Orange Day Today
A glorious morning for what was supposed to be a hurricane today. When I woke up, it was a bright, sunny day - as was a bit of yesterday. With just a few periods of intermittent sun, but mostly a long day of heavy, dark overcast with no rain, yesterday was the sort of day that one would expect from the far edge of a hurricane. And Beta was a beaut - out there in the Caribbean, tearing up the islands of Providencia and San Andreas, it gave the Colombian authorities something to worry about and spend money on in their furthermost possessions - islands claimed by Nicaragua but administered by Colombia.
This morning, with the sun coming up in a cloudless sky, one would be hard pressed to guess that less than two hundred miles away, a major hurricane is tearing up the countryside. I was interested in knowing just where Hurricane Beta had ended up during the night, so I checked it out on the Net, and sure enough, it had come ashore in Nicaragua as expected, just about the middle of the Nicaraguan coast, and headed straight for Managua. But it fell apart quite rapidly once it hit land, and by this morning, was covering Nicaragua but not much more. Once it hits the mountains east of Managua, it should be pretty much tamed down, But down here in the south, nothing. Light breeze, a few low clouds from the hurricane outliers, and not much else. During the day there were just a few light sprinkles now and again. Not to say that the Pacific coast of Nicaragua won't get plenty of rain - it will - but it is the region of the country that needs it the most.
Being a beautiful Sunday morning, it was not a surprise that a young boy came by with his fishing pole and a jar of worms, and wanted to go fishing in my pond. Sure, I said, admonishing him to stick to the shallow part, because the water at the west end of the pond is quite deep and dangerous. Don't worry, he assured me, his dad was with him.
When I took a walk down to see how they were doing, it turned out it was not just his dad, but a couple of other fellows from the town as well. They were having a grand time of it drowning worms, but not catching much. They had been fishing for about twenty minutes by the time I got there, and had caught five sardinas (a small sardine-like tetra fish known in the aquarium trade as a silverside tetra). I was glad to hear that, as the sardinas are an important forage fish for the guapote I am trying to establish there. One fellow caught a mujarra (a small cichlid of the genus Cichlisomaused as a forage fish). I asked them to return any guapote they found to the pond, but they could keep all the tilapia they could catch, and I encouraged them to catch lots. After a while, they gave up and left. The best results I have seen has been after the fisherman scatters cooked rice out on the water, and then they can pull in tilapia all day long as fast as they can. But I think they were really after my guapote.
Some time later, a group of four neighborhood kids came by, and asked if they could pick oranges over on the North Forty, a tree that is full of bright orange fruit at the moment. It is actually a mandarin orange, known locally as mandarinas, but they promised to give me a few and I was grateful to get them. On their return, they asked to pick some oranges from my fencepost orange trees, and I happily agreed, as they are falling on the ground and need to be picked to be less of a mess in the yard. They went out and started to climb one of the trees, but being scared that they could fall, I got them my fruit picker, and put them to work with it. In a half hour or so, they had managed to pick about a bushel and a half, and gave me a large grocery bag full of them. They were good kids, as most kids here are, and were exceedingly polite and deferential. The difference between kids in this country and the States never ceases to amaze me.
These oranges are "creole" oranges, full of seeds and a rather scarry rind, and mostly good for juice and cooking - they're a bit pulpy and seedy to eat fresh. I dearly love them in marmalade - they are rather acid and make some of the best marmalade there is, if one doesn't mind the green, scarry rinds. And the juice is wonderful too. I won't bother making marmalade, because I can buy the locally made stuff that is as good as I am capable of making it. I need to find an orange juicer somewhere, so I can properly juice the things, but I am sure looking forward to that fresh orange juice. It has been a while.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: Yet another sordid chapter in the murky annals of Halliburton might well lead to the indictment of Dick Cheney by a French court on charges of bribery, money-laundering and misuse of corporate assets. At the heart of the matter is a $6 billion gas liquification factory built in Nigeria on behalf of oil mammoth Shell by Halliburton - the company Cheney headed before becoming Vice President - in partnership with a large French petroengineering company, Technip. According to accounts in the French press, Judge van Ruymbeke believes that some or all of $180 million in so-called secret "retrocommissions" paid by Halliburton and Technip were, in fact, bribes given to Nigerian officials and others to grease the wheels for the refinery's construction. In 2004, Nigeria was rated by the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International as the second-most corrupt country in the world, surpassed only by Bangladesh. This would also be a violation of U.S. law, which forbids U.S. citizens abroad from bribing corrupt foreign officials for business purposes, making him indictable in U.S. courts as well.
More on the Plamegate scandal that is now starting to look like Treasongate: If a report by Wayne Madsen is to be believed, Plamegate, the Franklin-Israeli spy case, and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee are all tied back to a Russian mafia scheme to sell Russian nuclear materials on the black market. The CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division agents were particularly worried about the materials for sale at the 70 square mile Russian nuclear weapons complex at Mayak, outside the town of Ozersk. In the late 1990s, black market high grade plutonium was being sold in buckets from warehouses in Mayak. For that reason, the CIA, using its Brewster Jennings Non Official Cover network as well as other contractors, purchased the black market materials from the nuclear "used car market," as a CIA source put it. The materials were transported to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado where they were dismantled and disabled. When the Mafia oligarchs discovered the CIA purchase program was driving up the prices of the Russian surplus nuclear materials making them unprofitable for organized crime, they used their connections inside the Bush White House ("Scooter" Libby) and Pentagon (David Wurmser) to expose the operation (which became the Franklin spy scandal) to eliminate the chief American interlocutors and give themselves a lucrative virtual monopoly by removing their competition and driving up the Mafia's resale price of the nuclear material even further. A CIA source said the Mafia established a nuclear "hedge fund" on the Russian nuclear materials. A CIA source confirmed that Libby and his former client Rich are connected to Russian Mafia figures involved in nuclear smuggling. Would someone please have Patrick Fitzgerald look into this?
An excellent post on the Huffington Post website offers some detailed insight into why there should not be any joy in the White House if Smirkey And Company were looking at things realistically, as I discussed in my lead item on Friday.
