirro, who is running against Sen. Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate seat she currently holds. He is urging his listeners to do likewise. We report, you decide? What kind of journalism is that?
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we are learning today that Tony Blair, who has famously argued with Smirkey on the one issue of global warming, has changed his mind and is now echoing Smirkey's famous head-in-the-sand position. Makes one wonder what Smirkey knows that Tony doesn't want the rest of the world to know. There's gotta be a serious quid pro quo there somewhere for Tony to take up such a nonsensical position.
There is news from the same department that we can expect longer, hotter summers in the Colorado River basin, leading to ever greater demands on water use from residents in the basin. And the warmer winter temperatures and earlier springs will mean more frequent flooding events.
News of the Katrina/Rita disasters:
Some of the details about the no-bid contracts awarded in the wake of Katrina are starting to come out, and as you would expect, the Republican greed machine is right there, vacuuming up the lion share of contracts, especially for cronies of prominent Republican politicians. No surprise as to the prominent members of the list - Halliburton, Shaw Group, Blackwater USA and other companies owned or headed by Bush cronies.
Smirkey has announced his point-person to handle the Katrina investigation. And I am sure you will be pleased to learn just how independent, non-partisan and fair-minded she is: She is none other than Ms. Francis Townsend, his very own Homeland Security adviser (FEMA is a Homeland Security agency). And with that, we know with great confidence that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will come out. Care to invest in a bridge in Brooklyn?
From the Let Them Eat Cake desk, we are learning that in order to finance the tax cuts for the rich, the Republicans are planning to cut pension benefits for federal retirees. My advice to the FBI employees who may be reading this who are nearing retirement: You know who your friends are on Capitol Hill. Maybe it is time to start some criminal investigations of your real enemies for a change.
The ethically-challenged Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist apparently knew about systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees, and did nothing to stop it - in fact, he derailed an attempt by Sen. John McCain (himself a former POW who had been tortured in Vietnam), to investigate current allegations of detainee abuse, in spite of his Hippocratic oath as a medical doctor.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You department comes news that the same ethically-challenged Senator Frist apparently put his investments in a blind trust that was not so blind. Apparently, he was updated by the trustees at least as many as two dozen times, apparently by letter, and the trustees actively involved him in the decision to sell his Hospital Corp. of America shares before the stock sank. All blind people should be so blind.
Tom DeLay, that most ethically-challenged of all the Texas Republicans in the House, has peddled his influence to help a Bush crony get around Forest Service regulations to get a resort built in Colorado. The issue revolved around whether the Forest Service would allow a road to be built across taxpayer-owned land to facilitate access to the 288-acre facility to be built on private land by a Texas billionare at Wolf Creek Pass near Durango.
A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), has released a report on the the congressmen it considers to be the most corrupt people on Capital Hill. The bipartisan list which details the allegations, includes 13 members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Reps. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) of California, Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Reps. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.), Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.), Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave (R-Colo.) and Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.).
Speaking of the ethically challenged House Resources Committee chairman Richard W. Pombo, we learn he is circulating a draft of a bill that would sell 15 national parks and require the National Park Service to raise millions of dollars by selling the naming rights to visitors' centers and trails.
Trail Ride Comes Through Town
The weather has been closing back in, more typical of the mid-rainy season, as we expect this time of the year in this part of Costa Rica. Overcast, drizzly mornings, with a mid-day break in the rain, followed by heavy afternoon thundershowers, and rain in the evening. A typical pattern that was repeated yesterday and today.
I held off going to the grocery store till today to see if the fresh veggies would be available after the veggie truck arrives on Saturday morning. Well, there were - some broccoli, and some fresh, but small heads of lettuce, but I have plenty of both, so I didn't buy any. There was a really nice pineapple in the bin, though, and so I grabbed that, and a few tomatoes, which I was out of - and needed for tacos tonight. So all in all, I am not sure it was worth the wait. The news stand was out of papers, so I headed over to one of the hotels in town, run by a gringo fellow I know - real nice guy - to see if he had a copy of the Tico Times. He did, and I got a copy.
There were a lot of tables out front, along with a barbecue pit, several bars and a lot of tables under a tent roof. I asked what was going on, and the owner told me that today is the day that the annual trail ride around the lake comes through town. The biggest annual trail ride in Costa Rica, it involves hundreds of horses and their riders, along with support staff and the like, and goes all the way around Lake Arenal, more than a hundred-mile trip, loaded with scenery. Tonight will be big-time party night in Nuevo Arenal. There will be something like a hundred horses or so corraled on the somewhat muddy soccer pitch for the night, and churning it up all night (which I am sure will endear the riders to the soccer club), and all around the park will be trail riders, cowboys, support people, hangers-on and townsfolk partying till all hours. Not sure I was wanting to be in all that mess, I stayed long enough to visit with some friends, and headed home. Party night in Nuevo Arenal. Batten down the hatches once again.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: "Able-Danger" scandal goes prime-time: Wonder why yesterday the right-wing talk shows were all abuzz about the Able Danger scandal, and trying to blame it on a Clinton coverup - and now, all of a sudden, there is no talk of it at all on the right-wing radio? Think that someone might be protecting somebody? If there is anything to the allegations on Mad Cow Morning News, this whole scandal was and is being desperately swept under the rug because it was threatening to expose Bush family connections to a major heroin trafficking ring (apparently still operating). One of the alleged members, Wally Hilliard, has close ties to Jeb Bush and more especially Kathleen ("felon" voters list scandal) Harris. Hilliard Aviation operated a flight school at which Mohammad Atta and one of his bodyguards, Marwan Al-Shehhi, had been taking flight lessons (hence Able Danger's discovery of this). This site linked above even shows a photograph of Jeb and Kathleen taken with Hilliard, the owner of a company whose airplane which was seized by the DEA in July 2000 at the Orlando Airport executive terminal with 43 lbs. of heroin on board, apparently fresh back from its 39th weekly drug run to Venezuela. There was an article about the seizure in the Orlando Sentinel on August 2, 2000, which called it "the biggest drug seizure in Central Florida history." Somehow, Hilliard didn't get charged, and the plane was apparently returned to the company. When this thing gets big enough in the blogosphere that the "liberal biased media" can't ignore it any longer, it will destroy whatever credibility may be left in this administration. Remember, you heard it here first.
Speaking of Jeb, this one is so weird you're gonna think I am making it up, but I swear to you I am not: Just like a six-year old child (or some wigged-out African dictator), Jeb Bush, our drunkard president's brother and the governor of that great state of Florida (that has somehow sadly come to resemble a banana republic in more than just its weather), we're learning that Jeb keeps company with an imaginary friend. His name is "Warrior Chang," and Jeb says he guides his every move. I am serious - this is what he actually said in front of hundreds of lawmakers and politicians: "Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society. I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down." Wow! This Bush family is a really scary bunch!
The Pentagon, under pressure from Senate Democrats, has finally dropped its opposition to members of the armed forces testifying in the Able-Danger coverup scandal, since they have apparently already destroyed more than a terabyte and a quarter of incriminating computer files. We'll see if anything comes of the testimony that is given. Don't hold your breath.
Showing themselves to be the fiscally responsible compassionate conservatives that they really are, the Republican leadership in Congress says it is going to move forward with its tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor such as Medicare and food stamps, in spite of the fact that Katrina has created a huge need in most of those programs for short-term aid. The demand by the leadership is so arrogantly indifferent to the needs of the constituents out there that even many moderate Republicans are jumping ship and joining the Democrats in opposing the changes. But don't worry - they still have plenty of support to get them passed. In spite of the fact that it means that they will not meet Smirkey's announced target of cutting the deficit in half by the end of Smirkey's term.
According to Forbes, the 400 richest people in the United States, among them, own $1.13 trillion dollars - that's 2.5% of the entire value of the United States of America. That figure is growing rapidly, too. it is up $125 billion just last year alone - an increase of 11% in just one year. Did your net worth increase by 11% last year? I didn't think so. "Trickle-down" economics is doing exactly what it was intended to.
Not content with conducting terrorist operations in the Occupied Territories, the radical Zionists of the Jewish Defense League are starting terror operations in the U.S., and now one of its members has been sentenced in a plea-bargained trial of a plot to blow up a mosque in Los Angeles, California. Another member committed suicide while awaiting trial as part of the same plot. Is the JDL a terrorist organization? This isn't the first such conviction. Will the JDL be declared a terrorist organization? Don't count on it.
While Katrina victims are going to find it almost impossible to file bankruptcy to avoid paying mortgages on houses that are no longer habitable, big business in America gets a free ride through easy Chapter 11 filings, which they're doing almost routinely - and this has not gone unnoticed by foreign competitors. With four of the seven national airlines in the U.S. currently operating in Chapter 11, the outgoing boss of British Airways is complaining that "America, the land of the free, is turning itself into the land of the free ride."
Smirkey's little project in Iraq is hurtling that country towards disintegration, according to the Saudis, who accurately predicted the insurgency, and warned Smirkey about it before the invasion even happened. Well, they're being proven right. With the Sunnis rejecting the new constitution, many believe that a civil war is not only inevitable, but may have already started.
There are fresh revelations of abuse in Iraqi prisons being run by the Occupation. Not that it is news, but this time it is appearing in a report by Human Rights Watch, and this is doubtless going to be picked up by the press in the Middle East. Having not done enough to stop the abuse, the new revelations will provide yet another inducement to the insurgency. These neo-cons are either slow learners, or maybe even non-learners.
The U.S. government has gone on a shopping spree for military equipment specific to jungle warfare. Given Smirkey's well-known antipathy towards Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, and the fact that the U.S. needs both the oil and gasoline refining capacity that Venezuela has, and the fact that Hugo has really angered Dick Cheney and his oil buddies by keeping 30% of the price of Venezuela's oil for the Venezuelan government, instead of 16%, and the fact that Hugo is spending all that money on the poor instead of using it to subsidize the middle class and rich, and the fact that Hugo is buddying up to Fidel, and the fact that Hugo has become a hero continent-wide because of his standing up to the United States, do you suppose Smirkey is going to use these armaments in the drug war next door in Colombia as they are claiming? Ya think?
And that is not the only goal that Smirkey is not going to meet. It appears that even before Katrina, the economy was headed south, and Katrina, and now Rita, are only going to make matters worse. And the effects should be apparent full on by midterm elections next year. We may even see Democratic control of Congress again as a result. Leading economic indicators were down 0.2% even before Katrina struck.
In other economic news, it appears that jobless claims in the wake of Katrina have topped 432,000 per month and are still going up. This comes as Rita is due on the coast, likely raising the number much higher.
Jimmy Carter has come clean - five years too late. He stated for the first time, on the record, that he is "certain" that Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election. And he castigated the Supreme Court for getting involved in a purely partisan legal effort. Well, Jimmy, why didn't you say something when it mattered?
Demonstrating themselves to be the always reliable stewards of the environment, the White House has announced that if the Congress attempts to overturn the lax rules on mercury emissions from power plants that were implemented when Smirkey came into office, that Smirkey will do something he has never done before: veto the legislation. Senate Democrats and some renegade Republicans are seeking to overturn the EPA rules which egregiously favor the power industry at the expense of the public health. All wild-caught fish in 19 states are now too contaminated with power plant mercury to be safe for human consumption, and many more states are threatened. Body burdens of mercury are now alarmingly high, especially in pregnant women in most of the eastern U.S.
New Jersey Republicans are complaining that 4,755 deceased voters cast ballots in last year's elections in that state, and 4,397 people voted in more than one jurisdiction, and are demanding that the state's Secretary of State and Attorney General do something about it. Well, maybe they should look into Ohio as well. Something tells me they won't be quite so righteous in investigating that state.
The Pot has called up the Kettle and complained about its blackness once again: The U.S. is telling China it needs to adopt democratic reforms, so it can be a more responsible player on the world stage. Of course, someone needs to remind Condi that China finds this all very annoying - and they hold close to a trillion dollars in U.S. debt and can collapse the U.S. dollar and/or economy with the push of a button.
Showing once again just how much respect the U.S. Occupation forces in Iraq have for journalistic independence and the rule of law, the Arabic news channel, al Arabayia is being forced to beg for the release of one of its reporters, arrested while attending a family funeral, and being held for several weeks now without charge. He joins at least two Reuters journalists who are being similarly detained.
More evidence that the U.S. military is preparing for its new role as the nation's chief law enforcement agency: A top secret demonstration, called "Granite Shadow" is taking place in the streets of Washington, D.C. The Washington Post is calling it "yet another new Top Secret and compartmented operation related to the military’s extra-legal powers regarding weapons of mass destruction. It allows for emergency military operations in the United States without civilian supervision or control." Notice that they're saying it is hardly the first such operation.
First Katrina and now Rita: the hurricanes are taking a toll on support for the war in Iraq. More and more people are beginning to think that it is time that the U.S. brought its troops home and stuck to its knitting. Stephen Cimbala, a political scientist at Penn State, is saying, "It's like Osama is running the weather." Expect the support for the war to continue to decline.
Far be it from me to ever suggest that there might be a connection, but at a time when more than a thousand children have been displaced and are now missing and unaccounted for, or whose parents cannot be found as a result of the Katrina evacuations, it should be noted that the Bush administration has suddenly announced that it is withdrawing sanctions against Saudi Arabia for its involvement in the child trafficking, slavery and prostitution sanctions that country had been facing, in spite of a lack of evidence that much of anything has changed in the situation there. Could Bush family closeness with the Saudi royal family have anything to do with this? Could there be other factors at work?
A new report released by Amnesty International highlights the plight of sexual minorities in the United States, and their increasingly brutal treatment at the hands of the police. The report cites many horror stories, particularly when the victim is also a member of a racial minority. They include many stories of rape and forced fallatio. One victim, a transgendered Native American woman, a frequent victim, complained, "The police aren't here to serve; they're here to get served."
Arnie the Governator may have to face another actor in his re-election campaign in California next year. Word is that Warren Beatty is considering a run on the Democratic ticket. Arnie, once so popular that he was being discussed as a presidential candidate, is now suffering from declining popularity, and is almost to the point where the Republicans consider him an albatross around their necks, rather than an asset.
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we are learning that the interior of Alaska has been warming up faster than predicted, and scientists at U.A. Fairbanks have figured out why: Turns out it is the result of an increase in the bulk of dark-colored vegetation in the Alaskan interior. This is adding to several feedback loops that will accelerate global warming.
Smirkey has made a new record that has horrified even the American Enterprise Institute, of all people: He has beat Lyndon Johnson's record for the largest increase in domestic spending in a president's first term. LBJ vastly increased domestic spending - by 33.4% - to finance his Great Society programs along with the Vietnam war. Abhorrence at the increase was one of the reasons that Richard Nixon was elected to replace him. But Smirkey has now beat that record - he increased domestic spending by a whopping 35.1%, adjusted for inflation, in his first term alone - and he has done it almost entirely through borrowing. And the increases continue dramatically into Smirkey's second term. LBJ was castigated as a "tax and spend" Democrat. But will the AEI campaign against the GOP as "borrow and spend" Republicans? Don't hold your breath.
Not a small part of that increase is going to finance snooping on ordinary Americans, of course, and now we are learning that if you get arrested by a federal officer, even for a traffic offense, or if you apply for a passport, you can expect to have to give up a DNA sample that the feds will keep. And that DNA sample is going to be archived, just like fingerprints, even if you are not convicted. Not a DNA-unique number identifier, mind you, but the actual DNA sample itself - from which your potential employer or insurer could determine your genetic disease profile, or genetic predisposition to homosexuality, or any of a number of other privacy intrusions. And if you will recall, John Ashcroft stated that he intended to give private business - anyone with a "need to know," for that matter - access to federal DNA archives. Your tax dollars at work - kiss your medical privacy goodbye.
News from New Orleans and Katrina:
Our highly effective, on-top-of-his-job prez has announced that he is not going to allow his trips to get in the way of relief efforts post-Rita, as they did after Katrina (for which he took a good deal of heat). The best way he could avoid getting in the way would be to resign, of course, but, well, that is too much to hope for.
Rawstory.com has obtained a copy of the Republican Study Committee's internal document on the social program cuts they wish to implement. Containing billions in cuts for programs ranging from Amtrak to the National Endowment for the Arts, it also includes plenty of cuts in programs needed by Katrina and Rita hurricane victims. It makes for some rather interesting reading.
Charges are being leveled at the administration for using the Katrina disaster to implement its social policies, by means of carefully and surreptitiously directing aid where they want it. Katrina has become a vast social experimental laboratory, according to charges being leveled by congressional Democrats. The social experimentation is starting to become evident enough to elicit comment in the press.
Putting the lie to Karl Rove's talking point about Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco being slow on the draw on the Katrina response, the bipartisan Congressional Research Service has issued its report on the disaster, saying that Blanco and Louisiana state government did all they could and could not have done much more under the circumstances.
Turns out that the FEMA officials just below Mike Brown were also political appointees, and were just as inept as he was. One worker tells of how, when on Saturday before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, they were warned about what needed to happen, but there didn't seem to be much of a sense of urgency about it. That's because five of the eight top officials in FEMA had no emergency management experience.
The electrical utility in New Orleans, the New Orleans Entergy Corporation, has filed for bankruptcy. It has asked for emergency "debtor in possession" financing from its parent, Entergy Corporation, to continue operating. Great. Just what New Orleans needs. An irresponsible private utility that can't handle its commitments because of lack of investment and financial resources.
There is news tonight that a new crop of web-based ripoffs are about to begin, this time for Rita relief. In the last week, more than 1,100 new domain names have been registered with Rita in their name, and Ebay has already shut down one auction based on promise to donate the proceeds to Rita relief. More than 40 actual web sites have been shut down already.
From the Liberal-Biased Media Watch desk, we see that Wall Street Journal web editor James Taranto has gone on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes show and has claimed that Smirkey's poll numbers are going back up. There is only one problem with that - they aren't, and Taranto couldn't offer any polling evidence that they are. He just simply cited unnamed "polls." Taranto, that's wishful thinking, not real journalism.
It is also coming out that from Day One, the Bush administration has had a formal, if unannounced policy of never admitting to a mistake, even if it means lying to the American people. And the New York Times not only knew it, but went along and failed to call them on either the policy or the lies. The Times' columnist David Brooks came right out and said so on the September 11 edition of NBC's Chris Matthews Show. Great reporting there, New York Times. You really set an example as the "newspaper of record."
The Scandal Du Jour department informs us that some records from the National Archives, which are critically important to an investigation resulting from lawsuits filed by certain American Indian tribes against the federal government, were found mysteriously in the trash containers on the loading dock, ready to be picked up by the trash collector. The boxes were promptly returned to the shelves and new security measures implemented to see to it that it doesn't happen again. Apparently, the Bureau of the Interior has a long history of such dirty tricks to avoid paying the tribes their due with respect to land claims and resource royalties on tribal lands. There are 500,000 tribal members in the plaintiff actions in the suits, and the Bureau of the Interior has offered to settle for $27.5 billion, and Interior is desperate to avoid the case going to the jury, for fear the award could be much higher.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes word that Senator Frist, the Senate Majority Leader, may have been involved in some insider trading of his stock in the Hospital Corporation Of America, which was founded by his father. The Tennesseean newspaper reports that he sold his stock in the company just before it took a huge dive and investors lost millions.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and two of its priests have been found by a grand jury to have likely been involved in yet more child molestations, but under the limitations imposed by state law, they cannot be charged. There have been "credible" allegations made against 44 other priests.
A Little Time In The Garden
The last two days have been a delight, bright sunny mornings, and yesterday, the rains held off until late in the afternoon. But today, it has been a sunny, bright day all day, and that has meant it has been a wonderful day to enjoy the garden.
So today was an afternoon in the garden, enjoying the fruits of living in a tropical climate - heliconias and hibiscus in bloom, every variety of each that I have, and that is a dozen or more different varieties, are all at the height of their blooming right now. The gardenias are over with, and have been cut back, but several varieties of ginger are in bloom now, including a very fragrant white variety. The Costa Rican fig that was filling my garden with fragrance a month ago has gone to fruit, with its strange pencil-shaped figs splitting open and attracting butterflies and bees.
In wandering the garden, I spooked two basilik lizards. These are the famous "Jesus Christ lizards" that scamper across the surface of the pond when they are startled and trying to escape, literally running on the water. There are two kinds in Costa Rica, one a dull brown, and another a bright green, with a weird, prehistoric-looking crest on their heads, backs and tails. That is the variety I have in my garden. I have been seeing a lot of them lately, as the population of frogs has been declining - I suspect that the lizards are eating a lot of the bugs that the frogs used to eat. Last year there was practically a plague of "sapo" toads - the same species that has become a plague in northern Australia - but this year I have only seen two of them. And I don't hear their croaking in the pond at night much, either. I suspect that the fungus that is killing off amphibians around the world has arrived here. I have to confess, I don't miss them much - they secrete a toxic venom from their skin, and they are dangerous to handle for that reason, besides being as ugly as... well... an old toad.
Tomorrow, I think I am going to have my gardener start removing some of the wild heliconias that have started sprouting among the ginger plants along the pond margin. Like most heliconias, they have a spectacular flower, but they fade very quickly and remain as a rather ugly orange-brown, and spread lots of seeds which come up everywhere. So they have got to go. I would much rather have the ginger, with their delicate orchid-like flowers and their incredibly strong but delicate fragrance.
Also found that the black aphids are back in my citrus trees again, so I got out the bug bomb and sprayed the tree branches below the growth flushes, so the absorbed pesticide will circulate up into the growth flushes where the aphids are and kill the aphids. They're a constant nuisance here, and require constant effort to control in susceptible varieties of citrus.
Today, with its glorious sunshine, has been more of the weather typical of when hurricanes are brewing out in the eastern Caribbean. Sure hope not. There have been enough already.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: It's a sad day when you have to go to the National Enquirer to get the straight scoop, but it's true: they have verified what I have been saying here for weeks - Smirkey is back on the bottle. A "family source" is quoted as saying that Laura has given Smirkey an ultimatum about it, too - "It's Jim Beam or me," she reportedly has told him. The drinking has apparently been going on for some time, well before Katrina, but has accelerated during that crisis, and Smirkey's handlers have assigned Laura the job of being a "gatekeeper." Well, Laura, rather than being an enabler, maybe you should make good on your threat and go back to your family - and force Smirkey face up to his problems and inadequacies head on, rather than trying to drown his - and the nation's - troubles in an alcoholic haze. Watch the mainstream press quietly sweep this report under the rug rather than being journalists and checking it out.
And it turns out that besides being a boozer, Smirkey appears to be a slow learner, too. He does not seem to have learned from the mistake he made in appointing one of his cronies as the director of FEMA - he's right back at it, this time appointing a totally unqualified crony as the head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Julie Myers, his new appointee, is a lawyer who has no experience in managing a large bureaucracy, nor any particular experience in immigrations or customs issues. Her qualifications? She has been a true and faithful servant in a variety of jobs within the Justice, Commerce and Treasury departments. Hope she can keep the drugs and terrorists out.
It's official: The "War On Terror" must be over. The FBI has announced a new priority, and it is looking for a few good agents to fight the new war. It is a holy war - a war on porn. No, not the kind that exploits children and is marketed to pedophiles, oh, no. This time it is the kind produced by and marketed to consenting adults. Speaking on condition of anonymity (dissent is very damaging to one's career at the Bureau), one FBI agent commented, "I guess this means we've won the war on terror; we must not need any more resources for espionage." Other comments were more flippant: "Things I Don't Want On My Resume, Volume Four," and the always-popular "I already gave at home" and "honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves." So to you fellas in the FBI reading this - it is apparent that Smirkey doesn't care any more about you than he does about me or the other dissidents he is having you chase. How does that make you feel about being an overworked and underpaid holy warrior in Smirkey's personal jihad?
One of the priorities of this administration is clearly environmental protection - NOT. The EPA has announced that it is going to loosen restrictions on the size of toxic chemical spills that must be reported - by an entire order of magnitude. Instead of having to report anything above 500 pounds, the new threshold will be 5,000 pounds. This means that relatively few toxic spills will be large enough to qualify for mandatory reporting. Now that is some serious protection of the environment, guys.
There's bad news for the economic theoreticians in the GOP, and this time it is coming out of the World Bank, of all places. That institution, currently headed by Bush appointee and neo-con Paul Wolfowitz, has issued a report stating that there is a direct correlation between the economic and political fate of socially marginalized groups, and economic performance of the economy of that country as a whole. That will come as a shock to the "let them eat cake" compassionate conservatives like Smirkey who've never ventured out of their limousines into the sweltering social tension of an urban ghetto, but it only stands to reason: you can't sell something to someone who has no money. Bill Clinton said yesterday that "we know what works," which is true - poverty in the U.S. declined 26% under his watch, but is up dramatically under Smirkey, and is now double what it was when Clinton entered office. Looks like "trickle-down" is working - but in the wrong direction.
There are other costs, too, to the "let them eat cake" mentality. A new report coming out this week indicates that the costs associated with alcoholism in the U.S. is growing significantly and it is because fewer alcoholics are able to seek treatment, due to a reduction in social programs. Those seeking treatment is down 23% since 1993. The cost to employers alone now stands at more than $40 billion per year. The increasing problem aggravates other costs as well, such as health care, lower productivity, etc. More people looking to our Christian conservative President George W. Bush for inspiration.
As Americans begin to become aware of the price they are paying for Republican rule, the hero, Smirkey, is becoming an albatross. And Democrats in New York just got through hanging that one around the necks of New York Republicans at a campaign appearance for Michael Bloomberg. It took the form of a man wearing a George W. Bush mask, and a sign around his neck reminding Bloomberg that he "can't run away from Bush."
A new initiative by the Christian fundamentalists is a new high-school text book, written ostensibly as a history text, but which teaches Christian doctrine, is the latest ploy to get fundamentalist Christianity into the classrooms of America. Entitled "The Bible And Its Influence," it is being produced by a Virginia group called the "Bible Literacy Project." Sure sounds like a scholarly approach to American history to me.
As discussed in this space on Tuesday, the "Carter-Baker Commision on Federal Electoral Reform" is neither about bipartisanship or about reform, but the truly scandalous dimensions of its efforts to institutionalize vote rigging are now becoming clear: Members include none other than the CEO of Diebold, whose touchpad machines are riddled with easily hackable security flaws which they know about and are doing nothing to fix, as well as Jim Dyke and Thor Hearne, both of whom were involved in the "Swift Boat Veterans" smear campaign, as well as the effort to smear anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. That the Carter Center would lend its good name to this operation shows just how much Jimmy Carter really cares about free and fair elections.
Smirkey, how can you allow this? GlaxoSmithKlein, the British drug company, has settled with the Justice Department for $150 million in penalties in a lawsuit alleging that it had overcharged the U.S. government for Zofran and Kytril, two anti-nausea drugs used in anti-cancer treatment. $26 million will go to the whistleblowers who initiated the investigation, and $10 million will go to states who were also overcharged.
The U.S. government is vigilant when it comes to impunity for foreign heads of state, however. This time it is none other than Pope Benedict XVI himself. It seems that they're asking a Texas court to give Uncle Benny immunity from a lawsuit alleging that he conspired to cover up allegations of sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian. He couldn't have done such a thing... He's the Pope!
Cindy Sheehan may be the Rosa Parks of the anti-Iraq war movement, but that didn't stop the New York Police Department from pulling the plug on her. She was speaking in Union Square when they summarily marched up and yanked the microphone out of her hand, and hauled a member of her entourage off to jail. The charge? No permit for a sound system in the park. Why was there no permit for a sound system? Because the city government of New York refused to acknowledge her application! The rally itself was legal - a permit had been issued for it, but the police, in utter disregard for the law, broke it up anyway. I am really impressed with your support for free speech and the rule of law, mayor Bloomberg!
In a rare act of courage, Senate minority leader Harry Reid has announced that he is going to vote against the nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He is citing a clear bias against civil rights, as well as Administration stonewalling on providing records that would shed light on his performance under Ronald Reagan.
Get out your checkbook and hide your teenage sons - it looks like we're about to have another splendid little war: As reported in this space on Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq has warned Syria that it should not "meddle" in Iraq. Now, Condi herself has reiterated that warning. Hello, pot? Kettle here...
News from the war: Let their bellies rumble - Halliburton, accused for a long time of serving spoiled food to the troops serving in Iraq, has done themselves one better: they're apparently providing contaminated water, too. Apparently for as long as a year, they have been providing water that is apparently twice as contaminated as water straight out of the Euphrates river. They know it and they don't care, as they are not reporting it as required and are doing little to stop it. Of course, all this is earning Halliburton bonuses for their good work. And then the Army wonders why the troops don't want to re-up. Meanwhile, Halliburton stock has doubled in price in only a year. Sausage making in Iraq is good business, apparently.
Apparently the occupation of Iraq has militarized Saudis more than other Arab groups, and it is they who made up the bulk of early insurgent foreign fighters. Contrary to claims by Smirkey's propaganda machine, they were primarily well educated, had good jobs and families, but were motivated by religious conviction that they were engaged in a holy war. They brought an average of $15,000 with them and were prized because they were self supporting. But they never made up more than about 10% of the fighting force - probably half that.
Hollywood as military trainers: Apparently some of the torture at Abu Graib was done on the basis of what some of the soldiers had seen in the movies, according to documents that have come to light as the result of ACLU lawsuits. The documents clearly show that the abuse was widespread, and the military investigation simply ignored inconvenient evidence.
The Iraqi police captured and arrested a pair of undercover Brits, who they accused of killing two Iraqi policemen. But exactly why they were operating underground and were armed to the teeth has not been explained by Britain. Meanwhile, the Iraqi police stand accused of getting ready to turn them over to insurgents, and the British troops responded by simply driving a tank into the prison and rescuing the men, to the thorough outrage of three hundred Iraqis, who pelted the military operation with rocks and molotov cocktails. There is evidence that the quickly-organized demonstration is new evidence that the insurgency is gaining strength, rather than losing it. The winning of hearts and minds in Iraq goes on.
The occupation in Afghanistan is wearing out its welcome, too. President Hamid Karzai is now saying that much of what the U.S. military is doing there is now counterproductive, and it would be better if they checked with his government before engaging in bombing campaigns, entering Afghan houses without permission, etc.
News of the flood: As we had reported here, the $50 billion aid package that was rushed through congress without the Democrats being allowed to see it, does, indeed have a lot of sausage in it. Some of the details are coming out, and of course, it contains more help for the rich than the poor. No surprise there, considering who wrote it.
Apparently Dennis Hastert, the House Speaker, was warned by letter back in January that FEMA was "raiding" disaster preparedness funds and using them for other purposes, and that a disastrous revelation of that fact was inevitable. But he didn't act on it. He must have thrown the letter away, because it didn't have a campaign contribution in it.
It's hardly surprising then, that FEMA is continuing to have trouble getting its act together - it can't seem to figure out how to deliver trailers, and it is having trouble housing the Flour Corporation staff that Smirkey's cronies have sent down there to run things for Flour's grafting of the mess. It has gotten so bad that the people involved are starting to call it "The Cat 5 Chaos."
Coverup at the Danziger Bridge? Apparently the Associated Press published several accounts of the Corps of Engineers contractors or employees or whoever they were that were fired upon by New Orleans police or gangsters or looters or whoever did the firing. The story is so muddled that it is going to be difficult to sort out. And it is clear that someone doesn't want the truth to be told. Which raises the question of who and why.
No surprise either that the Republican representative from Wisconsin that wrote the recent amendments to the bankruptcy law, is stubbornly refusing to allow hearings on its effects on Hurricane Katrina victims, and the possibility of exempting them from its effects. Representative Sensenbrenner is one of the 17 members of Congress that did not vote for the relief bill, either.
While flood evacuees are still begging for food, tons of NATO rations supplied by Britain are about to be destroyed as "unfit for human consumption." They have been sent to an FDA incinerator in Arkansas. Needless to say, the British are totally outraged.
The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care, responsible for accrediting hospitals, is now saying that the health care system in New Orleans is so damaged by the flood that the hospitals cannot be re-accredited, and the entire health care system in the city is a total loss. They were well prepared for the high winds, but not for the flooding, which was catastrophic.
Even worse, it is beginning to appear that there is a concerted effort to cover up the extent of pollution of New Orleans by the petrochemical industry in Louisiana. OMB-watch, an advocacy group, is now saying that the EPA is deliberately not testing the flood waters of New Orleans from contamination originating in the dozens of petrochemical plants in the region. Either that, or they have apparently totally lost their ability to do so.
Never missing an opportunity to undermine public education and indoctrinate children at public expense, Smirkey has announced a system of vouchers for private and religious schools to take in the thousands of children displaced by Katrina, and educate them during their time away from the disaster area. Moreover, that will be the only way that these kids will get educated - if there's no private or religious school where they happen to be, well, that's just too bad. Guess they won't go to school this year.
Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather, speaking frankly and somewhat emotionally at the Fordham University School of Law on Monday, said that there is a new climate of fear in the news room these days, and that it is unlike anything he saw in his forty year career in journalism. He says that politicians "of every persuasion" have gotten remarkably skilled at pressuring conglomerates that own the network news organizations, and he calls it "the New Journalism Order." Choking back tears, he said that the Katrina coverage was a rare exception - the journalists were willing to speak truth to power. But one should not expect it to continue.
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we are learning that hurricane Rita is now the second Category 5 hurricane in as many months, for the first time in history. And now it appears that yet another positive feedback loop has been identified that has been triggered by the global warming that has already occurred - European summers have gotten so hot that mid-summer, the bulk of plants there grow so slowly that they are now contributing more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than they are absorbing. And this situation is likely to be occurring in other parts of the northern hemisphere as well. Another problem is that the demand for aviation fuel is growing so fast that even if all other anthropogenic sources of CO2 were eliminated, in just a few decades, we would be right back to where we are now.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You department, we are learning that the administration's top procurement official has been indicted on charges of obstructing an investigation into Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. The man is David Safavian, a man who was responsible for overseeing about $300 billion in government spending. And now it appears that an email turned up in the investigation of him, proves that an Ohio congressman, Bob Ney, a (you guessed it) Republican, knew that a trip he took to Scotland to go golfing with a lobbyist, was illegal and he knew about it and lied about it at least twice on required disclosure forms. Would the last Ohio Republican to do a perp-walk out of the state party headquarters please turn out the lights?
There is some justice in the world - Smirkey's friends over at Worldcom that either participated in or knew about the second largest corporate fraud in world history will finally get what they have been fearing most - they're going to have to cough up the cash and pay back a good share of the money to the people they defrauded. The total comes to $6.13 billion that will have to be paid back by securities firms, auditors, Worldcom executives and more.
The State of Tennessee has issued a cease or desist order to a local Christian group for running an unlicensed mental health facility. Seems they were running a residential facility for the "curing" of homosexuals, under the cloak of a religious institution - but the supposed "reverend" running the place had no credentials in either mental health or as a reverend, and was accused of outright lying to clients, claiming that he did. Apparently it was just yet another money-making operation, exploiting self-loathing gays. Love In Action International, Incorporated was ordered to shut down its two locations by September 23 or face $500 per day fines as long as it remained open without a license.
Back To Normal Weather
We're back to more normal weather again. As hurricane Phillipe moves out of the eastern Caribbean, the flow of warm, moist air into Central America has resumed, and that means more weather typical of the rainy season. It has been heavily overcast all day, and last night. Yesterday afternoon was a real gully washer, the first in several days, and it was rain that was badly needed as it was getting dry. Today, it has been a slow, steady rain that is more of what is needed, and the result is a light, pleasant rain and warm temperatures.
Being pretty much stuck inside today, I have decided to spend the day on the computer, and am going to spend much of the day poking around on the net for a web page template that I like for my front (index) page. It badly needs a redesign, and I am thinking that I might make it more of a blog-type of format, using it for a blog with the "more reasons" section of this blog and returning this one to its purely non-political function, and updating this blog much less frequently, only when there is something of interest. I would continue to use the front-page RSS feed for the index page, exactly as it is now, so I would still have the same, separate RSS feeds for this site. In this way, readers interested in the political section would no longer have to wade through my comments on Costa Rica living if they don't want, those not interested in the politics would not see them appearing in this space. Your comments on these changes would, of course, be quite welcome, so please don't hesitate to say what you think...