The Ringworm Children: On August 14, at 9 PM, Israel's Channel Ten television screened a documentary film which exposes the ugliest secret of Israel's Labor party founders: the deliberate mass radiation poisoning of nearly all Sephardi youths of a generation. In 1951, the director general of the Israeli Health Ministry, Dr. Chaim Sheba, flew to America and returned with seven x-ray machines, supplied to him by the American army. They were to be used in a mass atomic experiment with an entire generation of Sephardi youths to be used as guinea pigs. Every Sephardi child was to be given 35,000 times the maximum dose of x-rays through his head. For doing so, the American government paid the Israeli government 300 million Israeli liras a year. The entire Health budget was 60 million liras. The money paid by the Americans is equivalent to billions of dollars today. To fool the parents of the victims, the children were taken away on "school trips" and their parents were later told the x-rays were a treatment for the scourge of scalpal ringworm. 6,000 of the children died shortly after their doses were given, while many of the rest developed cancers that killed thousands over time and are still killing them now. While living, the victims suffered from disorders such as epilepsy, amnesia, Alzheimer's disease, chronic headaches and psychosis.
Saber rattling over North Korea again: The Bush administration is urging nations to deny overflight rights to aircraft the United States says are carrying weapons technology. The prohibitions are aimed at North Korean airliners, which U.S. officials claim carry North Korean military technology and spy cameras.
Reducing social spending so much that even business is complaining: Republicans have begun targeting key programs for budget cuts yesterday, from student loans and health care to food stamps and foster care. But the tough measures immediately drew staunch opposition from anti-poverty groups, businesses and moderate Republicans. Sixteen congressional committees began cobbling together one of the most comprehensive bills in years, touching issues such as trade policy, prescription drug reimbursements, agriculture price supports and the future of welfare. The rash of spending that followed Hurricane Katrina two months ago has emboldened conservatives to push for cuts far beyond what Congress could agree to in a budget blueprint in the spring. "Listen, we're broke. Let's face it," said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which will try today to complete legislation saving $18.1 billion over five years from pension protection and student loan programs. Have they considered recinding some of the tax cuts for the rich that created this mess in the first place? I don't think so.
On a party-line vote, a Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives committee voted to cut food stamps by $844 million on Friday, just hours after a new government report showed more Americans are struggling to put food on the table. About 300,000 Americans would lose benefits due to tighter eligibility rules for food stamps, the major U.S. antihunger program, under the House plan. The cuts would be part of $3.7 billion pared from Agriculture Department programs over five years as part of government-wide spending reductions
If you're siphoning out money from your home's equity to finance your current spending, as many Americans are, maybe you'd better rethink your strategy: Tom Barrack, arguably the world's greatest real estate investor, is methodically selling off his U.S. real estate holdings as prices drive the market to nosebleed levels. He likens the current real estate market to a game of polo. "I feel totally safe playing polo on a field full of pros," says the bronzed 58-year old. "But when amateurs are all over the field, someone can get killed. They have more guts than brains. They charge after every ball and don't know when to hold back." It's the same with U.S. real estate right now. "There's too much money chasing too few good deals, with too much debt and too few brains." The amateurs are going to get trampled, he explains, taking seasoned horsemen, who should get off the turf, down with them. Says Barrack: "That's why I'm getting out." The banks and credit companies are alarmed, too. The number of bankruptcy filings made before a tough new law went into effect on Oct. 17 caught even the credit card issuers who supported the law by surprise. Many are now openly worrying about the staggering level of U.S. consumer debt.
Fox News Channel's political agenda is coming to a local television station near you. GOP operative and Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, the architect of the right-wing dominance of cable news, is now remaking 35 local television stations - broadcasting to nearly 40 percent of America’s homes - in Fox News Channel’s image. According to a recent report in Variety, Ailes plans to replace local news with the biased infotainment that’s become a hallmark of Fox News Channel. He has moved oversight of the local station group to Fox News headquarters in New York. He has flown in local news personalities for retraining on how to deliver the news Fox-style.
The annual worldwide press freedom index from Reporters Without Borders shows the United States, which is supposedly spreading freedom and liberty throughout the world, is in a fast decline regarding the freedom of its own press. The report ranked the United States in 44th place, an atomic drop from a favorable position of 22nd held last year, and from a handsome 17th place in 2002. The organization mentioned that several journalists were expelled from the country since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Those of you who have written to me asking for the link to the Government Accountability Office report which says, in very carefully coded language, that the 2004 election was stolen, well, here's the link, hot off the GAO website. The 100-plus page report makes for some disturbing reading. And it ought to be required reading for all the American people who still trust their political leadership. And it goes on. Monterey County, CA Registrar Tony Anchundo, admits the new touch-screen voting machines manufactured by Sequoia, are "faith-based!" He has asked voters to "trust him" on accuracy and reliability." After the abuses uncovered in Ohio and elsewhere by the GAO, should we be merely "trusting" registrars to do the right thing? I don't think so. I think it is time to start demanding publicly observed audits of the voting machines and the software that runs on them.
The ethically challenged Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has called for Senate hearings on high energy prices. Of course, one has to question his motives, since this administration is basically of, by and for the oil companies. I suspect it is a purely P.R. effort designed to distract voters' attention from his own legal troubles. Meanwhile, the Senate should consider imposing a windfall profit tax on oil companies to help poor and elderly Americans pay home heating bills that are expected to be sharply higher this winter, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, said on Friday. As this runs directly contrary to the Republican philosophy of robbing the poor to subsidize the rich, don't look for him to get re-elected next year.
Wal-Mart is hugely concerned about the growing perception by the American people of the heavy-handedness of their corporate policies, and has begun a media counteroffensive after the recent spate of bad publicity, and in advance of a new anti-Wal-Mart movie due out soon. The new movie, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices" is scheduled to be shown in a limited release on Nov. 4 in New York and Los Angeles and then go to a week of screenings across the country organized by Wal-Mart critics, including unions. The producer, Robert Greenwald, who also produced and directed "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism," says none of the $1.8 million in private financing for the film came from organized labor.
Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Along with the rest of the rats, the free market fundamentalists are now jumping ship. In an article in Free Market News, Ilana Mercer, complaining about "bastardized conservatism," is writing that "Indeed, something is changing and it’s not George W. Bush. A rebellion appears to be brewing among conservatives. Not unpredictably, Bush has hit them where it hurts - the Supreme Court - and, thankfully, this has been 'the final straw,' the title of a column by the brave Bruce Bartlett."
It is also the moderate conservatives in the Republican party. Former Sen. John Danforth said Wednesday that the political influence of evangelical Christians, to which Smirkey has been openly pandering, is hurting the Republican Party and dividing the country. Danforth, a Missouri Republican and an Episcopal priest, commented after meeting with students at the Bill Clinton School of Public Service, a graduate branch of the University of Arkansas on the grounds of the Clinton presidential library.
Trickle-Down Trickling On You: The House Agriculture Committee approved budget cuts Friday that would take food stamps away from an estimated 300,000 people and could cut off school lunches and breakfasts for 40,000 children. The action came as the government reported that the number of people who are hungry because they can't afford to buy enough food rose to 38.2 million in 2004, an increase of 7 million in five years. The number represents nearly 12 percent of U.S. households. A higher percentage of Texas households were at risk of going hungry over the past three years than in any other state, according to the study. Between 2002 and 2004, more than 16 percent of Texas households at some point had trouble providing enough food for all their family members, the USDA report said, the highest rate in the nation.
It doesn't look like things are going to get better, either. Leading indicators for the American economy just don't look all that good. All indications are that finally, with the interest rates having gone up for 11 consecutive Fed adjustments, with another expected soon, the effects on the bond markets are finally being felt. Holders of bonds at lower rates find their bonds are worth less in a market where higher rate bonds are available, so the long-anticipated price break in the bond market has finally happened. So where to park your money? Equities don't benefit in a declining economy, and real estate is clearly overpriced. So smart investors are now doing what Warren Buffet did some time back - move cash into safer currencies than the U.S. dollar, and into gold and silver bullion. The evacuation of investment from the productive economy indicates that there are serious underlying problems in the U.S. economy.
Privatized Health Care Solves All Health Care Problems: As many as 1,000 Exxon Mobil employees and 14 residents of a senior citizens home were injected with fake flu vaccine, authorities said Friday, and the owner of a home health care company was arrested. Preliminary tests indicated the syringes were filled with purified water, U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said. And no ill effects from the shots were reported. But Hermina Palacio, head of the Harris County health department, recommended that people who received the shots get tested for blood-borne pathogens such as the AIDS virus and hepatitis B and C. Exxon Mobil offered blood tests and counseling to the employees who received the shots at a health fair Oct. 19-20 at the oil company's complex of refineries and chemical plants in Baytown, just east of Houston. Iyad Abu El Hawa, 35, was arrested Thursday. El Hawa, owner of Comfort And Caring Home Health and two other home health centers in Houston, was charged with Medicare fraud in connection with shots given to 14 elderly people at a home in LaPorte on Oct. 21.
Now that it will soon be possible for the government to forcibly inject you with a vaccine regardless of its efficacy or safety, as reported last week in this space, we are now learning about one of the vaccines with which you may be forcibly injected. An anthrax vaccine under development by the U.S. government could cause serious and even fatal complications, according to a UPI report. Anthrax immune globulin is being developed as a possible response to a bioterror attack. Preliminary animal studies by the Centers for Disease control show that AIG can protect against anthrax before exposure. But they also found that AIG does not protect if it is given after infection -- and can be deadly itself if it is improperly formulated. Of course, if it injures or kills you, you'll have no recourse under the proposed law. Write your congressman to stop this outrage before it becomes law.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday it is unconstitutional to deny benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees, a victory for gay rights advocates in one of the first states to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Overturning a lower court ruling, the state high court said barring benefits for state and city employees' same-sex partners violates the Alaska Constitution's equal protection clause.
Too Many Liberals? MSNBC host Keith Olbermann recently revealed that network bosses were upset when he had two liberal guests too close together on his show in September 2003. Speaking on October 25 to comedian and talk show host Al Franken, Olbermann said the following: You were good enough to come on this newscast with me late in the summer of 2003. It was August or September. And by coincidence, either the next day or the day before, Janeane Garofalo had been a guest on the newscast. And I got called into a vice president‘s office here and told, "Hey, we don't mind you interviewing these guys, but should you really have put liberals on, on consecutive nights?"
If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Len Bahr, the official who has been advising the Louisiana Governor on restoring lost wetlands along the coast, told the BBC that his state was the poster child for global warming. Pointing to recent research linking more intense hurricanes with warmer sea water, he said it would be naive to see Katrina as just a fluke. But the US Undersecretary for Commerce, Oceans and Atmosphere, Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, has defended the administration's environment policy. "You have to remember that the United States has the most robust energy technology programs of the world, and climate science programs," he said. Yeah, right. Robust energy programs? I suspect most of those are improvements in oil drilling technology.
New From The Various Wars On This And That: Hundreds of new, top-of-the-line armored Humvees are parked in Texas and Kuwait and won’t be shipped to troops in Iraq even though those soldiers face daily roadside bombs, the Army acknowledged Thursday. The Army said it’s keeping the vehicles out of Iraq until the 3rd Infantry Division’s replacements, the 4th Infantry Division, arrive at the end of the year. But with reports that more than one in four U.S. soldiers’ deaths in Iraq have been caused by roadside bombs, members of Congress are incensed that 824 new Humvees won’t go straight to Iraq. The newer, so-called "uparmored" Humvees have better technology to absorb roadside blasts. "Let’s not have them in parking lots. Let’s move them up to Baghdad, let’s move them up with the 3rd ID or move them over to the Marines, who’ve taken 50 percent of the hits yet have roughly 6 to 7 percent of the" uparmored "Humvees," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.
Winning hearts and minds one family at a time: U.S. troops in Iraq are routinely requisitioning private homes of Iraqis, and using them for indefinite periods. "They broke into my house before Ramadan and they are still there," one Iraqi told The Associated Press by telephone from his brother's home in Baghdad. "We were not able to tolerate seeing them damage our house in front of our very eyes... I was afraid to ask them to leave. They were eating our food. They took all the food from the refrigerator, and used all our stored junk food too. The major gave me $20 so we could shop for ourselves and for them. It was not enough." Sometimes the Iraqis are allowed to stay in one room in their home; other times they have to move in with relatives or neighbors until the forces leave. "You see that place up there," one Marine said to his platoon leader during a recent offensive in Haditha, pointing to a two-story hilltop house with columns. "Yeah, that looks good. I've been looking at that," replied his captain, before trudging up the hill to explain to the owners that the platoon would be camping inside for several hours. It should be noted that such activities would be prohibited by the U.S. constitution's Bill of Rights if conducted on U.S. soil.
More than half the North Carolina military members surveyed in the latest Elon University poll don't like the way President Bush is handling his job and the war in Iraq. The survey results were released today. Of the 539 adults surveyed, nearly 53 percent of military members said they strongly disapproved or disapproved of Bush's handling of his job. And 56 percent of that same group said they strongly disapproved or disapproved of his handling of the Iraq war. Overall, slightly more than 53 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Bush's job performance, while 57 percent didn't approve of his handling of the Iraq war. The telephone poll was conducted between Monday and Thursday and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus four-point-three percentage points.