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The search is on for a dead body in the wreckage of New Orleans. Not just any corpse, mind you, there are still plenty of those everywhere. They need a special corpse. In a truly astonishing display of tasteless, tactless disregard for the suffering of the families of the victims of Katrina, the Senate Republicans are looking for the bloated, reeking, flood-stained corpse of a rich person. If they can produce the corpse of someone who owned a large business, and who was killed in Katrina, they think they would have something with which they could "push back" on their tasteless (and thankfully, floundering) attempts to push through their latest tax cut for the rich - the repeal of the estate tax - on the theory that it is unfair that their heirs should have to pay it as the result of this decidedly unnatural disaster - to which, of course, Republican greed contributed. Well, they may have some looking to do. Everyone rich enough to qualify for the estate tax was rich enough to own a car and buy the gas to get out of the way of Katrina, to safety. It was the poor and penniless that were left behind to drown. So far, they haven't found the corpse of any of the fewer than 1000 people in Louisiana that are even affected by the estate tax, but their hired corpse-prodders say they're "still looking."
Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Baker The Third have gotten together and decided that America needs a national ID card system to "prevent voter fraud." What that would do to eliminate voter fraud is not at all clear, but preventing candidates' campaign officials from overseeing elections, including voter qualifications and balloting procedures (which was how Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 were both stolen), would certainly be a lot more effective. But somehow Jimmy and Jimmy aren't talking much about that one. That's because this commission is openly shilling for "voting rights groups" run by the Bush-Cheney campaign, whose intent is more to strip Americans of their human rights than secure the voters their voting rights. That may sound cynical, but it is really true.
More bad news for Smirkey that his aides are probably not going to tell him for fear of his reaction - his performance in office has been so bad that the American people are ready to put Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives. In fact, Democrats lead the polls by an astounding 13 percent, up from an even split just fourteen months ago. If the elections were held today, the Democrats would pick up 15 seats and win control of the house. But don't count your chickens - the elections are more than a year away, and three weeks is an eternity in politics. Nevertheless, even the most staunch conservative supporters of this administration and its radical elitist agenda are beginning to believe that this administration is toast. The American Spectator, that ultra-conservative rag, is openly conceding that Smirkey's agenda is dead.
Like a kid with a quarter in a candy store, NASA, who can't even get to their prize space station without Russian help, and which is staffed by a skeleton crew, has decided it wants more than it can have: it has announced a $108 billion initiative to go back to the moon. And like a kid who doesn't understand the situation of his parents, the timing of the announcement couldn't be worse, with a record deficit and a massive rebuilding effort underway. Scientifically, the project is bound to become as much a white-elephant as is the International Space Station. If the initiative included a tax cut for the rich, it would be passed next week of course, but since it will only cost them money and not make them richer, expect it to go nowhere fast.
Ha'aretz, the Israeli daily, is reporting that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon engaged in some illegal campaigning while on his diplomatic trip to the U.N. summit held in New York last week. He apparently accepted some illegal contributions to his campaign to remain at the head of his party, and therefore as prime minister. This comes on the heels of his refusal to visit Britain for fear of being arrested on war crimes charges. And of course that didn't stop Smirkey from meeting with him.
Smirkey, the natives out there in the colonies are getting restless: Think that the Aussies might bridle at being referred to as an American colony? Well, that is what they're calling themselves. The recently retired leader of the Australian opposition has publicly called Australia an "American colony" under the current government's leadership. And given John Howard's reputation as Smirkey's "other poodle," he couldn't be more right. And an Australian brigadier has stated publicly that America's treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo is losing it international support and making the international terrorism problem worse, not better, and Australia's involvement in and support for the Iraq adventure is not exactly winning friends and influencing people in the rest of the world.
Not that the Guantanamo inmates are going to be kept there forever - those who happen to have the good fortune to come from an oil rich country whose government cares about its people might actually be freed - five of the 11 Kuwaitis that are being held in Guantanamo are going to be sprung by their government. The other inmates? They'll rot in Guantanamo until their governments can find oil with which to get them sprung, too.
The Washington D.C. police are bracing for a new protest - the first in years that will actually encircle the White House. But the D.C. police are ready, even though after their rough treatment of protesters in recent protests, they are faced with a new law that severely restricts their activities in dealing with lawful protests. Thank goodness! First D.C., now the rest of the country...
You might think that Smirkey's crazies would have learned a lesson from the disaster they have created for themselves in Iraq. You might think so, but you'd be wrong. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is openly saying that Syria can expect to be invaded. I guess Rummy and Smirkey are just slow learners.
Providing more evidence that an 800-pound gorilla can sleep wherever it wants, Wal Mart has been sued by 116,000 current and former workers who have accused it of simply ignoring the law requiring it to allow its workers to have lunch breaks, that the company knew what they were doing was against the law, and the upper-level of management decided to simply ignore it. The plaintiffs are suing for $66 million in back wages, plus interest. That, of course is about an hour's wages to Wal Mart. But they'll fight it and they'll probably win. Again.
Flood related news: Turns out that when FEMA could not provide buses to get people out of the Superdome and Convention Center areas, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco offered school buses. But she was turned down. The reason? The buses weren't air conditioned! So people died at both locations, for lack of air conditioning in school buses. Government performing like it had been drowned in the bathtub.
Not content with drowning government in the bathtub, it seems that Smirkey's boys can get the lights turned on in New Orleans for a photo-op, but as soon as they're out of there, the lights go out. Why is that? If the electricity can be turned on for the prez, why not for the people?
The recent joy that not as many people died in the flooding as had been feared, has been tempered by the news that in the more rapidly inundated parts of the city that they are now finally starting to search, they are turning up corpses by the dozen. It is a "target rich" environment for the search teams, and the death toll will clearly be higher in these areas than had been recently expected.
Demonstrating their priorities once again, it appears that FEMA was actually able to move remarkably quickly for once - in getting emergency housing for oil workers. Shell's Sugarland Terminal compound is already sporting a brand new feature - "Sugarville" - a trailer town of nice new mobile homes, completely furnished, and complete with TVs and DVD players, all provided at FEMA expense, to house displaced oil workers. The poor? They'll have to wait. First things first.
Think that FEMA might actually be able to get help to Katrina victims to help them rebuild their lives, and it will be money well spent? Think again. A study done by the Orlando Sun Sentinel has found that of the 20 disasters they looked at between 1999 and 2004, $1.2 billion that FEMA has sent to "victims," fully 27% of the money went to people who lived in areas where there was little if any damage. The level of corruption was unbelievable, and it shows no signs of slowing down in this disaster.
If you're planning on giving up on the U.S. and becoming an expat, you should scratch Canada off your list. They're going the fascist way of the States, and are catching up fast. Seems they are now involved in "extraordinary rendition" themselves, sending detainees to other countries (Syria is known to be at least one destination) for torture, which may open Canada up to a very embarrassing U.N. human rights crimes investigation, as has happened to the U.S. I'd love to see Paul Martin try to explain that one on the National.
From the Scandal Du Jour department: Demonstrating just how much they, along with the rest of America, want to get to the bottom of the Plame scandal, House Republicans are once again blocking access to Smirkey's documents that would shed light on just who it was that spilled the beans on Plame. Of course, we already know, it was Karl Rove. But the Republicans are determined to make sure that those responsible are held to book - not!
The Abu Graib scapegoat du jour, Linndie England, has decided she doesn't much care for her scapegoat role, and has agreed with the judge who declared a mistrial, that her "confession" simply wasn't believable. So, much to her credit, she is going to fight the charges against her, which were, of course, designed to protect the higher-ups in the chain of command, specifically Don Rumsfeld, in whose office the torture policy originated.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You department, we are learning that the GOP's campaign abuses are so egregious that even their control of the Federal Election Commission can't stop that agency from suing them to prevent them from simply ignoring campaign contribution and spending laws. One of their pet "charitable" groups, the "Club for Growth," has spent $21 million in federal elections for the presidency and several congressional races, in direct violation of a law prohibiting their spending it on presidential and congressional campaigns.
We are also learning that the Iraqi Minister of Defense, appointed by the imperial viceroy Paul Bremmer, in spite of the guy's history, has, with his cronies, stolen more than $1 billion from the Iraqi treasury, and his shameless looting has seriously crippled the Iraqi Army's readiness, and ability to stand up for the defense of Iraq. At least $1.1 billion more has been stolen from the treasury by other ministries, including water and electricity, and these are among the reasons why the reconstruction effort is going so painfully slowly. Bremmer has certainly taught well the art of corruption to his quislings.
Cut, Blanch And Freeze Saturday
The weather is hurricane weather. There is something brewing out there east of the Caribbean Islands, I can tell, because the rainy season has ground to a halt and it is summer-like weather again. Hot, muggy, and bright sunshine with hardly a cloud in the sky. And sure enough, there is a tropical storm out there, sweeping dry air into the western Caribbean and over us. The weather has been a delight to say the least, but somebody is going to pay the price for all this lovely weather. Just watch.
Well, when I went to town on Friday for my regular grocery run, I went into the grocery and was greeted like an old friend by the two guys that hang out in the produce department. I have to wonder if someone in town is reading this blog, because I had complained sometime back about the lack of fresh veggies in the store, and how it is difficult to find the greens for a salad. Well, these two guys were pointing out that I had an opportunity to buy some string beans (which I happened to have plenty of in the freezer at the moment), and asked what I would like to see in the store. I told them I would be really pleased to see them stock some mostaza china (napa cabbage), and I was told to come back on Saturday, and it would be there.
So, not expecting to see it, I went back Saturday afternoon, and much to my delight, was a bunch of nappa cabbage, and it was looking really good, too. I bought a head. Well, I checked out the produce bins to see what else they had gotten in, and was thrilled to find some really excellent looking broccoli and cauliflower. One head of the cauliflower was enormous - the size of a basketball, and it looked really good - slightly yellow, but not too bad, and not many black spots. So I bought two heads of broccoli and the big head of cauliflower, along with the mostaza china. Ah! Veggies once again! This is the second time in as many months that I have been able to buy good quality veggies here, and it is a trend I sure hope gets established. Apparently the veggie truck comes on Saturdays, so this may mean a second weekly trip to the grocery store, but it will be worth it. Saturday afternoon, it was cut veggies, blanch, and freeze in individual serving sizes in sandwich bags. Now I have my choice of several veggies, anytime I want them. And fresh green salads, too, without making a trip to Tilaran! Life is good!
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Well, New Orleans went from 80% flooded to 40% after just a couple of days of pumping, but it has remained just about exactly 40% ever since - more than a week. Ever wonder why? Here's a clue: The Feds don't want all those black folks back. The mayor doesn't mind (he's black, after all), but the rich folks don't and so they're raising all kinds of objections as to why those poor people should be kept away from their homes and businesses.
Mr. Stuffed Shirt himself, Mike Brown, the former FEMA director, has been shopping his resume around, and somehow it's not working. The headhunters are saying he's "radioactive." Well, I am not sure I would consider him competent to work as village dogcatcher after his last performance. Certainly wouldn't trust his resume.
Showing how little she actually understands the politics in which she deals every day, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Ph.D. said the other day that she doesn't understand the argument that by destroying Iraq, that we have somehow angered the Islamic world and have thereby created another incentive to Islamic terrorism. Yeah, she actually said that! Well, it's really simple. Listen to Osama - referring to Iraq, he summed it up rather neatly: "You bomb our cities, we'll bomb yours." Now, just what part of that do you have difficulty understanding, Condi?
Smirkey's gone off and decertified America's second largest oil supplier, Venezuela, which joins only Burma as being decertified in the "war on drugs." Chavez is supposedly not cooperating in the drug war, but what he is really not cooperating with, is Smirkey's program of using the DEA for spying on the Chavez government, and using the National Endowment for Democracy for subverting it. So when Chavez threw the DEA out, well, Smirkey retaliated by decertifying Venezuela in the phony "war on drugs" - which, of course, is more about leftist politics than it is about drugs. Can we say "five dollar gas" boys and girls?
Jailed reporter Judith Miller, the White House's unpaid (we are supposed to believe) spokesperson on the New York Times news staff, is doing her time with precious little opportunity to go visit the outside world, but the world is coming to her: apparently, a steady parade of at least 99 Bush administration officials, some as high as John Bolton, have come to commiserate with her. Guess that's what they mean by compassionate conservatism - taking care of their own. Betcha William Greider or Howard Zinn wouldn't get that much attention from the movers and shakers in Foggy Bottom under those circumstances, even though they would be far more deserving of it.
Never ones to accept responsibility when suitable scapegoats can be found, the Bush administration is laying the groundwork to blame all those tree-hugging environmentalists out there for the lack of flood preparations in New Orleans. An email has gone out to all the Corps of Engineers districts in the New Orleans area, seeking examples of where environmental lawsuits may have held up levee work. Predictably, the National Review has taken up the hatchet work and is falsely claiming that lawsuits by the Sierra Club against Mississippi River levees may have contributed to the levee breaks. The problem with that is that it was the Lake Ponchartrain levees that broke. The Mississippi River levees held just fine. Oops, not looking too sharp, there, Mr. Buckley!
Did anyone else notice it during that speech Friday night? It seems that someone let the prez button up his own shirt again for the speech. He got it buttoned up all wrong for everyone to see on national television. Maybe if he'd lay off the sauce he could get it right. Smirkey, here's a hot tip for ya. Start at the top and button goin' down. Now, need help tying your shoes?
A guy that can't even button his own shirt and get it right, and he wants us to trust him spend billions to rebuild New Orleans? Maybe a few others noticed too, and that is why his poll numbers actually went down as a result of the speech. Finally, the American people are beginning to realize that P.R. is no substitute for competence, and when you put people in charge of government that claim they want to drown it in the bathtub, it should come as no surprise that when called upon to perform, it produces results as if it had been... well... drowned in the bathtub.
Never missing an opportunity to increase the intrusiveness of the Federal government, the "limited government" Republicans are seeking a repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act, which was passed after the Civil War to prevent some of the abuses that occurred during military occupations during that war. The intent, near as I am able to discern it, is to allow martial law at the federal level, effectively making state and local law enforcement irrelevant in the event of civil unrest. Now that ought to get that food and water to those disaster victims!
In a truly stunning display of arrogance and self-righteousness, FEMA has acknowledged the truth to the charges that a New Orleans physician, treating a patient on the tarmack at the New Orleans airport during the flood crisis, was ordered to stop and allow the patient to die, because he was not a FEMA-registered physician. He was the only physician on the site, and there were many non-responsive patients that urgently needed his help. He had tried for twelve hours to get through to a FEMA official who could give him permission or get him some help. Neither permission nor FEMA-registered physicians were forthcoming, and many died as a result. Bureaucratic protocol over saving lives? That's the behavior of government drowned in the bathtub for you.
Smirkey, here's another example for you follow: do what Italy is doing. Declare victory in Iraq and leave. Nobody would believe you, but hey, nobody believes you anyway. It seems the Coalition of the Willing is fast becoming the Coalition of the Outta Here.
Let them eat cake: The latest consumer confidence survey from the University of Michigan shows that consumer confidence has hit new lows not seen during this administration - even lower than after 9/11 - declining by 13 points in only one month. Capital Economics says that it is the result of Katrina, but it is not likely to recover quickly. Traditionally, a decline of 10 or more points signals the onset of a recession.
News from the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough Maybe It Will Go Away department: More evidence that we have crossed the threshold, and even if we do not add any more to global warming gasses in the atmosphere, it may be too late to prevent a runaway global warming event. Scientists are saying that this summer's record melting of sea ice in the arctic may indicate that the warming caused by the lack of ice cover may be creating a positive feedback effect in the high arctic that is now irreversible.
Liberia And Independence Day
Today was a remarkably dry and pleasant day, as was yesterday, and a good day to get out and get something done. And I had something I needed to do - my driver's license was about to expire, so it was time to go to Liberia and get it renewed. I had been told about the "middle rule" - when dealing with the bureaucracy, the lines are usually shortest during the middle of the day, middle of the week in the middle of the month. Well that meant today. So I was up at a leisurely pace, got breakfast out of the way and closed up the house by about eight, and got on the road.
A quick stop at the gas station to fill my tires with air and tank with gas, and I was working my way past the pothole collection that passes for the Tilaran highway. It is still in remarkably good condition for this time of year, as apparently the president's directive to get it repaved has borne fruit - not new pavement, but at least the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT), was out there filling the potholes with gravel, and patching the worst of them with asphalt. Not that it will last, but at least no pothole. Most had been filled all the way to Tilaran, though there were several short stretches that clearly had not seen any attention since the dry season began.
I had had a call from ICE a couple of nights ago, advising that ADSL is available, and I should go apply. So while passing through Tilaran, I stopped in at the ICE office and asked, and was disappointed to find out that it is not scheduled to be installed in Tilaran until December or January, and there is no date for Arenal. The calls had been going out to the entire country, regardless. So broadband is still just a pipe dream for me.
On to Liberia, and after dodging a lot of new potholes on the 47-kilometer stretch of the Inter-American Highway from Canas to Liberia, I arrived a bit after ten. I stopped at a roadside restaurant at the main intersection and asked where the driver's license office is. A young lady with flawless English told me just where it was, and gave me good directions.
It proved to be exactly where she said, and I went in to begin the process. Fortunately, few people were around. There was a notice on the wall that stated that to renew one's license, it is necessary to present a medical exam certificate and one's cedula (national ID document). Well, I knew that there are always doctor's offices directly across the street from driver's license offices, and sure enough, there were two, one of which was open. I went in, answered a lot of questions, had my blood pressure taken, and was weighed and height measured, and that was it. Wasn't even asked to read an eye chart, even though I was wearing glasses. The doctor filled out a lengthy form, handed it to me and asked for 4,000 colones - equivalent to about seven dollars. I walked back across the street. I was promptly shown a chair next to a clerk on a computer and sat down. Showed him my paperwork, and he had the computer print out a form. I was instructed to take it to the bank and pay them 8,000 colones for the application fee and 2,000 colones for the transit tax. The fees cover a five-year license period. The total came to 10k - about $21.