A defense lawyer for ousted Iraq president Saddam Hussein has written to UN chief Kofi Annan calling for the court trying Saddam on charges of crimes against humanity to be moved to The Hague and its Iraqi judges replaced by foreign ones. "We submit to you our request for your involvement and your good office in the present circumstances to call upon the US authority and the present government of Iraq to review the legal status of the present court and to reallocate the present court outside Iraq, i.e. The Hague, Netherlands," said the letter to Annan from defense lawyer Najib al-Nawimi.
Iraq's top Shiite cleric, long an ally of the new government and the most moderate of the major clerics in Iraq, is considering demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops after a democratically elected government takes office next year, according to associates of the Iranian-born cleric. If the Americans and their coalition partners do not comply, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani would use peaceful means such as mass street protests to step up pressure for a pullout schedule, according to two associates of the cleric. The associates spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. They are in regular contact with al-Sistani and call routinely on the 76-year-old cleric at his home in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad.
US forces in Iraq have swelled to 161,000, their highest level since the US invasion in March 2003. The increase was due to overlapping troop rotations, according to Lawrence DiRita, the chief Pentagon spokesman. We'll see. The previous high in US force levels was reached in January, when the number of US troops in the country rose to 159,000 during national elections.
Meanwhile, the recent warmongering over Syria has far less to do with Syria's intervention in Lebanon than it has to do with the fact that the Israelis are desperate to build a pipeline from Iraq to Israel, and the current regime in Syria is an obstacle to that plan. This is why the recent well-publicized U.N. report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the late prime minister of Lebanon, was a con-job designed to sell a regime change in Syria to facilitate the construction of that pipeline. No one knows who killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. We do know, however, that the main witness cited in the UN report, Zuhir Mohamed Said Saddik, “has been convicted of embezzlement and fraud among other crimes” (Der Spiegel) which casts grave doubt on the credibility of his testimony. If Mehlis was truly serious about finding out who the assassins really are, rather than carrying out a political vendetta for the United States, he would be devoting more energy to uncovering the details related to the white Mitsubishi Canter Van that carried the explosives. The history and origins of this van, which was stolen in Japan on Oct. 12, 2004, are critical to the investigation as journalist Robert Parry points out in his recent article “The Dangerously incomplete Hariri Report”. But, then, few who have been following the Hariri assassination have any misgivings about the real motives behind the Mehlis Report. The Hariri investigation is just the pretext for the forthcoming military action against Syria.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, on the eve of a trip to Washington, said he repeatedly tried to persuade U.S. President George W. Bush against invading Iraq. The Italian leader voiced his unease with the military operation to topple
Saddam Hussein during a television interview to be broadcast on Monday - the same day he meets Smirkey. Berlusconi is one of Washington's strongest allies but he did not send troops to join the invasion, preferring to dispatch troops only after the fall of Baghdad.
The United States on Friday invited three U.N. human rights investigators, including the one who examines torture allegations, to visit the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in a bid to show "we have nothing to hide." What is not on the table, however, is interviews with the detainees. That's the province of the Red Cross, officials say. Of course, what they're not saying is that the Red Cross, as a matter of policy, will not say what the prisoners tell them, since it would inhibit their access.
News Of The Hurricanes: Fifty-one members of the New Orleans Police Department - 45 officers and six civilian employees - were fired Friday for abandoning their posts before or after Hurricane Katrina. "They were terminated due to them abandoning the department prior to the storm," acting superintendent Warren Riley said. "They either left before the hurricane or 10 to 12 days after the storm and we have never heard from them."
A company assigned the delicate duty of collecting Hurricane Katrina's dead in Louisiana wanted out of the federal job days later, complaining of a "bureaucratic quagmire" in its dealings with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Kenyon International asked FEMA to find someone else to do the work in a Sept. 11 letter to Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen, head of the agency's response to Katrina. The disaster management company stayed on the job, however, and signed a contract with the state of Louisiana days later. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Friday, a day after a Republican-dominated congressional committee released memos in which a FEMA official blamed state officials' inaction for delays in recovering bodies.
Scandals Du Jour: The prosecutor in the money-laundering case of Tom DeLay has subpoenaed the director of moveon.org, in response to the complaint by DeLay's defense team that the judge in the case had contributed money to Move On. We'll soon find out how much he has contributed and whether he has worked for the organization.
Yesterday longtime UPI intelligence reporter Richard Sale, posting via Patrick Lang's account, took issue with an October 25th New York Times article identifying Vice President Dick Cheney as I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s original source for the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson. According to Sale's sources, “former senior and serving current intelligence officials,” "Libby's notes on this are misleading and inaccurate or both." Sale insists that he has four sources who allege that “it was a telephone call from the Department of State that first gave Libby the name of Plame,” and that while no one is certain who placed the call, it “definitely came from the State Department office of John Bolton, then the arms control chief of the department.” Sale implicates two Bolton employees in the leak, David Wurmser, “a virulent pro-war hawk,” and Frederick Fleitz, “a CIA officer detailed to Bolton's office from the agency.” Sale reports that Wurmser learned about Valerie Plame from Fleitz.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: The Virginia political smear artist, Scott Howell, has backed away from standing by the truthfulness of the ads he has been running on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. He backed away when challenged on their truthfulness by Max Blumenthal of The Nation magazine. Howell's circumspection was a startling inversion of his public persona. Notorious for his audacious, hyperemotional attack ads, he describes himself as "Little Lee Atwater" after the late fabled Republican negative campaign consultant who was his and Karl Rove's mentor. It appears that his backing away is the result of the fact that the ads are no longer working - in fact, they're proving to be counterproductive. The electorate, it seems, is finally beginning to wake up to conservative demagoguery.
It seems that all that increasing influence of conservative religion in America is having its effects - the number of births to unmarried women in the United States has set an all-time record. More than 1.4 million babies were born to unmarried women last year, accounting for fully 35.7 percent of all live births in the U.S. Both numbers are all-time records for the U.S.