I left the MOPT office and went looking for the bank to which I had been directed, but it was not there. I found another and went in and asked the information desk if they accept facturas from the MOPT office, and was told that they do. So I got in the line and after about 20 minutes, got to a teller. The teller took my money, stamped my facturas and sent me on my way. Back over at the MOPT office, there were a few more people in the place this time, but it was not seriously crowded, so I wasn't too worried about a long wait. I was directed to hand my facturas to the photo machine operator and did so, and was told to sit and wait. Eventually he called out my name, and I went in and sat as instructed in front of the camera. After some time, with people coming and going, I was instructed to face the camera, and I put on a phony smile and flash! I was instructed to go back to the waiting area and have a seat. After about ten minutes, my name was called again, and I was handed my new driver's license and was instructed to sign for it. I did, and that was it, I was out of there. It wasn't even 11:30 in the morning. The "middle rule" had worked out brilliantly.
I needed a new pair of shoes, so I stopped at the mall on the way out of town. The store where I bought my last pair, about a year ago, was still open, and I went in and asked for another pair. They had them, and in my size, but a different color - a nicer color in my view. They cost a bit more than last year. Then, they were 3,800 colones, but this year, they cost 4,990 - a bit under $10. Inflation indeed.
On the way home, just out of Arenal, I passed the students running with the "Freedom Torch." Symbolizing the independence of Central America, it is carried by relays of local school children, running all the way from Guatemala City, the old colonial capital of Central America, to Cartago, the colonial capital of Costa Rica, where it is due to arrive tonight. September 5 is the day that Spain released its Central American colonies from colonial rule, but September 15 is the day that the news arrived in Cartago. It was in the form of a dispatch from the colonial governor, recognizing Costa Rica as an independent nation. That receipt of the news is the basis of the celebration of Costa Rican independence, and so today is celebrated as independence day, and the celebrations are wild, to be sure. There are parades, speeches, picnics (and today is a good day for them - no rain), and there will be bullfights at the bull ring and partying late into the night.
I made it home yesterday afternoon by a bit after 1:30 PM. And my fuel gage showed half a tank - I had burned 10,000 colones of gas to get to Liberia and back. 121 kilometers each way - 242 in total. And it cost $20. Guess I'll be riding the bus when I can, and my new driver's license, complete with the ugly picture of me, will remain in my pocket. Unused.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Proving once again that democracy for its colonies is hardly the Republicans' highest priority, the candidate to replace John-Bertrande Aristide from his party as the president of Haiti, in the upcoming "elections" is languishing in a Haitian jail, and the Bush administration is apparently doing nothing about it. His crime? Being a Catholic priest who supports social programs for the poor. That was Aristide's crime, of course, and why the American taxpayers paid so much to get rid of him. Oh, that human rights excuse? Washington's new boys are far worse than Aristide ever was, but we'll overlook their indiscretions. We'll have no more talk of those evil social programs, so the poor fellow will probably have a jail cell for a home for some time to come.
Speaking of the Latin American colonies, Washington was successful in intimidating Nicaragua yet again. Daniel Ortega has announced he will not continue seek to oust or isolate Enrique Belanos from the presidency of that country, in spite of the fact that Washington's fair-haired boy has virtually no support from any sector of Nicaraguan society anymore, and Ortega's FSLN is wildly popular, holding most of the mayoralities, judgeships and the largest bloc in the legislature. It's all about the will of the people, isn't it?
The natives are restless, Smirkey, and not just in Latin America. The Minister of Justice in Iraq, Abdul Hussein Shandal has complained about the immunity to prosecution enjoyed by American soldiers and officials, and is stating publicly that this is not helping build confidence in the new Iraqi government, nor is it helping to build democratic institutions.
Final proof that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not about unit readiness as much as it is about bigotry, we now have the smoking gun: it takes the form of an order which prohibits the discharge of soldiers on the basis of homosexuality, until the conflict in Iraq is over. But hey, if they are not a problem in war, why are they a problem in peacetime? Would someone please ask the Christian hate groups that question?
Bad news on the economy - even though consumer confidence is up slightly, retail sales are down in the U.S., and substantially. The disconnect between the two would suggest that someone is not paying attention. The wake of Katrina will probably be reduced confidence as well as sales, and if this is not managed well, it could lead to a recession.
"Liberal biased media" watch: Fox may report so you can decide, but it isn't reporting everything that is germane. It seems their Katrina timeline conveniently leaves out the fact that Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco declared a state of emergency and asked for federal help before the hurricane even struck. This glaring omission is obviously intended to lend credibility to the White House's outright lie that she did not ask for help in a timely fashion. Attention Fox editors: This from my Journalism 101 class - support liars in their lies, and you will only end up looking like a liar too! Or did I learn that in Kindergarten?
In spite of intensifying criticism about the cynical nature of their timing, the Congressional Republicans have announced that they are sticking absolutely to their plans to rip off the American people with their new tax cuts for the rich and their cruel reductions in social programs just at a time when they are needed more than ever.
All this is calling even conservatives to question the legitimacy of such decisions. The American Conservative Union is complaining about all the tax cuts combined with spending increases, and the effect this is having on the national debt.
Just when you thought the Republicans had come clean and everyone responsible for the delays in Katrina aid were either dismissed or had confessed, we now have a smoking gun on another guilty party - Michael Chertoff had apparently delayed aid when he could have legally moved it, and that fact has been proven by a memo just revealed. A presidential order issued in 2003 assigned both responsibility and authority to Chertoff for emergency response, and he could have ordered relief to start moving towards the disaster area as soon as Gov. Blanco asked for it - before the hurricane struck. But instead, the relief effort didn't begin for 36 critical hours later.
Adventures In Biological Diversity
The rainy season weather continues. I woke up this morning to a typical mid-rainy season day, heavy overcast, periods of rain, but with pleasant temperatures. Rain was frequent enough and hard enough to make working outside infeasible, so the day was mostly a day inside on the computer.
Last night, I happened to need something off the shelf in my office, and when I went looking for it, was startled to discover that there was a fresh, new termite nest clinging to the wall, the size of a large grapefruit. It had not been there a couple of days before, and this meant I had a very serious infestation in that wall. This does not mean that the house is riddled - the only structural part of the house that is wooden, are the roof trusses, but they are made of a wood that is very termite resistant. So I am not concerned about them. Termites in this country do not need soil contact as they do in the States, they will happily crawl along the outside of a house well exposed to get to a nest inside. Even furniture has to be made from termite resistant wood in order to avoid their depredations.
The wall had been built by the tenant who had lived in the house before me. Merely a partition between the master bedroom and my office with a closet area on the bedroom side and shelves on the other, it is not a bearing wall. He had constructed what in the States would be an ordinary stud wall, but instead of finishing it with dry wall, he had nailed up some masonite on the studs instead. Clearly, he had not paid any attention to the type of wood used, and whether it would be termite resistant. And masonite certainly is not, at least not resistant to the kinds of aggressive termites that are common here. So it is no surprise that this has happened.
I got out the bug bomb, and a bucket, and prepared to deal with the infestation on an emergency basis. I wet down the bucket and the wall and shelf around the nest with a healthy layer of insecticide, so the termites couldn't just scatter everywhere and establish new colonies. I pulled the nest off the wall and put it in the bucket. The hole in the masonite was roughly circular and about three inches across, so I wet down the exposed part of the nest inside the wall with insecticide, and with a stiff piece of wire, cleaned out as much as I could with the wire, placing the pieces in the bucket. Once I had as much removed as I could, and had access to the interior of the wall, I pumped a serious amount of insecticide into the interior space in the wall. Hopefully this will kill enough of them that I can take my time about getting the wall demolished. I am planning to remove it and replace it with a properly designed closet.
I have a friend who is the local cabinet maker, and so I went over to his place this morning to talk with him about what can be done about it. He agreed that the best course of action is the complete demolition of the wall, and replacement of it with a properly designed and built closet area. So that is the plan. He will be by in a few days to have a look, and begin planning and buying the materials to do the work. The place will be a mess for a few days, but it is what I am going to have to do.
More reasons why I am glad I am out of the States: A bit late, but better than never: Smirkey has taken responsibility for the first time since becoming president, for a screwup. Yep, he went on TV and admitted what everyone already knew - it was his negligence and incompetence that led to the disastrously inept FEMA response. What he did not say, however, is that it was inevitable - when you put governance in the hands of people who think government should be drowned in the bathtub, it shouldn't come as a surprise when it performs like it has... well... been drowned in the bathtub. And contrary to what he has been saying, a bipartisan congressional report says that the Louisiana government responded adequately and as well as they could.
Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee, John Roberts took his cue from Congressional Republicans, and is sticking to his script, avoiding answering difficult questions, being deliberately vague where he couldn't evade, and generally providing a disappointing performance in his confirmation hearings. Now that the results of Mike Brown's 43 minute confirmation hearing is known, perhaps Democrats should be a bit more assertive, but the tiny embryonic spine displayed last week is now gone, and it is back to Republican Lite for them.
Now that the full significance of some of the things Republicans have been saying lately about the floods in New Orleans is being realized by the American people, it was inevitable that they would begin backtracking, and sure enough, they have. Congressman Richard Baker who was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as having said that God did what the Republicans couldn't, in cleaning out public housing in New Orleans, is backtracking and claiming he didn't really say that after all. After he had, of course, said previously he'd just been quoted out of context. Tom DeLay is also backtracking, but his ethics scandals scream so loudly that nobody can hear what he is saying anyway.
Continuing the theme of corruption in the disaster recovery effort, you're probably not going to get an accurate and thorough accounting of the dead in the flood - the handling of the dead bodies has been outsourced to a company with connections to (who else?) the Bush family, and the company has a rather sordid record - Kenyon International, a subsidiary of Service Corporation International. SCI has been involved in recent scandals involving dumping of bodies and desecration of corpses - a company with "experience" in hiding and dumping bodies.
News being drowned in the New Orleans floods:
Wal Mart is back in the news involving sweatshop labor in the third world again. 15 workers in 5 countries have filed suit in Los Angeles, alleging that they were paid below minimum wage in their countries, were forced to work overtime with no pay, and endured beatings by their supervisors.
The Neo-cons are rattling the sabers again. This time it is Syria. The charge is that the country has become a vast open air training camp for terrorists, and that they move back and forth across the Syrian-Iraqi border more or less at will, unchallenged, and that Syria is interfering with Iraqi development of democratic governance. They are saying that Syria is turning a blind eye to the situation. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq is not ruling out sanctions, U.N. blockades or even (you guessed it) military options. I think that the Salvador Option death squads that the U.S. has installed there have at least as much an inhibitory influence on Iraqi democratic governance as does anything that Syria is doing. And the largest open-air terrorist training camp in the world isn't in Syria. It is just across the border - in Iraq.
Anti-poverty campaigners are saying that the avoidance of paying taxes in third-world countries is having a severely inhibiting effect on development in those countries. Of course this will come as news to American multinationals, who are used to having the path in and out of third world countries paved for them by American foreign policy.
The Republicans, who, of course, never saw a Democrat they didn't mind castigating, are now whining about all the criticism of their own performance in the flood crisis. Yes, they're actually criticizing all the criticism!
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk, we are learning the extent of the Republican financial strip-mining of the recovery effort. As reported here previously, Joe Allbaugh, Smirkey's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is out there pulling strings and dropping names on behalf of his "consulting" clients, and his efforts are bearing fruit - He's pulled down some juicy no-bid contracts for Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary, as well as Bechtel Corporation, and the Shaw Group. The latter has been so bold as to update its web site to say, "Hurricane Recovery Projects - Apply Here!" Why didn't they just say, "We Got Ours - We'll Get You Yours!"
A New Snake Shows Itself
Semi-bright, semi-sunny weather greeted me as I awoke this morning, and arose fairly early for a change. It didn't last long, however, and closed in and by noon, a heavy downpour began that obliterated my satellite TV reception. It was brief, but one of the most intense thunderstorms I have seen here. After about fifteen minutes it was over. Occasional but equally brief thunderstorms continued into the afternoon.
I noticed a trail of the tiny little ants that have been plaguing me for awhile, crawling along the outside of my office window, near the gardenia shrub that my gardener had trimmed last week. They were crawling along the window frame and looked like they could be setting up shop in the house, and that was the last thing I wanted. So I got out the insect bomb and went out to take care of them.
I sprayed the wooden window frame which has been split open by the weather, and took care of that problem, and started following the trail back to where they were coming from. It went along the outside wall of the office, around the corner and into the carport, almost to the other end by the front of the house
As I followed it up the wall, I happened to look up, and looking back at me was a medium-sized snake, peering out of the end of a steel perlin, part of the frame for the carport. A rather handsome thing, he was uniformly black above with a bright yellow belly up to about a third of his height, including the lower jaw of his head. He's not in my snake book, so I am not sure who he is, but he had the appearance and movements of a bird-eating snake, though smaller, darker and less speckled. Since about a third of Costa Rican snakes are venomous, I didn't take any chances and was quite happy to leave him alone.
I guess I now have one more thing I need to foam up. Real Soon Now, as soon as he moves out.
More reasons why I am glad I am out of the States: One of the most shocking stories to come out of the New Orleans disaster is that many of the doctors in the hospitals there, speaking on condition of anonymity, faced a terrible choice immediately after the hurricane - leave critically ill, totally defenseless patients who couldn't be evacuated, to be victimized at will by rapists and looters, and then to die in terrible agony, or to euthenize them. They apparently chose the latter if these reports are to be believed.
Victims of the hurricane and flood, as reported here earlier, are facing an insurance industry that is balking at paying their $60 billion in claims, and are, as usual, looking for a way to avoid paying. Now, it turns out that a public advocacy group is banding victims together to fight the insurance industry and hold them to account for their policy contracts. They have established a hotline for those whose insurance companies are balking at paying.
Big Brother Is Watching You - even if you are an evacuee or volunteer. Yes, that's right, the Boys from Foggy Bottom are so deeply concerned about the security of the evacuees, that they are running them and all the volunteers there to help them, through their closely guarded NCIC crime and fingerprint database. We gotta make sure there's no one there with a shady past before we get them food and water. First things first.
When Smirkey denies it, you know it's probably true: He is denying that there was any racial bias in how the emergency rescue plan was set up, how FEMA responded and how the support system is working. Well, hey, anyone who looked at the television images of who was in the Superdome dying for lack of water, food and sanitation while he was crooning with the Marines in San Diego, or out playing golf, has plenty of reason to doubt that one.
The latest casualty of the Katrina disaster appears to be the Posse Comitatus Act. It is the law, on the books since the 19th century, that prohibits the use of federal troops for local law enforcement, and was passed in the aftermath of the Civil War to prevent the abuses by the military governments that had administered many of the war-torn areas. Now Smirkey's fascists seem to think that they could have somehow done a better job of getting food and water to the flood victims if they had been able to point a gun at them legally. Not that they were paying much attention to the Act anyway: the BBC aired footage yesterday showing U.S. Army troops, traveling door to door in poor, flooded areas of New Orleans, smashing doors down and hauling occupants of flooded New Orleans homes out by force - a clear violation of the Act, as well as Louisiana law and the constitution.
Another casualty of Katrina could well be the five hospitals in the New Orleans area that are now back open. Serving a largely empty city, they are also empty of patients - but the costs go on, and American medicine, being the most expensive in the world, is quickly ruining them. They say if they don't get some patients in there to fill the beds soon, they may go broke.
Dick Cheney is the latest administration official to add insensitive comments to the insult felt by the hundreds of thousands of evacuees: he said, in response to reporters' questions about what the evacuees had said to him, "Not one of them mentioned any of it. They're all very thankful where they find themselves right now." Yeah, thanks for tossing them some crumbs from your banquet table, Dick. This is, of course, just the latest in a long series of insensitive comments by administration officials that just don't seem to be able to relate to the suffering of others.
Some people don't get it - ever. It turns that Mike Brown has sent a rather candid email to family and friends about the criticism he has been facing. It read, "I don't mind the negative press (well, actually, I do, but I try to ignore it) but it is really wearing out the family," Brown wrote. "No wonder people don't go into public service. This country is devouring itself, the 24-hour news cycle is numbing our ability to think for ourselves." Turns out that Brown's confirmation hearing was pretty much a perfunctory affair, too. It lasted all of 42 minutes and didn't include any hard questions by any of the senators involved. Congress doing its job, looking critically and carefully at administration nominees.
The stinging criticism of Smirkey continues: MSNBC/Newsweek did a 5-page special, titled "How Bush Blew It," Alex Jones did a web page on how Bush's wife is so out of touch she didn't even know the name of the hurricane, and CNN has been talking about how Smirkey has suspended the Davis-Bacon act, which requires federal contractors to pay union scale, just when emergency hires in the disaster area need the money more than ever. Compassionate conservatism.
Smirkey is finally paying the price for his persistent denial of reality: His popularity is dropping faster than the water in the rich districts of New Orleans. A new Newsweek poll, just published, shows that, not surprisingly, Smirkey's poll ratings are at the lowest point ever - only 28 percent of Americans still approve of Smirkey's performance on the job. Which leads one to wonder, of course, just which planet those 28 percent are living on.
Congress is finally doing its job and starting to question the procedures used to hand out contracts to rebuild in the wake of Katrina. It seems that the General Accountability Office, at the encouragement of Henry Waxman, is going to have a look at how the money is getting handed out.
Other news that is getting drowned in the Katrina aftermath:
Apparently the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq is being bombed into smithereens by the Occupation forces, and relentlessly so, to the point where the town's police chief is issuing an international SOS, asking for the international community to intervene to get the bombing stopped. The Kavkaz News Agency is reporting that the excuse for the continued bombing is that the town is situated near the Syrian border and has been used as an entry point for foreign fighters entering the country. But the presence of innocent civilians in the town seems to have not slowed down the aggressive bombing campaign which has gone on continuously for more than a week. More than 90 percent of the town's population has already deserted the city at the risk of their lives, while the remainder are mostly unable to flee, and are dying violent deaths, amidst the increasingly devastated rubble of the town. According to military sources, as many as 10,000 insurgents may have left the Sunni-dominated community. CNN is reporting that far from winding down the bombing, the Occupation is going to take that show on the road and expand the "offensive" to other nearby towns. All the destruction has led, so far, to the death or capture of only 200 insurgents. Of course, all this is winning the hearts and minds of the Sunnis.