News Of The Weird: Coffee, tea or me - Hooters, the restaurant chain noted for the, ahem, anatomy of its waitresses, has started a budget airline, and its maiden flight was beset with security problems. The first Hooters Air flight took off for Florida at 7 a.m. Thursday and arrived on time. Its return to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, however, was delayed several hours by a security concern. Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport at 10 a.m., security officials detained a passenger who had made an “inappropriate” comment to another passenger, said Rod Johnson, spokesman for the Orlando airport. A Northeastern Pennsylvania radio station was doing a promotional broadcast from the plane, and in the background picked up the passenger’s comment. “They treated it like a bomb scare when the plane got in,” Mark Peterson, Hooters Air president, said. The plane taxied away from the terminal building and was isolated while the passenger’s bags were removed from the plane. The passenger then was turned over to Orlando police for questioning. The identity and legal status of the passenger were not made available Thursday.
Hello Beta, Good Bye
What gorgeous weather for the last two days. It has been like in the middle of the dry season - bright sunshine all day long, warm temperatures, and I have been running the fan in the office, because it has been a bit on the warm side for a change.
This is typical hurricane weather in Arenal. For some reason when the rest of the country is getting plastered well and truly by the edges of a hurricane, here in Arenal, the rain quits, the sun comes out, the wind dies down and we enjoy first class picnic weather. And the last two days have been no exception. Tropical storm Beta, which may well be up to hurricane strength as I write this, is brewing out there offshore in the Caribbean, and is predicted to go ashore roughly in the middle or somewhat north of the middle of the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast late tonight or tomorrow, dumping 15 inches of rain as it goes. It will then move across the north of that country and out into the Pacific over El Salvador. Just what those folks don't need after all that rain from Stan.
The cloudless skies last night afforded a wonderful view of Mars and Venus, and with the warm evening it was a wonderful night to be out. Tonight it is clouding over. Looks like it may be some outlying feeder bands from Beta, I don't know, but the hurricane is far enough away that I am not seeing any rain from it. But just the same, I am enjoying this hurricane weather.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: The first shoe has dropped. "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to the Vice President, has been handed a five-count indictment and in response, has resigned in disgrace. I am sure by now, if you have not been on another planet, you've heard the news. Now, here is some more background you probably hadn't heard about or thought of. The pundits closest to this administration are saying that this is actually the worst possible outcome for this administration. The fact that Smirkey and Karl Rove have both been smiling and laughing all day, indicates that they do not fully understand the nature of the trouble they are in. Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the case, has said that his investigation is not over, and he still wants to know why Valerie Plame's name "was all over the media" as he put it. Well, he knows as well as anyone, of course - it was an old-fashioned political vendetta. But by saying what he did about continuing the investigation, Fitzgerald is serving notice on the Bush administration that this, in the words of Winston Churchill, isn't the end. It isn't even the beginning of the end, but is perhaps the end of the beginning. Let's hope, for the sake of a country that for the last five years has been in the grip of a covert, hidden coup d' etat, that Fitzgerald is right, and he meant what he said. Few presidents in American history had been more deserving of going down in disgrace than this one, and only a scandal so severe and so long lasting that it thoroughly discredits and discourages Smirkey's remaining loyal supporters, can loosen this coup's iron grip on the levers of power.
Rats Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: The Washington Post, normally reliably on the side of the administration, has openly begun to editorialize against it. Calling Dick Cheney the "Vice President for Torture," it says that his advocacy of flaunting U.S. law and the international treaties to which the U.S. is a party, is unprecedented.
As reported here yesterday, suspicions have focused on Italy's role in the fabrication and propagation of the false Niger yellowcake documents. Italy has formally denied that role, while the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has been running daily articles since Monday alleging that Sismi intelligence officials helped pass-off forged documents that accused Iraq of trying to buy 500 tons of yellowcake (uranium oxide) from Niger. Some of the articles even implicate Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Newsweek is reporting that a secret draft CIA report raises new questions about a principal argument used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq: the claim that Saddam Hussein was "harboring" notorious terror leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi prior to the American invasion. The allegation that Zarqawi had visited Baghdad in May 2002 with Saddam's sanction - purportedly for medical treatment - was once a centerpiece of the administration's arguments about Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell cited Zarqawi's alleged visit in his speech to the United Nations Security Council.
The courts are not buying the "war on terror" rhetoric: in a ruling hailed by privacy rights advocates, a federal judge this week reaffirmed his earlier finding that federal law enforcement officials must show probable cause before monitoring cell phone users. The New York District Court decision keeps in place an August ruling and adds backbone to a similar order recently issued by a federal court in Texas.
Life In America Just Gets Better And Better: The largest study of its kind ever done to look at the prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder in the United States has concluded that conclude that five percent of U.S. adults experienced MDD during the 12 months preceding the survey and 13 percent experienced MDD at any time during their lives. Notable is that the highest lifetime risk was among middle-aged adults, a shift from the younger adult population shown to be at highest risk by surveys conducted during the 1980s and 1990s. "This marks an important transformation in the distribution of MDD in the general population and specific risk for baby-boomers aged 45 to 64 years," remarked Dr. Deborah Hasin, one of the authors of the study.
Paging Dr. Ross: When American corporations come up against inconvenient science, say, a study showing that mercury in fish can damage a developing fetus, or that a blockbuster drug has nasty side effects, they call in the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Industry-funded ACSH is the most aggressive "debunker" of pesky research reports emanating from government and academia. Its medical/executive director's calm, soothing voice can be heard on television and radio, quelling public fears about the latest bad news about health and the environment. That man, Dr. Gilbert Ross, is a man with a past. Although the biography posted on the organization's website doesn't mention it, Ross actually had to abandon medicine on July 24, 1995, when his license to practice as a physician in New York was revoked by the unanimous vote of a state administrative review board for professional misconduct. Instead of tending to patients, Ross spent all of 1996 at a federal prison camp in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, having being sentenced to 46 months in prison for his participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York's Medicaid program of approximately $8 million. The ACSH knew about his past when they hired him, but went ahead and hired him anyway - yet they continue to be called upon by the media to represent the "other" point of view.
A measure designed to restrict colleges, universities and research institutions from purchasing laboratory animals from some suppliers could have a "very serious" impact on health and agricultural research and on the U.S. economy, the American Association for the Advancement of Science said Tuesday in a letter to Congress. Under the proposed restriction, funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could no longer go to colleges, universities and other research institutions that lawfully purchase research animals from Class B dealers. Such dealers obtain or purchase animals, sometimes from pounds, and resell them to research labs.
Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange has been accused of caving in to animal rights activists, in its recent decision to postpone the listing of a company dealing in laboratory animals.
Undermining entirely the argument that socialism is inefficient and a welfare state is inherently hopelessly uncompetitive, thoroughly socialist Finland has been named as the most competitive country in the world, outdistancing the United States, which is now listed as number two. Today, this small Nordic nation boasts a thriving hi-tech economy ranked the most competitive in the world, the best educated citizenry of all the industrialized countries, and a welfare state that has created one of the globe's most egalitarian societies. Business, academic and government leaders are beating a path to Finland's door from all over the world to figure out how they did it in just sixty years since World War II. Part of it is Finland's egalitarianism. Tolerating poverty is a drag on any economy, because you simply can't sell something to someone who has no money.
Finland is not alone; Denmark has become the object of study in how to maintain high employment and productivity while maintaining a welfare state at the same time. The secret? Hire, fire and retrain: Employers are seldom restrained from firing at will, but Denmark spends a great deal of money on worker education and retraining, watching the job market for where the jobs are, and then quickly retraining surplus workers to fill those jobs. This enables Denmark to remain agile in a rapidly changing, globalized labor market. Meanwhile, while they are being retrained, workers maintain 90 percent unemployment benefits, so the workers don't much mind all this job turmoil.
Trickle-Down Trickles On You: Delphi, the auto parts maker that is one of the principal suppliers to General Motors, is preparing to save itself by putting its financial burdens on the back of its workers. It has told them to take salary reductions, leaving them with $9/hour salaries, as well as a ten-fold increase in their health-care costs, or they will find themselves pounding sand.
Meanwhile, General Motors, Delphi's principal customer, is facing troubles of its own; General Motors, the world's biggest carmaker, is having its accounts investigated by regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a subpoena, and the firm said it was co-operating fully. Regulators are looking into areas including how GM accounts for pension liabilities and transactions between itself and bankrupt supplier Delphi. And GM has other woes: it has announced a recall of 100,000 of its SUV's. Toyota says that by next year, its sales will exceed those of GM, making it the world's largest car maker.
Gas prices high enough yet? ConocoPhillips, the No. 3 U.S. oil company, said third-quarter profit jumped 89 percent to a record $3.8 billion as supply disruptions and rising demand lifted prices to unprecedented highs.
Vote Republican - Halliburton Isn't Rich Enough Yet: Last year Halliburton more than doubled its defense contracts from $3.9 billion to $8 billion. In the last quarter alone of last year revenue topped $3 billion, or $1 billion a month, considerably more than the company amassed in the five years prior to the Iraq war.
The U.S. dollar may weaken, along with stock and bond prices, if the investigation of the leak of a CIA agent's name results in indictments against White House insiders. "Any indication that the investigation is widening beyond the simple pointing of fingers as to who leaked Plame's name to the press is an extremely dangerous development -- so stay on your toes," John Hardy, market strategist at Danish-based Saxo Bank, said in a research note.
Scandals Du Jour: The ethically challenged former majority whip Tom DeLay has notified House officials that he failed to disclose all contributions to his legal defense fund as required by congressional rules. DeLay wrote House officials that he started an audit and it found that $20,850 contributed in 2000 and 2001 to the defense fund was not reported anywhere.An additional $17,300 was included in the defense fund's quarterly report but not in DeLay's 2000 annual financial disclosure report — a separate requirement. Other donations were understated as totaling $2,800 when the figure should have been $4,450.
A little-noted provision in the tax relief package to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina is shaping up as a windfall for charity and a drain on government coffers. It allows donors who make cash gifts to almost any charity by the end of this year to deduct an amount equal to virtually 100 percent of their adjusted gross incomes, double the normal limit of 50 percent of income. The tantalizing prospect has set off a financial scramble among some wealthy donors and charities vying for their dollars. "I just keep thinking there's got to be a catch, they can't really be doing this," said C. Kemmons Wilson Jr., a Memphis businessman whose father was the founder of Holiday Inns Inc.
The highest ranking scapegoat in the Abu Ghraib torture scandals has begun to speak out. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was commanding officer at the prison. She was demoted to colonel in May. She oversaw all military police in Iraq and was the first female ever to command soldiers in a combat zone. She has granted an exclusive interview to Amy Goodman, and the transcript is interesting reading. In it, she says, among other things, that she was instructed by higher officials to "treat them like dogs."
As reported here on Wednesday, lawyers for a prisoner being force-fed in Guantanamo have asked a federal judge to intervene to stop the feedings. A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the U.S. government to provide medical records on Guantanamo prisoners who are being force-fed while on a hunger strike and to notify their lawyers about forced feedings at least 24 hours in advance. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler acted after lawyers representing about a dozen men held at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, expressed urgent concern over their deteriorating health amid a hunger strike launched in early August.
U.S. officials and members of Iraq's provisional government bungled the management of $24 million in reconstruction grants in early 2004, and some cases may have involved fraud, according to a report released on Wednesday. The U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said his office had referred several cases of potential fraud in reconstruction grants for the South-Central region for further investigation. Those investigations were still ongoing, according to Bowen's report -- the latest in a series of detailed audits of over $30 billion in U.S. funds for Iraq reconstruction.
News From The Various Wars On This And That: United States should pull 20,000 troops from Iraq after parliamentary elections there in December, John Kerry said on Wednesday, arguing that it would weaken support for an insurgency fueled by resentment of the U.S. presence. He said in blistering speech at Georgetown University that the administration must change course in Iraq or there will be "the prospect of indefinite, and even endless conflict." Nice evidence of spine, John, but it is a year too late.
Several cases of corruption in the military ranks have revealed a dangerous vulnerability in the War on Drugs, ABC News is reporting. Dozens of active and former soldiers have abused their military uniforms and authority in a drug smuggling ring, government sources have told ABC News. A U.S. army sergeant fighting the war on drugs in Colombia was recently sentenced to six years in prison for using military aircraft to smuggle cocaine into the United States. In April, an Air National Guard pilot and a sergeant used a C-5 Galaxy military transport plane to sneak nearly 300,000 Ecstasy pills from Germany into New York. In another case, three U.S. airmen were arrested in March for stealing military-issue bulletproof vests from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia and selling them to drug dealers for $100 each.
Is Beta About To Happen?
Weather yesterday was a delight, with sunny skies most of the day. Rain during the night, pretty much as usual, but by dawn it had stopped and began, hesitatingly, to clear off. But it was not to be. It quickly closed back in and has been raining on and off all day.