Iraq to Smirkey: Where did all our money go? According to a report released on the fifth of this month by Transparency International, the Iraqi reconstruction effort may end up being the largest corruption scandal of all time. The scale of the corruption is truly breathtaking - it runs the breadth and width of the country's new "government," from Ahmed Chalabi, Smirkey's hand-picked man who happens to be on the run from a 20-year bank fraud sentence in neighboring Jordan, all the way down to the lowliest immigration clerk processing passport applications for a small cash "gift." All in all, the Occupation Authority is unable to account, or able to account only very inadequately, for $8.8 billion in Iraqi money.
The lawyer that revealed Karl Rove's tax status to the Washington Post has been fired by the Texas attorney general's office. Seems he was supposed to keep quiet the fact that Rove was attempting to homestead both his Texas house and his Washington, D.C. house - a violation of domicility law in Texas. It is not just federal whistleblowers that get the axe, it is apparently Texas whistleblowers too.
In an attempt to hold the administration accountable for its failures, a group of activists have decided to construct a "Bushville" encampment on the Washington Mall to protest the administration's failures in the Katrina aftermath, and the economic disaster that is slowly enveloping the United States. The "Bushville" encampments are being named to paraphrase the "Hooverville" encampments in the same place at the beginning of the depression, to house those displaced by that economic crisis.
Speaking of economic crises, it appears that there has been an ongoing effort to manipulate the U.S. stock market by the U.S. government. What began as an effort to steady a wobbly market from time to time has slowly evolved into a continuous, ongoing prop-up of the market, not for reasons of crisis avoidance, but pure political expediency, advantaging those in the know at the expense of outsiders and small investors. This is not from some wild Conspiracies-R-Us website, but from a Canadian financial management firm with a pretty solid reputation. The report is available on the web page linked above.
More evidence that the Army just doesn't care: A mother whose son was killed in Iraq 15 months ago just learned this week about the true circumstances of her son's death. The mother, an outspoken activist against the war, who visited Camp Casey outside of the president's Texas ranch, says that she has no evidence of a cover-up, it was just sheer incompetence, she said. I would say that indifference is a more likely explanation. Rather than being killed in action, as they had originally reported, he died from an accidental discharge of a machine gun. The Army admits that they knew that not long after his death, but simply had not informed her.
Speaking of the Army, the Pentagon has announced that the new policy regarding first use of nuclear weapons has been released, and the paper actually allows for first use in purely preemptive situations. All that is required is presidential approval, and someone suspected of harboring WMD's can find himself nuked. Will they start with the principal source of trouble and instability in the Middle East - Israel?
It looks like the U.S. Department of Justice, which seemingly never saw a defense contractor it didn't like, is so outraged at Boeng Corporation's bidding practices that it is going to hand it a $500 million fine for being in possession of thousands of documents from a competitor when both were bidding on a defense department contract. It didn't help that one of the DoD officials went to work for Boeing, right after leaving the defense department - and handing it a $24 million contract as a parting gift. That contract was later thrown out. Now, will they please have a close look at Halliburton and Cheney?
Australia's John Howard has apparently followed Smirkey's lead into a neo-fascist repression of dissent, and Smirkey is not complaining: the Aussies have arrested an American citizen for the crime of criticizing Halliburton's war profiteering. His case is beginning to draw considerable publicity in the Australian media, and so far, politicians' responses on both sides of the Pacific have been rather disappointing. He traveled to Australia in June on a six-month visa on his American passport, and the Australian Dept. of Immigration has ordered his expulsion on charges of being an "imminent security threat." He is a peaceful, non-violent protestor, a self-described hippie. Halliburton has hundreds of projects in Australia, and its subsidiary, Kellogg Brown and Root built and owns 50% of the Alice Springs-Darwin Railroad. Guess I won't be heading to Australia anytime soon.
Speaking of profiteering, it seems that the Military Post Exchange Program has asked for permission to sell state lottery tickets in military base PX's where blind and disabled vendors are not already doing so. The plan is intended to help make up for declining revenues as a result of base closures, staff draw-downs and the redeployment of large numbers of military in Iraq. The proposal is being met with stony silence by the fundamentalist Christian Republicans on capital hill.
Those who claim that sending John Bolton to the United Nations was just what the institution needed, will have to answer to this: he has single-handedly managed to throw the Summit of World Leaders on U.N. reform into total chaos. He has done so by demanding a whole catalog of last-minute changes to the 40-page agenda that is due to go before world leaders at the summit on Wednesday.
The United Nations is also criticizing the United States over its "extraordinary rendition" policy of sending people snatched by the CIA to third-world countries to have them tortured. Not only that, but other countries are beginning to have concerns as well. Besides Denmark, which has already banned the CIA from its airspace, Austria has scrambled jets to escort a CIA aircraft whose flight and purpose was not registered, the Swedish government is investigating the involvement of its nationals in an incident, and now the United Nations has opened an investigation into Britain's role in several incidents.
In economic news, the New York Times is reporting that the disparity in average incomes in Manhattan from the poorest to the richest groups is now 50:1, up from 28:1 back in 1980. Republican economic progress continues.
The Bush administration has demonstrated once again that when you elect governments friendly with business, you'll get regulators that protect business rather than the people they are supposed to protect. Apparently the FDA knew for as much as five months that a certain model of implanted heart defibrillator was defective and prone to short circuits, and hid the information from physicians and the public. At least one person has died as a direct result of the inaction.
A Walk Up And Down The Street.
Today has been a delightfully warm and, for the most part, sunny day, with pleasant temperatures and little rain. Except for late in the afternoon, with the usual thunderstorm, it was generally a pleasant and dry day.
As the air was fairly dry, I decided it would be a good day to get some laundry done, and get it relatively dry, so the morning was occupied with laundry, and the afternoon, before it got too threatening, was a good day to go for a walk and check things out around the north side of the property.
I walked a bit up the road to the east, and noticed that the parents of the family next door are gone, so the kids are doing what teens everywhere do when the parents are away - the stereo is cranked up and they're having a good time. Nothing out of hand, though. They're really pretty good kids, remarkably well behaved for teens, always helpful to me, and obedient to their parents, so I really don't begrudge them having a little fun when the parents are away.
Around the other side, I noticed that there are a couple of new holes in the fence. Weak points that I knew were there, but which will require that the fence be repaired. There is obviously traffic getting through, and I am sure they are poaching the tilapia in the pond. So that means I will have to get some work done on that fence.
Walking up the road towards the property line, I noticed that there is more gray water coming into my pond. And the rainy season is cutting a gully rather deeply in the bottom of the desaguas (roadside drainage ditches, where the gray water is coming down alongside the road. Well, that will get filled in the next time the road grader is out there cleaning the desaguas, and already some gravel is filling it in spots, so I am not too worried about it.
My neighbor who had borrowed the machete finally brought it back, with the handle repaired. He had also mentioned something about the fence, and I suspect that he had meant to tell me that he had fixed the gate into the North Forty, as it is newly repaired, and I sure didn't do it. Anyway, I was delighted to see it. It still needs a new post, but that is not a problem, I can do that at my leisure now.
More reasons why I am glad I am out of the States: Proving once again that their hearts are in the right place, the United States government has turned back aid offered by Germany, on the grounds that the NATO C-rations could be (not are, but only could be) contaminated by mad cow disease. But wait a minute - if they're good enough for the troops, aren't they good enough for the evacuees?
It turns out that at least 500 people who were stranded in New Orleans weren't really stranded at all, and knew it - but were turned back at the point of a gun by a neighboring parish whose sheriff simply refused to allow them out. When they tried to walk out across a Mississippi river bridge into Gretna, they were met with shots being fired over their heads by sheriff's deputies, stripped of the emergency rations they were carrying and were marched back into New Orleans at the point of a gun. Now that's a nice, neighborly city, isn't it? If I were the governor, I think I would be having some words with that sheriff.
The insurance companies, facing huge claim totals, are doing what insurance companies do best: figuring out how to avoid paying claims. The latest ploy? Hurricane Katrina was two separate events - a hurricane and a flood. Most homeowners' policies pay for hurricane damage but not flood damage. Of course the fact that the flood was caused by the hurricane, well, that's not making much of an impression on the industry.
Water is still pouring into New Orleans from a levee break that as yet remains unrepaired. The break in the flood wall on the London Avenue Canal has still not been repaired, though the Corps of Engineers says it should be closed by Sunday.
The New Orleans nursing home, where thirty people drowned, had apparently been offered transport before the storm, but the nursing home operator refused the offer. The result was that thirty people died and forty more had to wait for days amidst the bodies in the still-flooded home for help.
Other news being drowned in the Katrina flood:
The doctor who told Dick Cheney to "go fuck yourself" was apparently handcuffed at his house, in full view of the press who happened to be there, taking pictures. Of course, as the press was taking pictures of the whole affair, the M-16-toting Secret Service agents apparently thought the better of how that would look on TV, and let him go. Sad day for America that one's freedom of speech is dependent on press cameras being present.
Other news about the press and the New Orleans Occupation - the latter tried to ban the press' access to the body recovery effort, and CNN, in a remarkable display (for them) of journalistic independence, filed a suit, and asked for and received a temporary restraining order. The Occupation, realizing it wouldn't win, backed down, and allowed CNN full access to the recovery effort.
Speaking of the media, who is Bob Williams and why is he suddenly being cited everywhere as an expert on the Katrina response? The new "pundit" has been endlessly flogging the administration line that the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans were both at fault for the slow response, by not asking for a declaration of emergency in time - an outright lie. Well, turns out that Mr. Williams is none other than the president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a hard-core right-wing pseudo-think tank being promoted by none other than the Wall Street Journal. It draws its funding from the ultra-right wing Scaife Foundations and the Lynde And Harry Bradley Foundation. Williams qualifications to judge an emergency response effort? He was a member of Congress when Mt. St. Helens erupted in his district.
And speaking of spin, Treasury Secretary John Snow is still insisting that the country is still on course for a deficit reduction next year, in spite of Hurricane Katrina. Of course, what happens after next year, well, he isn't saying. Nor is he saying what the latest tax cut for the rich will do to the deficit, either.
Fox is back to its usual conservative bias: the New York City Fox station, channel 5, has refused to accept a broadcast ad for a Democratic candidate, Brian Ellner, on the basis that it slams Smirkey. The more likely reason is that it includes Ellner's partner. None of Fox's competitors refused the ad.
Smirkey's performance continues to erode the prestige of America abroad. The Japan Times, that country's leading English newspaper, is now openly questioning whether George Bush can be considered a serious man, something that Japanese culture would hold to be a very weighty question for someone in a position of authority.
This isn't the only reason that American prestige is declining. A recent U.N. report states that among the industrial nations of the world, the U.S. and Japan are the stingiest when it comes to foreign aid, and that the trade policies pursued by the U.S. is impoverishing African farmers unnecessarily.
The Washington Post got caught yesterday parroting a bald-faced lie from the administration uncritically, and took so much heat for it in the blogosphere that they were forced to back down and do a 180: They quoted "senior Bush official" as saying that Louisiana governor Blanco had still not declared an emergency - a standard Republican talking point these days. The blogosphere pointed out that in fact she had declared an emergency before the hurricane even hit land, on August 26. Fellas, that is the risk you run when you function as stenographers rather than journalists.
Showing the Roman Catholic Church to be the moral example to the world of responsibility and accountability, the Diocese of Spokane (Washington) of the Catholic Church has appealed an appeals court judge's ruling that church assets can be seized and sold to satisfy the judgments of court cases against it. And the Diocese of Tucson is now holding seminars for other bishops to show them how to hide their assets in various corporations to avoid the consequences of such judgments.
Some people just don't get it: Even after the Supreme Court told them that they had to honor the rights of prisoners in Guantanamo, they're staying the course of repression they set three years ago. In spite of a Supreme Court decision that went against them, they're now attempting to argue that the courts simply lack jurisdiction over their actions. Now that's a novel argument - they can do what they want, because no one has the right to say no. Remarkable, their view of constitutional checks and balances.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff is taking heat for the fact that some people in his jail that are due to be released never seem to get out of his jail. His response has been to offer them a check, if they will sign a waiver agreeing not to sue the city. The checks have been running about $7 a day. Many who have signed the waiver and taken the check didn't understand what they were signing. Just four years ago, the Sheriff paid out a $27 million judgment for keeping inmates after they were due to be released or abusing them in custody. Now it is happening all over again. Some folks are slow learners.
Rush Limbaugh made a very unflattering remark about New Orleans mayor Nagin, calling him "Mayor Nager." It was an obvious play on the extremely perjorative term for Americans of African descent, of which the mayor happens to be one. You can find a link here to take you to an audio clip. So far, no apologies, not even much of a controversy. Probably because no one listens to Rush anymore, and that kind of adolescent behavior is one reason why.
Demonstrating once again that the real Republican philosophy of government is to use its coercive powers to extract as much wealth as possible from the poor and middle class and give it to the rich, our dear senator sanctimonious from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, has decided that you're not paying enough for the National Weather Service forecasts. Not content to see you simply reap the rewards from the investment of your tax dollars, he is sponsoring a bill in Congress to deny you access to National Weather Service forecasts (except for storm warnings). Instead, the data will go - free of charge (can we say "corporate welfare," boys and girls?) - to weather data repackaging companies, like the biggest in the country, Accuweather, Inc. One guess where it is headquartered. And one guess who wrote the legislation. So, you want the weather forecast you paid for? Sorry, that's now a state secret. You're gonna have to go to the company he represents before the Senate, and put up with tons of ads, popups, and spam. No more National Weather Service web page forecasts for you. You're gonna have to pay, my friend. Again. Wanna make money off of the taxpayer's property, for free? Hey, no problem. ...Is it just me, or does that somehow seem like that scheme has it the backwards way around?
High Gas Prices Apparently Thinning Traffic
I was up late again this morning, and the weather when I was finally up, was a light, thin overcast, no rain and temperatures a bit above the usual for the morning. Yesterday was rainy through much of the day, at least on and off, and I spent it inside, catching up on some sleep for the most part.
By the time I was finally out of the sack, showered and had breakfast underway, the gardener showed up and began work on trimming the hibiscus shrubs. I had him also trim some shrubs by my office window, and now for the first time in months, I can see what is going on in the back yard.
Cutting down the jungle down by the pond revealed another banana bunch that has been developing amidst some wild heliconias, and he cut it down and brought it back to the house. We split it, and I took the lower half, complete with its over-ripe bananas, and so the banana buch I have been stuffing myself with, has now been replaced, and it will be back to stuffing myself with bananas and banana betidos (milk shakes).
Today being Friday, and the Tico Times on the stands, it is the day to do my weekly grocery run. I needed to get to the bank before it closed for the afternoon, and made it just in time. My teller was my neighbor, the one who is building the house, and we chatted for a bit about how it is going. He says it is completely stuccoed now, and the painting has begun. He's still scared about having made mistakes, but I reassured him that first-time builders are always nervous about that, and he shouldn't be concerned. Other than leaving the utility rough-ins for the last (which is the usual practice here), he hasn't made any serious mistakes.
Quiet day in town today, too. Not as much traffic on main street, but it is amazing that there are so many parking spaces on the main drag. For several weeks running, since the last gas price increase in fact, there has been increasing parking space along the main drag. Used to be I had to park all the way over at the town square, and walk to downtown, but not now - I can easily find a parking space right on the main drag in front of the grocery store. I am reasonably sure that the high price of gasoline is the reason why. I see a lot more motorcycles, especially Honda 150's around nowadays than this time last year. Relatively few tourists in town today, too. The usual mob in front of the German bakery was pretty well thinned out. And the "human sign" who gives directions to tourists in exchange for a tip, was nowhere to be seen.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Left The States: I am really trying hard to avoid this space becoming yet another Conspiracies-R-Us blog, but when the conspirators confess outright, it makes the conspiracy really kinda hard to ignore. It would seem that the political and rich elites in New Orleans want to drive the blacks out, and are not above using the Katrina disaster to do it. The political class wants them out to get rid of a lot of registered Democrats (Louisiana may actually lose a seat in Congress if they succeed) and it is openly bragging about how God did what they couldn't. The economic elites apparently want them out, too, because they perceive them to be an economic drag on the city - the reason why few major corporations are headquartered there. There has even been one very much unconfirmed report that a major casino operator has already started buying up properties in the flooded residential neighborhoods, and are working with the elites to ensure that they get all the properties they are interested in. On the very day when the mayor of New Orleans himself is implementing a martial-law evacuation order to pull people out of their homes, at the point of a gun if necessary, we are learning that the Corps of Engineers is taking its own sweet time about pumping out the city. Their P.R. person, John Rickey, has admitted on a local Florida radio talk show (WYMM radio) that they could have the job done in about 3 or 4 days, but they're going to take a month to do it to "minimize the strain" on the levees. (are there any civil engineers out there that could comment on the validity of the need for this?) This will mean, of course, that most of the old wood-frame houses on mud sill foundations (meaning most of the older homes owned by the poor) that are flooded will have to be demolished because of structural rot. We are also learning that the rich whites in New Orleans, whose homes very mysteriously seemed to have escaped nearly all of the flooding, are openly saying on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that they don't want the blacks back, and that the city will be rebuilt without them.
The Commander In Chief may not waver, but apparently he staggers: there is new evidence that Smirkey is back on the bottle. A week ago last Tuesday, he was due to visit a military hospital in Coronado, California, and when he arrived, he was whisked in, spent very little time inside (and the press was kept well away from him, in spite of previous promises), met no one who is talking, and he was then whisked back out again and straight back to the airport in just 15 minutes. He was seen going up the staircase to the airplane weaving back and forth, and being helped up the stairs by Laura. The commentators on the local TV, which aired the incident live, speculated about a "medical condition," but the White House steadfastly refused comment, and given the changes in behavior recently, said by psychiatrists to be typical of active alcoholics, I am more inclined to believe that his "medical condition" was the result of a few open liquor bottles. Not that it matters - it is an open secret in Washington that Dick Cheney, aided by Karl Rove and Andy Card is really running the show these days anyway. But they had better get this one fixed, and for real - the Republicans won't do well at all next year if Smirkey is still drinking, and if he is, by then it will surely be common knowledge. Even his last loyal support base, the Talibaptists, will turn on him if this is found out. How can a bunch of teetotalers support a drunkard for a president?