This is apparently the result of the formation of a new tropical low just off of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama. The National Hurricane Center in Miami is watching it closely - it is forming over very warm water, and there is almost no wind shear to inhibit formation into a tropical storm, and they are saying that it is slowly organizing itself. Watching the water vapor loop for the hurricane sector this morning, it is clearly growing in strength and organization, and it could be a tropical storm by the end of the day. If it formed into a hurricane, the models show it would move slowly to the northwest - over Nicaragua. Just what they need - a drought being broken by a hurricane of all things. Meanwhile, it is bringing warm temperatures and light rain to us here in Arenal. And wind, on and off all day, varying from dead calm to high winds out of the west, lasting for a few hours and dying back down again.
We're hunkering down here in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport has only begun repairs from the heavy rains from the last two storms. And yesterday, a huge land slide occurred in Cartago state. It had been anticipated, and everyone in the path had been evacuated, so no one was killed. But yet more Costa Ricans are finding themselves without homes during this miserably intense rainy season.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: You might think you own your own genes, but if that is what you think, you are wrong. Universities and corporations have patented fully twenty percent of the human genome, a study published in Science, reviewed by the National Geographic Society has revealed. You may have thought that only inventions can be patented. That was once true, but no more. Under recent changes to the patent law in the United States, certain discoveries can be patented if they can be shown to have a practical application. Human genes are therefore patentable if they can be shown to be useful in research, medicine or industry. So the gold rush is on to take ownership of your genome away from you.
Once again, false information deliberately circulated by the White House has forced me to do a retraction: I have reported in this space that Smirkey had upbraided Karl Rove for leaking Valerie Plame's identity about two years ago. That was apparently simply disinformation. That report was apparently circulated to make Smirkey look like he really has a moral conscience, but it has actually had the opposite effect - if it were true, it simply ties him into the conspiracy to cover it up or to deny responsibility. True or untrue, the claim does not make him look good, which is what his rather shortsighted handlers had in mind.
Buyers' remorse: If last year's elections were being held today, a new CNN poll just released suggests that Smirkey would lose, garnering only 39 percent to Kerry's 55 percent. That assumes honest elections, of course, and based on the history of the last two presidential elections, that's pretty dangerous presumption.
Scott Ritter, the former U.N. arms inspector in Iraq, has given an interview on Democracy Now in which he lays out the manner in which Israeli intelligence, the neocons in Smirkey's administration, and Smirkey himself all conspired to undermine the U.N.'s WMD inspection program and force the United Nations Security Council to authorize the war on Iraq. The worst of it is that it was all done because George Bush Senior had characterized Saddam as a Hitler wannabe, and he and subsequent leaders were so committed to that dogma that they simply could not back down from that kind of allegation. The transcript of the interview makes for some really interesting reading about the background on how the Iraq war came to be.
The endless saber-rattling going on over Syria these days means that Iran has been getting short shrift by the saber-rattling department. So that omission has been corrected by a warning from America's proxy in the Middle East, Israel. Speaking at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom said: "We believe that Iran is trying to buy time... so it can develop a nuclear bomb." He added that he believed "Iran is a clear and present danger". This comes after several statements reported here a few months ago that Israel will attack Iran alone if necessary, and that Israel is preparing to do so if needed.
The US has abandoned controversial plans to develop a nuclear "bunker-buster" warhead. Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the senate subcommittee that oversees the Department of Energy's budget, said the request for funding had been dropped at the request of the department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear weapons programs. The proposed nuclear "bunker-busters", also called mini-nukes, would have penetrated bunkers deep underground, including those tunneled into solid rock. The small nuclear charge would be buried in the explosion, and the fall-out contained. However, critics doubted whether the weapon could go deep enough to contain any significant amount of fall-out. "This is a true victory for a more rational nuclear policy," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear nonproliferation advocacy group. "The proposed weapon, more than 70 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would have caused unparalleled collateral damage."
The hunger strike in Guantanamo goes on, garnering almost no attention in the news media. More than two hundred of the five hundred plus detainees are refusing food, and officials are force-feeding about 26 of them. One of them, a Kuwaiti detainee wants a judge to order the removal of his feeding tube so he can be allowed to die, his lawyer says. Fawzi al-Odah is ready to die "out of desperation" at his detention without charge, said his lawyer Tom Wilner.
Smirkey is discovering the limits to U.S. hegemony: a long-planned base to be built in Okinawa, which would have taken yet more private property from local residents, has been abandoned as the result of years of local protests, and will now be built on land already controlled by the U.S. military. "The US side, taking into consideration the importance of the Japan-US alliance... have accepted the most recent Japan Defence Agency proposal and plan," US Deputy Under-secretary of Defence Richard Lawless said.
Safe in the arms of Jesus indeed: Demonstrating the absurdity of the save-the-fetuses movement that's taking over America these days, the save-the-fetuses people in Britain came together last week to memorialize a dead and discarded fetus. Found in a back alley in the Anfield district of Liverpool, the tiny fetus was discovered by a member of the public, who called police. Merseyside police cordoned off the area, began an investigation, and soon, cards, teddy bears, candles and more than a dozen bunches of flowers appeared. One card read, "RIP little baby. Safe in the arms of Jesus. From someone who is a loving mother. xxx." When the results of the police investigation came back, it was the local newspaper who broke the awful truth to the good people of Liverpool: "Stop grieving," the paper said, "it's only a chicken."
The Talibaptists in Kansas seem to think that teenagers kissing each other on dates should be reported to authorities as victims or even perpetrators of child abuse. No, I am not making this up - under a revised interpretation of child-abuse reporting statutes proposed by Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline in 2003, any sexual activity, even counseling, involving people under age 16 constitutes child abuse, even if both parties are consenting minors. The interpretation even extends to kissing. "A vital and precious part of their [teen] development will be cordoned off from safe exploration with trusted professionals, and teens will be left to negotiate this terrain more alone than ever," said licensed clinical psychologist Beth McGilley, one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Medicine and psychology have been strictly couched in the tradition of privacy, and that is key to most patients being able to get their health care questions answered and their needs met."
And the Talibaptists in Arizona are making it almost impossible to get emergency contraception in that state. In Tucson, a rape victim searched in vain for three days to find a pharmacy that had emergency contraceptives in stock, only to find the one in town that had it, employed a pharmacist who refused to dispense it on "religious" grounds. When she inquired at Planned Parenthood, she was told that they could provide it, but there was a $70 fee - which she could not afford. Apparently, she was not told about Planned Parenthood's sliding scale for fees in such emergency situations.