Being ever the loyal enabler, Laura Bush has lashed out at rapper Kayne West for his recent comments on NBC about Smirkey's insensitive indifference. He's really a sensitive guy, she says. Yeah, right. Well informed, too. We've sure seen a lot of evidence of both lately, haven't we?
In Congress, the Democratic caucuses in both houses, exhibiting something looking mysteriously like an embryonic spine for the first time since Smirkey was first coronated, have rebelled at the notion of being brought in to lend credibility to a 9/11-style coverup masquerading as a bipartisan Katrina investigation. They've basically told the Republicans that the investigation will either be independent and objective or they won't be a part of it. The naked attempts to rig the process from the start has caused the Democrats to tell the Republicans to take their "investigation" and shove it.
I know you'll be shocked to learn this, but it turns out that FEMA director Mike Brown's online resume has some problems. Time Magazine is reporting that when they tried to verify large parts of it, well, the folks referenced couldn't seem to remember him ever showing up for work there. Now that the Washington Post has also opened an investigation into its background, he is getting the ol' heave-ho. Note that it wasn't his performance that got him 86ed from the Gulf Coast (or he would have been out of there more than a week ago), it was the fact that he had become a political liability. First things first, of course!
News you're not hearing because it's being drowned in the Katrina aftermath:
I'm sure this information will feature prominently in Republican re-election campaigns next year: The 2005 United Nations Development Report is out, and it paints a rather sorry picture of the United States. The quality of life there is rapidly declining, especially for the lower middle class and poor. Large swathes, remarkably similar to Red States, are now similar to many third-world countries in the quality of life, the report says, with comparable levels of poverty. Infant mortality is increasing dramatically, and this year, the U.S. is ranked equal to Malaysia, even though the per capita expenditures on health care are by far the highest in the world. But just watch, rather than heed the message, they'll do what comes instinctively - they'll just escalate their attempts to kill the messenger.
Multitasking is obviously not one of this administration's strong points. Now we're learning that all the money being spent on Iraq reconstruction is nowhere near enough, and the work is grinding to a halt for lack of funds - all but the high priority projects have been shut down. The firm in charge of security at the Baghdad airport hasn't been paid in seven months, and has pulled out, leaving the airport to the terrorists and the Iraqi police - meaning to the terrorists. Check your travel agent for very cheap holiday flights to Baghdad.
That doesn't mean, of course, that they're not still paying attention to their other captive states' struggles to free themselves. There is always time and energy to rattle the saber over the heads of a rebellious colony. This time it is Nicaragua, which is struggling to free itself from its U.S.-dominated puppet president, Enrique Belanos. Roger Noriega, one of Queen Condi's boys and more or less in charge of her diplomatic corps, is flat-out warning them against it - in a thinly veiled threat, he said isolation at best and an invasion at worst would be what they could expect if they actually have the nerve to throw out Washington's boy. Hey, didn't anyone ever tell Roger that it isn't being very diplomatic to meddle in other peoples' business?
New York Times "reporter" Judith Miller may soon get out of jail - it seems that the CIA identity leak probe may be nearing the end point. She is reportedly "resolute" about not revealing her sources, even though the jail she is in is bleak and austere, and she is being given menial work. But what is not widely appreciated is that she has some really strong incentives not to testify - any credibility her stories still have would be gone, and with it her career, if the truth about her relationship with the White House, as discussed previously in this space, were to be discussed in open court and reported widely in the press.
The United Nations is raising the alarm about the violence being caused by the John Negroponte's "Salvador Option" death squads in Iraq. They're saying, and in my opinion quite rightly, that not only is this not bringing about more security, it is making the terrorism problem, short term and long term, even worse. But hey, Smirkey's conservatives in Iraq are frustrated by their lack of progress, and are just doing what comes instinctively - if folks don't like you, send them to the torture chamber for a little re-education and then hack their heads off and leave the bodies out in the street to re-educate the still living about America's love of freedom, liberty and justice for all.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk comes the word that House Majority Leader Tom Delay's embattled PAC and three of his associates have been indicted in Texas for taking illegal corporate contributions for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the election, a crime in Texas. This being Texas, however, don't expect to see any jail terms.
Smirkey's first appointee to head FEMA, Joe Allbaugh, Mike Brown's predecessor, is happily profiteering handsomely from Katrina. He heads a consulting firm that is helping contractors, including (who else?) Halliburton get reconstruction and salvage contracts in the disaster area.
There's A Rodeo, But I'm Not Going
Weather has been typically seasonal, with warm temperatures, cloudy skies and a lot of afternoon rain. Except yesterday, which was brilliantly sunny all day, and the sort of "green season" weather that the Tourism Institute likes to brag about. Well, there have been a lot of tourists in town, but it seems like a surprising number of them have been American, rather than the Europeans we see typically this time of year. Things are going into the fall slump though, as Americans and Europeans both head back to work.
My neighbor's new house is coming along nicely. Stucco is up on the outside walls now, and the roof sheets are on, so it is getting close. I have started to see some paint primer appear on the outside walls, too. Haven't been up there in a while to check it out closely. I need to get up that direction, though, the North Forty gate is down, and needs to be replaced. I need to get some posts from the hardware store and get my butt in gear and go fix that.
There is yet more partying from the Independence Day celebrations - apparently there is a shindig going on at the plaza de toros (Costa Rican bull ring), and I can hear some event announcing and music from here. Sounds like a rodeo. I'm not going, though. I have too much to do, keeping up research for the blog, and now writing another web page for which I have been given some very valuable material. More on that when it is online...
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Because Smirkey replaced the FEMA management with a series of political hacks, the former director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, a man with a great deal of experience and expertise in emergency management, was hired by the Louisiana governor to manage the relief efforts in Louisiana. FEMA's director, a man whose expertise consists solely of being the college roommate of a Bush protoge, was told by Witt, quite bluntly, “Mike, you’re going to do your job, and I’m going to make you do your job. And I’m going to show you how to do your job.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington expressed their relief that Witt is actually running the show, at least for the Louisiana governor. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelousi, a representative in Congress from California, was shown twice yesterday on CNN International, quoting a truly shocking conversation with Smirkey, demonstrating just how totally out of touch Smirkey really is about this situation.
When she suggested to Bush that he should fire Mike Brown, "He said 'Why would I do that?'
"I said 'because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.'"
"And he said 'What didn't go right?'
"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added. She had been talking to the wrong person, of course. She should have been talking to Dick Cheney or Karl Rove if she had wanted to see results. Smirkey is just a stuffed shirt dry-drunk as far as actually getting things done in the White House is concerned. All this mess is translating into a problem for the White House that is overwhelming even their incredibly effective spin machine.
The scale of this couldn't have been foreseen? The talking point coming out of Karl Rove's office is that no one could have foreseen the scale of the disaster. Well, a reporter for the National Geographic apparently did. They ran an article about it in October's issue of last year, and you can read it on their web site. I guess nobody in Smirkey's crowd reads Nat Geo. And Donny Rumsfeld, General Myers and Nick Chertoff are even going so far as to blame the newspapers for the slow response, saying that the papers' headlines said that Katrina had spared New Orleans the worst. Guess they didn't read the articles any more than they read the articles in Playboy. And apparently, the newspaper headlines are what passes for disaster surveillance in this administration.
Republicans in Congress finally responding compassionately, with cash where it is needed? Not so fast. They won't let the Democrats even see the text of the $52 billion relief bill that they're being asked to vote for. What are they hiding? Stay tuned - with the history of that crowd, I can guarantee it won't be pretty.
The relief effort is finally proceeding well? Tell that to a BBC news crew, who hired a low-draft boat and went into some of the flood-ravaged neighborhoods, looking for survivors. They found a house full of children whose mother had died, and they evacuated the children, who realized that they needed help, and got in the boat with their meager possessions without saying a word. The crew expressed their incredulousness that fully a week and a half after the disaster, theirs was the only boat they had seen in the poor, largely black neighborhood.
Everyone got help equally, regardless of who they were? Howard Dean, Democratic Party chairman, said that it is clear that race and economic status played a role in who lived and who died, who was rescued first and who was rescued last. Well, that should have been obvious to anyone who saw images of the Louisiana Superdome. But now the blacks in the Southern Baptist Convention are saying that there will be political consequences. Well, it is about time they figured out that Republican conservatism does not serve their interests. The sordid history of the Southern Baptist Convention should have clued them in about that one.
Slow as FEMA was, at least its heart was in the right place? I don't think so. Some firefighters, recruited by the mayor to relieve the badly overworked New Orleans Fire Department, quit in disgust when, instead of being sent to New Orleans, they were required by FEMA to hand out leaflets telling what a wonderful job FEMA was doing. Community Outreach is what FEMA called it. Frightening indifference is what I call it.
But at least the effort is proceeding transparently, you say? Well, it seems that there is a rising chorus of complaints that FEMA is censoring what the press is allowed to report and take pictures of.
Think that the evacuees are finally being cared for sensitively and with conservative compassion? Think again. This Republican-run relief effort shows that conservatives will handle large numbers of people in the manner that comes instinctively to them - like prisoners. There are several reports of evacuees being locked in behind chainlink and concertina wire in various parts of the south. A camp near Denver is being treated in just that fashion - evacuees are kept behind a fence - very few get in, no one gets out - and the press can't even get close. The Denver Post titled their story, "The Evacuees' Stories Are Moving, But The Fence Isn't."
Think that at least now the Republican leadership in Congress is aware and interested in the problems of the evacuees? Demonstrating how totally insensitive and indifferent they really are, the Republican leadership in Congress has announced that the worst natural disaster in American history will definitely not hold up their planned $35 billion in tax relief - for the rich, of course, as well as cuts to social programs that are needed now more than ever. And in spite of Katrina, the Republican fundraising activities go on. Well, we now know what Republican priorities are, and compassion and sensitivity are definitely not among them.
Other news that is being drowned in the Katrina stories:
While members of congress have jointly agreed to a "bipartisan" commission to investigate the Katrina response, the coverup has apparently already begun - we are learning that the Republican committee members have not begun working with the Democrats, in fact, they haven't even contacted them yet to discuss the arrangements.
High gas prices aren't all Katrina: word is leaking out, in the form of some rather damning memos, that the major oil companies have deliberately restricted refining capacity in the United States in an effort to drive up prices ahead of Katrina. There is even evidence that they conspired to drive an independent refiner out of business, and if they could not do that, restrict to whom it could sell product. Of course, they're really cashing in now. Exxon expects to make $10 billion this quarter, much of it as a result of higher gas prices, apparently setting an all-time record for the amount of profit any company has ever made in one quarter.
It has been revealed that Yahoo supplied information requested by the Chinese government that led to the jailing of a dissident writer on a charge of "divulging state secrets." While their immediate response was "no comment," they later justified their actions by saying that they have to comply with the law, whatever it is locally.
It has been revealed that in the wake of the Iraq invasion, large amounts of radiological material that would be suitable for making a "dirty bomb" were not secured by troops, and have disappeared. An unknown number of radiological sources are missing in action.
You may have heard about the release of the final report on the Oil For Food scandal at the United Nations, a favorite source of conservative carping about the United Nations. What the conservatives won't carp about, however, is one of the key revelations in that report: that the largest consignment of smuggled oil in that whole scandal left Iraq under U.S. knowledge and approval, just before the invasion. So, will the conservatives 'fess up to their involvement in that one, and hold the responsible people to account? Don't hold your breath.
As reported here previously, Karl Rove has some problems with the domicility laws in Washington D.C. Now he is in trouble in Texas, as he is reportedly the subject of a complaint that he is not a qualified voter in Texas because he doesn't actually live there.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk, we are learning about the reasons that Pat Robertson's dodgy Operation Blessing fundraising effort has, with White House approval, appeared on the FEMA web page as a place to send money for Katrina relief: In truly banana-republic fashion, the Republicans are totally shameless at harvesting the compassion of the American people for the purpose of enriching themselves and their pals at the expense of the Katrina victims, and Pat Robertson is right up there with the best of them. His "Operation Blessing" has been right at the heart of several fundraising scandals, including use of money raised by that organization to fly gold mining equipment to his gold mine concessions in Africa. He has faced legal action over that, but that legal action was sandbagged through his connections with high Republican officials, both at the state and federal level. He has been quite shameless at participating in the blood-diamond trade with his old buddy, the ruthless and bloody former dictator of the D.R. Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko, and he has maintained and defended his close association with the vicious ex-"president" of Liberia, Charles Taylor, whom almost everyone involved recognizes as the primary cause of the incredibly brutal and bloody civil war in that country, and a continuing cause of instability in the region.
The right-wing scamsters, besides Pat Robertson, are, of course, swiftly moving in on Katrina as a lucrative cash cow to be milked. The Missouri attorney general has moved to shut down a web site that poses as a Katrina relief funds collection site for the Red Cross among others, when it is really being run by a neo-nazi holocaust denier. Of course, you don't have to be a neo-nazi holocaust denier to benefit handsomely from the Katrina disaster. Being a Republican ally of George Bush and an ex-director of FEMA will do just fine, too.
A Beautiful Evening
The morning was the typical mid rainy season morning. By the time I was up, which was fairly late, it was already cloudy, and remained overcast all day. The morning proceeded with occasional brief showers, but never enough to really wet things down or last long enough to be much of an annoyance. The usual afternoon thunderstorms did not develop today, but gave way instead to high, thick overcast, carried by high winds aloft, but only a light breeze on the ground.
Yesterday evening's strong thunderstorm activity watered the garden adequately, and fairly well scattered the bugs. And today was a delight - nice temperatures, no hot sun, but no rain either.
I spent a bit of time in the garden, but didn't actually get any work done - mostly just enjoying wandering around. The calla lillies are out, and starting to bloom now, as are the tropical iris and the heliconias. The bougainvillea in front of the house are in full bloom (unusual for this time of the year), and are putting on quite a show.
Yesterday evening wasn't the big party I had expected in town. Instead of loud music till late in the evening, there was some fairly quiet music that went away by bed time. There was a parade today, or at least I heard the usual drum corps that are a ubiquitous part of every Costa Rican parade, but I did not go out to check it out. Last night was quiet, and so far, tonight is as well. All I am hearing are the crickets and cicadas, and the frogs in the pond. Light tropical breeze, a beautiful evening. The ginger, hibiscus and some orchids are in bloom, along with the bougainvilleas, and so they are filling the garden with color. And as the sun is going down, through the orange, crimson and purple of a tropical sunset, now a floral fragrance is beginning to fill the air from a flower I have not even identified. Ginger? Lilly? Orchid? I don't have any idea. But it is magical.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Seems that being a hero in New Orleans these days can land you in jail: An 18-year old New Orleans teenager who, frustrated from lack of help from the outside, found an abandoned school bus, filled it with flood victims, and drove it seven hours to the Astrodome in Houston, delivering his charges safe and sound and hours ahead of the first official relief buses, is now in trouble. Seems that authorities there are going to charge him with theft. No, I'm not making this up! They have actually arrested him and are preparing to charge him with the theft of the school bus! In one heart-warming outcome, trial attorneys are lining up to give the young man pro bono legal assistance. I should hope so!
Editor and Publisher Magazine is questioning why, even after the magnitude of the disaster had become clear, that the president and two of his top advisers chose vacation over action. Not enough editors are holding Smirkey accountable for that dereliction of duty, and the magazine is calling it "My Pet Goat - The Sequel." It is not mere incompetence, it is, they say, dereliction of duty. I agree. Not only was there dereliction of duty, but when the president finally did put in an appearance at the scene of the disaster, five full days after the disaster began, his appearance was only a potemkin-village affair, stage managed for the cameras which actually blocked some relief supplies, and now the rest of the press, normally supportive, is beginning to agree and say so. When he finally did show up for work, of course, his the first thing he did was to bail out his rich oil buddies. In yet another example of just how out of touch the Bush family itself is, Barbara Bush, the wife of George The First, actually had the gall to make the statement that "things are working out very well" for the refugees. She went on to say, "What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is they all want to stay in Texas." Scary? Yeah, I imagine that it would be scary for her if they start voting based on how they were cared for at the outset of the crisis. That ought to be a scary thought for any Bush!
The feasting vulture of Halliburton, not sated on the festering carcass of Iraq, has landed in Louisiana. More no-bid contracts are being handed to them for work in the Katrina aftermath, in spite of their record of fraud and abuse. More help for Halliburton than for the people still in New Orleans.
People are beginning to wonder if the incompetence and negligence weren't bordering on a criminal conspiracy to deny aid to New Orleans' most needy and vulnerable citizens. So if you really want to indulge in conspiracy theories, there is plenty of food for your thoughts. As Smirkey was slapping FEMA's boss, Mark Brown on the back and telling him he was doing "a heck of a job," here is what FEMA was actually up to:
FEMA would not accept Amtrak's offer of special relief trains to take 600+ refugees at a time to Texas.
FEMA turned away experienced firefighters.
FEMA prevented the Coast Guard from delivering emergency supplies of diesel fuel to emergency services.
FEMA prevented professional morticians from coming in to deal with the dead bodies lying in the streets.
FEMA refused large amounts of a wide variety of critical aid, offered by both the Illinois and New Mexico governors.
After the National Guard had secured the area and let the Red Cross in, FEMA would not allow the Red Cross to deliver food and water.
Emergency communications phone lines were deliberately cut by FEMA.
A state-of-the-art mobile hospital in Mississippi, built specifically for this kind of emergency, was not utilized, and doctors that volunteered to staff it, and who, at their own expense, traveled to the site were turned away.
A U.S. Navy ship, the USS Bataan, apparently sat off the Louisiana coast, its 600-bed hospital, equipped with multiple surgical suites, and 100,000 gallon-per-day fresh-water stills, ready to go but mostly unused, many of its 1200 sailors available for emergency relief work, but not asked ashore.
All this after FEMA had "outsourced" the plan for New Orleans to a big GOP donor last year.
Is this pattern beginning to look like a deliberate plan? Yes, Virginia, there was at minimum a deliberate plan to abandon the poor, and it was disclosed publicly in advance. It was even announced in the Times Picayune on July 12 of this year, less than two months ago: "City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own." We'll see how the president's much-vaunted investigation is going to whitewash all of that.
Contrast that with Cuba's response to a similar crisis, a category 5 storm that came ashore there last year, and only killed one person, and you can begin to see why the United States is rapidly losing whatever credibility it ever had when it claims to be the best country in the world in which to live.
More news you're not hearing about because it is being drowned in the flood waters:
Arizona senator John Kyl is getting ready to lead the charge to repeal the estate tax, just after labor day. That's right, just when it has been revealed that the Republicans have cut the budgets of the flood control and hurricane relief agencies and projects every year they have been in office, ostensibly because there just wasn't enough money, now they want to do yet another tax cut for the rich - this one, a tax that hits only the richest 2% of Americans, and more than half of the revenue generated by it is paid by only the richest 0.14% of Americans. Claiming that it hurts "family farmers," the reality is that there are only about 300 family farms in all of America that would even be affected by the estate tax. There is a very good reason, too, for having an estate tax - it is designed to prevent the institutionalization of state power in the hands of a tiny, but obscenely rich elite, whose money, and hence power, becomes heritable from generation to generation. This is the real reason they want the estate tax repealed - it limits their accumulation of power. So just watch. While the disaster news dominates the headlines, they'll sneak this one through, and Smirkey will quietly sign it.
There is a new breakaway state in the world. But there's a difference - this one is in Iraq. Insurgents have taken complete control of a region near the Syrian border, and proclaimed their own republic. "Welcome to the Islamic Republic of Qaim," proclaims a sign on the outside edge of town. Anyone in the town who was part of the Iraqi government, allied with it, or supportive of the occupation, is ending up dead. The area is a no-go area both for Iraqi troops and for the American occupation forces. In downtown Baghdad, the Interior Ministry building, responsible for policing, came under assault from thirty insurgents, using ten cars, and the battle with police lasted for ten minutes before the militants withdrew. But the insurgency is in its last throes, and that's an order, soldier!
A study of the nondiscrimination policies has revealed that about 10% of companies among the Fortune 500 still do not have policies intended specifically to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Three notable ones among those without a specific policy, are Halliburton, ExxonMobile, and Wendy's International.
The news out of New Jersey is that the Passaic County Sheriff, Jerry Speziale, had to kick federal investigators out of his jail, when their arrogance and incompetence became more than he could tolerate and became disruptive. Go for it, Jerry!
There is news tonight from the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department that scientists are warning that many tens of millions more are likely to starve to death as a result of global warming's effects than had been previously thought. As many as 50 million more people may be at risk from drying climates, floods, drought and increasingly violent weather.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk, we have this: The Wall Street Journal, helping perpetuate the widely believed myth that corporations are normally morally responsible citizens of the community, recently editorialized that the indictment or conviction of a corporation is usually a death sentence for that corporation. Turns out that someone has actually looked into that, and has discovered that of the thirty corporations in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, nine of them have been convicted of major crimes. Here is the list, including the nature of their convictions.
We also learn tonight that the director of a Christian children's camp in eastern Missouri, has been arrested on child molestation charges. Well, at least he wasn't a Catholic priest.
Independence Day, But I'm Watching The Tube
The weather this morning has been typical main-rainy season: overcast all day, with periods of light rain in the morning, and steady rain by the middle of the afternoon. This can only mean that the parade downtown, with those poor grade school kids out there in it, beating their drums in the rain, can't be getting seen by a lot of people. I didn't go - enough arthritis aches and pains, that I didn't much want to get out in the rain and do much. And I'll be up late tonight, as I have been for the last two days, because of all the noisy partying in town.
So today was another CNN and BBC day. And a day spent on the Internet, browsing for the More Reasons section of this blog entry. And there was certainly plenty to choose from. What follows is just a smidgen of the overwhelming amount of material I have found. So I have put together below some of the better items for your perusal. Hope you enjoy.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Maximum-Leader Watch: Smirkey is putting in another potemkin-village appearance in the disaster zone today, in order to disrupt the flow of emergency supplies, just like his last trip did, so he can look good for the cameras. Our Dear Leader (that's Maximum Leader-in-waiting) Tricky Dick Cheney? Seems to still be missing in action. Near as I am able to tell, his feet are still up at his vacation home in Wyoming. Chief of staff Andy Card? Don't know on this one, either. Like our Dear Leader, he hasn't put in any appearances lately, so I presume he is still chilling out in Maine. Princess Condi? Well, she went home to Mississippi over the weekend to visit with some stricken families in her home town. I wonder how she explained to them her having left for a vacation and a shopping trip for $2,000 shoes in New York after the hurricane hit. And her department is apparently more concerned about Chinese bra imports (check the link! I am not making that up!) than the harsh reality that alligators are now swimming through the still-flooded streets of New Orleans, feasting on uncollected, bloating human corpses. All of which is causing some increasingly frustrated blogsters to get rather angry and strident in their criticism of the cynical indifference of this crowd: "America's largest port is gone, maybe forever, gas is $5+ a gallon and FEMA is coming. Whores come faster with old men than FEMA is [coming] to NOLA."
The whole happy talk Things-Will-Be-Better-Real-Soon-Now spin thing coming out of Karl Rove, the Republican National Committee and the high administration officials, including Smirkey, has gotten so surreal that even normally placid administration patsies, such as the AP editors, can't help but comment on it. And the chorus of anger and frustration in the press is rising.
FEMA's paralysis could have something to do with its director, Mike Brown, who was fired from his previous job at the International Arabian Horse Association where in just three years, he drove that organization into bankruptcy. One of the association's members writes of his tenure, "...Well, for 3 years Michael Brown was hired and then fired by our IAHA, the International Arabian Horse Assoc[iation]. He was an unmitigated, total fucking disaster. I was shocked as hell when captain clueless put him in charge of FEMA a couple of years ago." That happened, my dear, not because of his qualifications (if he even has any), but because of political patronage - that has always seemed to be the highest qualification for office in this administration as regular readers of this blog are well aware by now. So it is hardly a surprise that he has outsourced FEMA's New Orleans disaster planning to administration cronies and campaign contributors. Michael Chertoff, his boss, got a better job because his contributions are a bit more generous. So if you need a job but you still have a few bucks, you know what to do and how much it will cost you.
The uneven, slow and badly coordinated, even criminally neglegent response is going to lead to congressional hearings. Several states' congressional delegations have called for hearings as to why it took so long to get a response from the White House and federal agencies. Meanwhile, Chicago's mayor Daley has expressed his "shock and dismay" that when he offered aid, the only thing that FEMA said they wanted was a single truck. This has lead Illinois Senator Barack Obama to call for hearings on the preparedness and response to the disaster. Maybe Brown's qualifications to run FEMA will be explored. Let's hope.
The blatant but sadly cynical attempts by Fox's Hannity to spin the poor, slow and negligent response by the disaster officials were dealt with rather harshly by his reporters actually on the scene. Both Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith cut him off in the midst of his spinmeistering, and, when Hannity said "let's look at this in perspective," he was cut off at the knees by Smith, on camera, who pointed out that there was an open road to a nearby parish, where there was electricity, food and water, but nothing was being allowed in where he was standing, where people were trying to sleep on freeway concrete and were drinking flood water to survive dehydration, and he very angrily said, "THAT'S your perspective!" Geraldo was even more harsh. He held a seven-month-old baby in his arms, and, tears streaming down his face, asked poignantly, "It's been days! Why is nothing being done to help these people?" He gave several reasons as to why that would not have been that difficult to do. Hannity's technical director responded by cutting both off and going to a different reporter at another location. (The link above includes the video clip in both Windows Media and QuickTime formats.) Betcha he'll get disciplined for that display of compassion.
Even after the New York Times had editorialized against Bush for his sabotaging of the budgets for preparation for this kind of disaster, its own news department printed, uncritically, Bush's totally untrue claim that no one foresaw the magnitude of this disaster. Actually, the past director of the Army Corps of Engineers says that the disaster would have been far less had the New Orleans flood district levee work budgets not been cut dramatically for several years running.
No troop redeployments from overseas to help with the disaster, but the Pentagon is "exploring ways" to allow individual servicemen to come home to help with their families. They're not actually doing it, mind you, they're just "exploring ways" to do it. Compassionate conservatism sure gets things done.
Apparently both the European Union and NATO have been asked for help, but Fidel Castro, who has 1100 doctors and 26 tons of emergency medical supplies standing by and ready to be flown directly a few hundred miles to the disaster area, has been spurned, even though the entire region is critically short of medical help. As a result, people will die for lack of medical help because of conservative politics.
Meanwhile, questions are being raised about why two major air force bases in the Florida Panhandle, no longer used by the military, but kept intact specifically for emergency relief, are not being utilized under the REX-84 plan that set them aside for this purpose. Would someone please ask Smirkey and Rummy about this? It is a question that Jesse Jackson asked rhetorically of CNN's Anderson Cooper on live TV on Sunday afternoon. Will we get a response from the administration? Don't hold your breath.
This is not the only thing that was somehow not quite right. Some Louisiana National Guard were called to active duty before and during the storm, were in the armories but were not called in, and just sat around playing cards, while New Orleans sank into chaos and anarchy, according to the New Orleans police chief. Well, all that will come of that comment, will be that he will lose his job. Just watch.
Also not right is the fact that the new bankruptcy law, scheduled to go into effect in October, means that people who lost mortgaged homes in the hurricane face a lifetime of paying for homes they no longer own from foreclosure or that even exist, with no way out. To correct this, Senator John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judicial Committee has prepared legislation to give them a break and allow them to declare bankruptcy, as well as limit price increase for gasoline and heating oil. But since this is coming from a Democrat, we'll see how far that gets with the Republicans' make-the-bankers-and-oil-barons-richer agenda.
Other news you're not hearing about because they're releasing it during the disaster:
To celebrate Labor Day, Smirkey has a nasty surprise for you if you are working overtime because of the hurricane. If you are one of the 2.7 million workers affected by being reclassified as a manager or professional, you probably already knew about the requirement to pay you overtime has been dropped, because you just happened onto page 15,576 of last year's Federal Register, didn't you? You might have heard something about it from other sources, but what I'll bet you didn't hear is the rest of the story about that comp time thing that Smirkey promised. That promise in his nomination acceptance speech at the Republican convention last year was that "managers" and "professionals" like you would have to be given comp time if they don't pay you overtime. Well now, by golly, it seems they just somehow happened to have forgotten to put that part in the Federal Register. So there you have it. Smirkey lied to you once again - and now they can work you all they like, 24/7 if they want. No overtime. No comp time. No recourse. No nothin'. The Federal Register entry even goes so far as to instruct employers how to get away with this outrage. The $1.53 billion that you and people like you won't have to be paid was counted in the "plus" column in the cost-benefit analysis - which means you count as a "minus" to your employer. Happy Labor Day, America!
Our beloved Pope Benedict XVI has asked for the world's population problems to be worsened. I don't know what planet the pope is inhabiting these days, but he is actually asking for Catholics to have more kids. Maybe a trip to the teeming slums of Sao Paulo, inhabited primarily by Catholics, would convince him that the world doesn't have a Catholic under-population problem as much as it has a distribution of wealth problem - a problem he is making worse, not better, with his politics and policies.
The Sidney Morning Herald of Australia is reporting that Hugo Chavez, the embattled leader of Venezuela, in an un-aired interview given to CNN, has revealed details of a planned invasion of his country, code-named Plan Balboa, by the U.S. military, which he claims are apparently already rehearsing for the invasion at a base in Spain. The plan would see waves of bombings of the Venezuelan cities of Maracay, Valencia and Caracas, sweeping in from the west (from where? probably one of the "drug war" bases in Colombia), with the objective of capturing - what else? - the nation's oil fields. Chavez and Castro have told Smirkey to be ready for a hundred-year guerilla war if he is actually dumb enough to try it. More blood for oil. No money for alternatives, mind you, just blood for oil. Let's hope it doesn't happen.
Reports are coming out of Denmark that the Scandinavian country has informed the United States government that "extraordinary rendition" flights by the CIA will not be permitted in its airspace, as they violate international treaties and conventions on human rights. This follows on the heels of the embarrassed surprise to Swedish officials that a rendition had happened from their own territory.
The inspector general for the Pentagon, the man who was responsible for inspecting contract performance by defense contractors, has quit in order to go to work for - who else? - a defense contractor. And not just any defense contractor, either. It is Blackwater, USA, a contractor that pulls down big bucks for building DoD facilities around the U.S. Can't help but wonder if there was a quid pro quo somewhere. Would somebody please have a look at the contracts he supervised?
Israel gets a wall, while New Orleans gets a flood. More than $10 billion has been given to Israel over the last year, much of it spent on that highly illegal 455-mile long wall being built on someone else's land, while New Orleans gets flooded, because there's no money to build flood walls back in the U.S.
While the Israelis are demanding that U.S. taxpayers replace the $200,000 homes from which the Gaza settlers were removed, they seem to have lots of money to spy on us. Even Fox News has done a series on it. Here is a transcript.
The occupation in Iraq is holding not just one Reuters cameraman, as reported here previously, but two, and the military is now saying that one will be held for at least six months, and will be incommunicado for the first sixty days. They are claiming that releasing him might be a danger to Iraq, but the principal danger he poses is most likely to be helping to get the truth out about the brutality of the occupation.
The International Energy Agency is warning that the U.S. is buying up so much oil to make up for lost production in the Gulf that it is threatening the world's oil markets, and even the world economy. As always it will be the poor countries that suffer the most.
George Tenet, the former CIA chief who sacrificed himself so that Smirkey could lie and get away with it to get us into Iraq, is now saying that he is not going to be the fall guy for the "intelligence failures." He says if Smirkey tries to portray him as the incompetent, he is quite prepared to go public with some really devastating information about how and who was fixing the intelligence, in order to save his reputation. Small reminder of a little verse you learned in kindergarten, Smirkey, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive." Really tangled when it involves a CIA director who has the goods on you! This could be fun to watch!
Meanwhile, other whistleblowers continue to fear for the retribution that they know is coming. Far from being protected, as the law requires, the administration is making no secret of the fact that they are being specifically sought out for punishment.
The effort to hide and cover up is setting new records in this administration: we are learning that for every dollar spent to share information with the public, this administration is now spending $148 to hide information and declare documents to be secret. All I can say to that is that the United States sure has a lot of things to hide. Seven billion dollars for hiding things from the American public. Nearly sixteen million documents. Now that's a lot of secrets! How many would threaten the national security if they were revealed?
More tangled webs about the economy from Smirkey's crowd: Smirkey's claims that the economy is improving, but that rhetoric is hiding the reality that the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is, at best, standing still as the rich are getting fabulously richer and fast. Almost all of the economic growth we see is ending up in their pockets, and the disparity in wealth in the U.S., laid bare by the images coming out of New Orleans, is becoming ever greater - and fast.
Karl Rove, that master of sleaze, has tried, unsuccessfully, to rip off the D.C. government for $3,400 in taxes by homesteading the house he owns there. But it turns out that the D.C. government domicility law states that to homestead one's house in D.C., one must be a D.C. voter - and he is registered to vote in Texas. Now, would someone please explain the domicility laws to Dick Cheney, who is registered to vote in Texas, and has his driver's license in Wyoming while he resides in Washington D.C.? That would land anyone else in jail on a felony conviction!
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we learn that there has been a major conference on global warming for scientists, held in the U.K. in February, that has been completely ignored by the corporate media. The reason for the disregard was probably the fact that one of the lectures was on Smirkey's war on climate scientists, reported here previously. Here are some of the transcripts and lecture recordings.
Microsoft has apparently vowed to "kill" Google. And it has a plan to do it, if the documents filed in court are to be believed. Of course, Microsoft calls it all an "exaggeration." I wouldn't count on that. Just ask Real Networks, or Sun Microsystems, or many others that Microsoft has targeted for death, many of which are now nothing more than trademarks now owned by Microsoft.
Independence Day Is Coming - Batten Down The Hatches
Today was a typical rainy-season day, yesterday and today. Thin overcast all morning, and brief periods of intense rain in the afternoon. At least no thunderstorms to force me to shut off my computer and end my research activities, so that has continued unabated. I have been watching the garden only from brief forays, as the rain and my health have not permitted much more. So I have not gotten much more than a lot of email and blog entry work done. Certainly not much gardening.
The vitamin tablets I was brought from the States last week, along with the fresh veggies I found in the stores last week, has made a difference. The arthritis flareups are mostly gone now, and I am down to just the tiredness and fatigue that is symptomatic of other problems with my health. So even when there is good weather, I am still not always able to get out and do much in the garden, even though I can walk without hobbling around like an old man.
It would help if I could get some more sleep. My morning and afternoon naps have not been quite enough, as I haven't been sleeping well at night the last few nights. The reason isn't my health, it is that there have been a lot of activities over at the plaza de toros (bull ring) that have been rather loud till very late for the last several nights running. Last night, they went on till one in the morning. I am not that close to the place, the better part of a kilometer away, but the music they play over there is loud enough to be rather disturbing. Why that plaza was built in a residential neighborhood is a mystery to me, but it was, and so I have to put up with late night celebrations for most holidays throughout the year.
The reason for all the celebrations is that Monday, Sept. 5, is independence day. That's a really big deal in this country, usually filled with fireworks, loud music, partying, and carousing all night long. Costa Ricans are fiercely proud of their independence, and like to brag about how it came to be. Seems that when the Central Americans began agitating for their independence, Spain, thoroughly preoccupied with rebellions in South America inspired by Simon Bolivar, did not want to have to go to war here to hold on to Central America, which it considered to be of rather limited value anyway, as there was little gold or silver in Central America. Least of all was distant and remote Costa Rica, afflicted with deep, dense jungles in rugged mountainous terrain, and few natural resources. It was the poorest and most remote of the Central American colonies. No one thought the place to be worth much, and few realized at the time that it was one of the best countries in the world in which to grow coffee, which had been introduced only the year before. So the regional administrative capital in Guatemala was instructed by the Spanish crown that their request for independence had been granted, and that the Central American colonies where now independent states, recognized as such by Spain. All of them had agreed amongst themselves to be part of a single regional nation, except distant Costa Rica, which was not represented in the Guatemalan capital discussions, was made part of it more or less by default, as negotiations had been conducted by mail. So, on September 5, 1821, the Spanish governor simply put a letter in the mail to Costa Rica, which granted Costa Rica its independence - casting it adrift and telling Costa Ricans that they were now on their own. It wasn't until weeks later, when the letter finally arrived, that the Costa Ricans learned that they were now an independent country. Costa Ricans love to say that they got their independence by mail order.
The problem for the Costa Ricans was whether to remain part of the Central American federation or claim their independence. The pro-federation forces were concentrated in the colonial administrative capital, Cartago. The pro-independence faction was based primarily in the small hamlet of San Jose, fifteen kilometers to the west. After some contentious argument for two years (and a few skirmishes), the independence faction finally won out, and pulled out of the federation - and promptly moved the capital of the new nation to San Jose, where it remains to this day. Coffee exports rapidly became the basis of the new country's economy, and within forty years, Costa Rica had become and remains the richest country in the region. Today, neither coffee nor bananas account for much of Costa Rica's foreign exchange earnings. Most of it comes from tourism and value-added manufacturing.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Turns out that there was not only no plan to deal with evacuating New Orleans' poor in the event of a hurricane threat, but back in July, they were actually told not to expect help from the government of the richest economy in the world. The first sentence in an article that appeared in the July 24 Times Picayune (not available online, but discovered by Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News) read: "City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give the poorest of New Orleans' poor a historically blunt message: In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own."
Not only was there no plan, but now Republican leaders in congress are balking at spending the money to fix the results of their indifference. House speaker Dennis Hastert is openly suggesting that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. Of course he isn't saying anything about what should be done about the people who lost everything they had, including loved ones, to Republican indifference.
Threatening to turn New Orleans into "little Somalia," the Army says that they are planning a full-on military assault on New Orleans from a staging area near the Louisiana Superdome. So when television images appear of the military opening fire on people out foraging for food, because they are not being rescued or given help, that will make for some interesting reactions around the world.
As the situation in parts of New Orleans gets ever more desperate, reports are surfacing that people in some of the more impoverished Black neighborhoods are so desperate and neglected that they are resorting to cannibalism of the corpses. The reports have not been verified, but reflect the growing desperation.
As Smirkey's indifference and neglect of flood defenses in New Orleans to fund his war in Iraq becomes apparent, criticism of him is growing rapidly. At a benefit rap concert on Friday, he took a lot of hits from rapper Kayne West. NBC had to issue a statement to the effect that he didn't speak for them - or their corporate buddies of Smirkey.
Reporters are putting their own spin on the same events: In one case, an AP photog captions his photo of a man wading through water with a bag of groceries from a nearby store as a "looter" when a very similar photograph by another photog, working for AFP/Getty, describes his photo as someone "finding" groceries and supplies. Hmm....
Speaking of photogs, apparently at least one helicopter and crew has been kept on the ground and away from relief efforts by the U.S. Customs department, just so they could be available to CNN and Customs can then look good on TV. The crew is reported to be livid with rage.
The BBC has some really interesting satellite images on their web site, aerial images side by side, of before-and-after flooding in New Orleans.
One of the few political winners coming out of the disaster is Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York when the 9/11 crisis occurred. Collin Powell and retired general Tommy Franks have also been mentioned as possible replacements for local officials, who Republicans are saying are not up to the task. Well, folks, the problem has not been the officials as much as the policies, most of which (or lack thereof) have come out of the Bush administration.
The New Orleans airport has been turned into a huge triage center/field hospital, and even the baggage conveyor has been turned to the grim task of hauling dead bodies out of the work area.
Inevitably, the Bush administration, which never saw a story, no matter how grim, that it didn't want to spin, has been spinning the story their way, but the mainstream press, finally developing a tiny embryo of a spine, has decided to have none of it. Even CNN has begun to tell the truth whether Karl Rove's spinmeisters like it or not - and even reporting on the spin itself.
Other news you're not hearing about because of the disaster:
Smirkey has used the recess of Congress to make yet another controversial recess appointment. This time, it is Alice S. Fisher, appointed to head the criminal division at the Justice Department. Her nomination was stalled over her involvement in the torture allegations at Guantanamo.
The most dangerous terrorist being held on U.S. soil, Luis Posada Carriles, being held on immigration violations and being wanted by Venezuelan authorities, will not go to Venezuela, even though an immigration judge has ruled that there is no reason sufficient to hold him in the United States, and no grounds for granting him asylum. He is wanted in Venezuela on charges of involvement with the bombing of a Cubana airliner, in which 73 people were killed, as well as jailbreak. But don't look for him to go to Venezuela anytime soon because he is one of "our" terrorists, and he knows far too much.
Teenage pregnancy, statistically on the decline for the last decade, is apparently far more common than generally realized, and is set to explode. A new study shows that 20 percent of urban teen girls are or have been pregnant, and at least 14 percent of suburban teen girls are or have been as well. At Timken High School in Ohio, for example, fully 13 percent of the girls attending are pregnant as of this writing. It appears that a combination of subversion of sex education programs by the religious right as well as reduced access to contraceptives in favor of abstinence programs may be contributing factors. At 13 percent, it doesn't look like the abstinence campaigns are working very well.
The U.S. is buying up such huge amounts of refined gasoline in Europe that it appears gasoline in Britain is headed for one pound sterling per liter - that works out to US$6.77 per gallon! The U.S. bought 20 shiploads of gasoline yesterday, and that is sending prices in Europe skyward - more than $100 per barrel for refined product.
All this means that a great deal of criticism is being leveled at both the oil industry and the Bush administration's relationships with it. There are growing calls for price controls and accusations of market manipulation. This will undoubtedly become a hot political football.
Showing just how far the administration went to "fix the intelligence" around the policy on WMDs in Iraq, it now comes out that George Tenet actually held a classic high-school-style football rally for the inspectors looking for WMD's just after the invasion ended. He sounded more like a football coach than a spymaster, a coach who didn't know the game was over. "Are we 85 percent done?'' the CIA boss demanded. The arms hunters knew what he wanted to hear. "No!'' they shouted back. "Let me hear it again!'' They shouted again. And this is intelligence gathering?
The U.S. occupation forces admit that they shot and killed Waleed Kahled, a Reuters journalist, calling the shooting "justified." Apparently, the cameraman, Heider Kadhem, accompanying him was also guilty of filming the scene, which of course, has justified his indefinite detention. Contrary to the linked report, he is apparently still in detention.
No money to protect New Orleans, but plenty of money to spy on war protesters and activists: More details are coming out on the spying on campus activists, anti-war protesters and dissenters. Turns out that the scale is now similar to the McCarthy witchhunts, but with a difference - it is the military that has been doing it, in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.
From the Liberal Media Is Biased Against Conservatives department we are learning that Sean Hannity, that knee-jerk conservative pundit on Fox has falsely ascribed a protest at a funeral of an Iraqi soldier to the "anti-war left" when, in fact, it was organized by the ultra-right, famously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, who was claiming that the war and the fatalities involved, are the result of "God's punishment for America's acceptance of the gay agenda." Hannity's report is an outright fabrication, and so far, there has been no retraction whatever from the "we slant, you try to decide" pseudo-news network. Fox News really is starting to look like Faux News.
We learn today from the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk that while the indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a close associate of Karl Rove, was ripping off Indian tribes and casino operators for millions in a lobbying scam, a close friend and colleague, David Safavian, quietly rose through conservative ranks through the good offices of a Utah congressman, Chris Cannon (R- what else?) who is virulently anti-gambling. Safavian now controls $300 billion in spending through the Office of Management and Budget. Safavian's close ties to Abramoff have now become the subject of a federal investigation, as has his taking money from gambling interests on behalf of Cannon's campaign.
Rainy Season Resumes
It seems the rainy season weather has resumed in Costa Rica. A call from a friend in San Jose revealed that they were getting some much needed rain, and as I write this in the afternoon, it has begun to rain here. This, after a long stretch of dry, summer-like weather known locally as the veranilla, or little summer. We often get two - one in July and another late in August. And the second one has ended up right on time, as predicted.
In looking at the satellite images today, I noticed that the water off of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Panama is much warmer - by several degrees - than normal. I can't help but wonder what effect, if any, this will have on the weather here in Arenal. Usually, an El Nino event, in which the Pacific temperatures are higher than normal, will cause dry weather here. During the great El Nino of 1984, it didn't rain here for nine months - in a town that normally gets 13 feet of rain a year. This year, we seem to be slightly ahead of normal, but not by much. The sea temperatures in the Caribbean, off our coast, are somewhat warmer than normal, and this would normally bring us more rain (and more hurricanes for the folks up north). That seems to be right about on target.
The gardener was here early today, as he wanted to beat the heat, or so he said. I suspect that he has other customers to attend to today, as it has been cloudy since dawn. In any event, he got his work done early, and so my trip to town was early as well. Few cars parked on the street again - finding a parking place on the main drag was no problem at all. I suspect that the high price of gasoline has finally taken its toll on automobile usage.
In case you are interested, we are paying $3.07 for a gallon of regular. The price is regulated and is the same across the country. It last went up about two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the aftermath in the States of Hurricane Katrina will have on the price. So far, neither the price nor availability have been affected. Most of our petroleum comes from Venezuela, and is imported as crude oil and is refined here in-country at a state-owned refinery, so I don't expect much of a change. More of a concern is coffee exports, most of which go to the U.S., through New Orleans. I expect they will continue, but will probably go through other ports, so they should be little affected as well.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: As reported in my last entry on Wednesday, Smirkey was seen playing his guitar while New Orleans flooded, and he seemed as unconcerned as Emperor Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Well, Smirkey was not alone, it is now revealed. Even now, while New Orleans continues to fill through still-uncontrolled levee breaks, and the parts of New Orleans that are not yet underwater descend into total anarchy and lawlessness, and people continue to die through lack of help, the crisis isn't bad enough yet to get the next three highest-ranking officials in this administration to return to their posts from their vacations: As I write this, our compassionate conservative vice president Dick Cheney is still has his feet up at his retreat in Wyoming. Condoleezza Rice only returned to Washington on late Thursday from her vacationing in New York City, where she was seen laughing it up at "Spamalot" with her rich friends. White House chief of staff and officially compassionate conservative Andrew Card? Still enjoying the cool late summer weather of Maine. Their behavior shows the depth of this administration's actual compassion and concern about this crisis. Indeed, the aptness of the comparison with Emperor Nero is becoming ever more obvious.
As the disaster relief has finally, at long last, begun to actually happen in the Gulf Coast, some of the reasons why the disaster is as unnecessarily vast as it is, and the blame for that, are becoming apparent:
1. For years, the Bush administration has been rejecting calls from the Louisiana disaster preparedness authorities and its own Army Corps of Engineers for money to strengthen and even simply maintain the levees that have been protecting New Orleans. Reductions in existing budgets were as much as 80%. As regards New Orleans specifically, Flood control funds for the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers were cut by as much as 44% to help pay for Halliburton's enrichment in Iraq - and that project is now costing more, adjusted for inflation, that did Vietnam.
2. If many units of the Louisiana National Guard were not in Iraq making the world more lucrative for Dick Cheney's Halliburton crowd, there would be about 6,000 more Louisiana National Guard troops immediately available for law enforcement and relief efforts in New Orleans. As it is, National Guard troops are being brought in from as far away as Wisconsin to try to make up for the shortfall. It takes days for them to get there, and people are dying during those days.
3. Those same National Guard troops that are in Iraq have equipment and training that would have been invaluable both in the emergency maintenance and repair of the levees, which would have been extremely helpful in preventing further flooding of the city, but also the search and rescue of victims of the flooding. Neither the troops or equipment are available; they are both in Iraq. Why do they need the high-water humvees, troop transports and APCs in Iraq?
4. Just last year, even the funds intended just to put together a plan by the Corps of Engineers to deal with just this scenario, were vetoed by the Bush administration. Just $3 million, and much of this damage and suffering could have been prevented, as authorities could have been much better prepared.
5. Federal funds specific to preparation for hurricanes were cut to one sixth of what officials said they needed.
6. The administration can't say they didn't know this was coming. This exact scenario has been predicted for many years, and was ranked by FEMA as the most likely major natural disaster scenario to befall the United States. A high percentage of the victims voted for George W. Bush and now more than a few of them have paid and are paying with their lives.
Can you imagine the stink this scandalous neglect would be causing, if Bill Clinton were still president? But Smirkey won't be held responsible as he should be, because as we have seen countless times, conservative Republicans hold themselves above accountability - that's just for Democrats hiding semen stains on blue dresses. Andy Johnson, a former Florida state legislator and now a radio talk show host, has begun documenting much of this negligence and irresponsibility on his daily radio talk show.
This obstruction by the administration of preparations for this disaster is so outrageous that even many conservative papers, longtime knee-jerk supporters of the Bush administration, are calling the Bush administration to account on their editorial pages. Angry editorials have already appeared in New Hampshire's Union Leader, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Glad to see you coming around fellas, but it's just a little late.
Meanwhile, the FEMA web site is suggesting people send money to Pat Robertson for hurricane victim relief. No, I am not making this up - they are actually suggesting you give big bucks to his "Operation Blessing" charity as one of three choices, which include the Red Cross and Operation Second Harvest. This "charity," set up primarily to milk the federal teats, has already raked in $25 million in taxpayer funds for "faith-based charity" work. Well, we sure know who Smirkey's friends are. Meanwhile, the Red Cross is at capacity, sheltering 76,000 victims, and is struggling to cope. Far more worthy charity, in my view, and certainly more deserving.
In other disaster related news, hotels in the Tallahassee, Florida area are exemplifying the highest and most noble aspects of free-market capitalism: They are requesting that hurricane evacuees check out of their hotels by the weekend in order to make room for people who have reservations for the Florida State-University of Miami football game. They're leaving it to the Red Cross to pick up the pieces, finding shelter for them. Apparently, they've done this before, too. We must, after all, keep our priorities straight.
Expect air travel to get a bit tighter in the U.S. as well; it seems that the hurricane has resulted in an anticipated 13% reduction in jet fuel supplies, which means that many airlines and airports will be short of fuel. This will inevitably result in either canceled flights or higher fares or both. "Just-In-Time" supply methods have a cost that doesn't always show up on balance sheets.
German economy minister Wolfgang Clement is saying that Hurricane Katrina is only partly responsible for the rapidly rising costs of refined petroleum products in Europe. U.S. domestic policy as well as hedge funds are also to blame, he says. There is also the matter of foreign policy and American saber-rattling over the world's fourth-largest oil producer and historical understandings by those in the know about what this can lead to.
Of course, during times such as this, politicians who are forced to reveal something that is scandalous, choose times like this to do so while the peoples' attention is directed elsewhere. Therefore, I will make a special effort to keep attention directed where it needs to be - keeping the sunshine tightly focused on the cockroaches. So while you've been glued to CNN, here is some of what else is going on in the United States:
The Assistant Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration for Women's Health has resigned, citing delays, politically inspired by the Bush administration, in delaying action on the certification of the "Plan B" morning-after pill. Never seeing a contraceptive option it really liked other than monastic celibacy, the Christian hate groups have been fighting this option, and they have been winning with the help of this administration. Finally, Assistant Commissioner Susan Wood says she has had enough.
An Indiana teacher has been fired for the crime of teaching peace in her classroom. Yes, the mother of an active-duty Navy enlistee, got fired when she was teaching her pupils the importance of dissent, and had the temerity to suggest to her fourth-grade students that there are peaceful alternatives to war. The 20-year veteran teacher's contract was not renewed, and she cannot find another teaching position. When one angry parent asked how she would respond if she had a child on active duty, she responded emphatically that in fact she does.
The Soviet-like show trials at Guantanamo, which have been so egregiously stacked in favor of the prosecution that some of the people involved have resigned their commissions out of pure disgust, are being redesigned to make them appear to be more fair. Of course, the stacking of the deck against the defendants is still going on as usual.
A federal court has frozen all the assets of the Palestinian Authority in the United States because the P.A. has not compensated the U.S. victims of a terrorist incident committed in the Occupied Territories. This means that the P.A.'s ability to conduct its affairs, including diplomacy, are severely limited in the U.S. and the ability to pay staff in the Occupied Territories is compromised. Of course, the Israelis have been withholding funds owed to the P.A. for years, and so the P.A. has relied to a large extent on their U.S. funds to keep going. So... bomb their jails, prevent their police from having weapons or vehicles, obstruct the movement of police and ambulances and now make sure their employees can't even get paid, but then demand that the Palestinian Authority rein in militants. Yeah, right. Now that is a sure formula for successful cooperation and peace in the middle east, isn't it?
Smirkey's approval rating continues to decline right along with the competence of his administration. A new poll released on Wednesday by USA Today, CNN and Gallup shows his overall approval at 45%, a record low for that poll on the basis of polling that took place just before the hurricane - and look for it to drop further, when people begin to understand that it took him a full two days to cancel the last of his record-breaking vacation to deal with the worst natural disaster in American history. Of the six aspects of his administration that were polled, including the economy, only his handling of terrorism scored in positive territory. Of modern presidents, only Richard Nixon scored lower, and then only during the Watergate scandal. Maybe it is finally time for Smirkey to admit to his incompetence and arrogant indifference, and do what Tricky Dick did in the end.
Strong-arming the Iraqis: Seems that when the new Iraqi constitution was being drafted, some really progressive provisions were included at one point or another, including the right to social justice, collective ownership of Iraq's natural resources by its people, and the right to a job, even if the state had to provide it, restrictions on foreign ownership of Iraqi natural resources, the requirement that taxes be socially just, the right of all citizens to basic health care, the responsibility of the state to provide basic infrastructure, etc. Seems that all those provisions are gone, now, and a "neo-liberal" construction, with a strong theocratic twist to it, has appeared in their place. So do you really think the Iraqis believe in and are going to vote for their constitution?
We are learning from the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department that glacial melt in Peru, for centuries the main source of water in the dry season in western half of that country, may cease to become available, as most of the glaciers in that country which has the largest collection of tropical glaciers in the world, may be mostly gone in only ten years as a direct result of global warming. This will lead to a serious water crisis in that country. This isn't the high arctic, either, as we are used to hearing about. This effect is being seen just south of the equator.
And finally, the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk is reporting today that two Cuyahoga County officials in Ohio have been indicted over irregularities in the recount of ballots in the 2004 election. They refused to pick precincts at random for the recount, as the law requires - which begs the question of whether they knew which precincts to pick to confirm the original results... And of even more interest, just how would they know? That trial could get interesting to watch. And only two? Well, at least it is two down, even if there are still dozens to go in that state...