Austin, Texas city officials have granted permission for a Ku Klux Klan rally with a difference: Now that African Americans have become socially acceptable and respectable, the KKK is turning its hate towards the sole remaining minority group in America against whom discrimination is still socially acceptable: homosexuals. The KKK promises its speech will not be inflammatory, but will simply preach against gay marriage. The anti-gay rally will happen between 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, November 5 on the south plaza of the Austin City Hall. Anyone in attendance is hereby granted permission to print out my essay on gay marriage and pass out copies at the rally, provided that the essay is printed and distributed in full, unedited, and unabridged. I will be interested in knowing if anyone does - please write and let me know if you do, or if you see anyone else doing so.
Smirkey's staff are laying the groundwork to allow Harriet Miers to back out of the nomination for Supreme Court associate justice. As reported here on Monday, she simply doesn't have the votes to secure her confirmation, so the White House is looking for a graceful way out.
Rather than save the American textiles industry, what's left of it, the quota recently imposed on Chinese textile imports has created a boom - in India. Companies such as The Gap, Wal-Mart and Target have begun importing large amounts of textiles from India, resulting in a rush by manufacturers there, exempt from the quotas, to increase production.
Making the world safe for bingo: The Department of Homeland Security has actually awarded - no, I'm not making this up - a bingo-security grant. $36,300 went to the State of Kentucky, who will use it to provide five law enforcement officials with computers and commercial database access to keep terrorists from playing bingo or running a charitable game to raise large amounts of cash. Your tax dollars at work.
Making the world safe for workers: It turns out that two of Smirkey's nominees for sensitive positions in the Labor department, Edwin G. Foulke to be assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, plus Richard Stickler for the parallel mine safety and health assistant secretary slot, have received little attention so far, but surfacing information appears to indicate that both men are beholden to corporate interests and are unlikely to be zealous in protecting workers from workplace safety issues.
Consumer confidence in the United States has seen yet another decline. The Conference Board's survey for October has revealed that it has declined by 2.5 points, to 85 from the 87.5 reported for September. September's huge drop was blamed primarily on the hurricanes, but October's numbers were expected to rebound. Instead, there was a significant decline. Sales would also have fallen, except for buyers repairing homes damaged in the hurricanes.
Speaking out of both sides of its mouth: It seems that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is somewhat belatedly claims to be developing a conscience about low wages, hopelessly inadequate health insurance, environmentally destructive policies and the like. Recognizing that if they are going to get construction permits for new big-box stores, they've got to give back to the communities from which they take so much, and so Wal-Mart has vowed to support higher minimum wage rates, better environmental practices, better health care for workers, etc. They've even built a demonstration "green" store in McKinney, Texas, to see what can be done. They're even working on better fuel economy for their delivery trucks. Will all this sudden consciousness bear fruit in the long term? Don't count on it. An article in the New York Times reveals a recently leaked memo that describes how to reduce health care costs by discouraging the employment of unhealthy job applicants.
As American broadcast radio becomes ever more homogenized, pasteurized and advertised, ad revenues for the number one American commercial broadcaster are down, and dramatically, as listeners tune out to something a bit more listenable - satellite subscription radio. Clear Channel Communications has seen its ad revenue drop 21 percent in the third quarter, so they are reducing ad content and spicing up programming, but it is not working. The desertion continues, and satellite radio receivers are expected to be this year's big Christmas gift gadget.
The anti-torture provision in the Senate version of the defense appropriations bill making its way through conference, is attracting the heat of a lot of constituents - and the White House on the other side. Expect the anti-torture provision to get tossed out of the conference report version - two of the players on the conference committee, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who chair Congress' defense spending subcommittees, will be among the leaders of those talks in coming weeks. Both are advocates of torture.
Fired for being a peacelover: Tim Mahoney, a part-time copy editor with the St. Paul Pioneer Press, attended a peace rally in Washington, D.C. He traveled on one of three buses organized by St. Joan of Arc Church, a Catholic parish in Minneapolis where he is an active member. The demonstration, which attracted upward of 100,000 people to the nation's capitol, was one of the largest such gatherings since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. When he returned, his editors at the Pi Press fired him. The decision has left Mahoney and many of his Pioneer Press colleagues flummoxed. "There is an issue of conscience, of religion," he says. "I'm not trying to put myself forth as any kind of pious person at all. I'm not. But it's a matter of personal belief. It seemed to me--and still does--completely harmless to the interests of the Pioneer Press."
Scandals Du Jour: Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame investigation, has widened the investigation to examine the source of the documents used by Smirkey to justify his warmongering claims about Saddam supposedly seeking uranium from Niger in West Africa. The provenance of the documents is highly questionable, and are proven forgeries, but the real question is whether or not Smirkey or his people knew they were forged when they were used as documentation for the State of the Union address claims. Now, they have been tied back to Israeli intelligence - through Larry Franklin, the Israeli spy that was caught and charged with espionage on behalf of Israel recently. Since Israel was desperate to see Saddam deposed, the obvious question was whether or not the Israelis actually participated in the forgery of the documents. An interview given to Democracy Now! by Melvin Goodman reveals just how those documents came to be, and how they came to be used in the State of the Union speech.
Senior Pentagon officials were warned not to let the USS Cole dock in Yemen two days before terrorists attacked the ship five years ago killing 17 sailors, according to Congressman Curt Weldon, who said the crucial intelligence was gleaned from the former secret defense operation, "Able Danger." Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, revealed the information in a House speech last Wednesday evening that blasted the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) attempts to discredit Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a DIA employee who worked as a liaison with the "Able Danger" team.
The ethically-challenged and now finally indicted Rep. Tom DeLay bid on a wicker waste-paper basket two weekends ago at the Needville Harvest Festival in Fort Bend County in his home state of Texas. And he won not just the basket, but the gadget inside it, too — a paper shredder. Of course, his Democratic opponent in next year's election is making hay from that one, lampooning that the shredder will be burned out soon enough, working overtime in his office and the office of his Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee.
The former GOP director of New Hampshire, Chuck McGee, and his boss, James Tobin, formerly regional director of the Northeast division of the GOP, are asking for the charges against them to be dropped. They are the ones who were convicted of conspiring to jam Democratic telephones on election day to prevent a get-out-the-vote drive by the Democratic party from being effective.
The defiant British member of parliament George Galloway has rejected claims he lied under oath to the US Senate committee which accused him of receiving oil cash from Saddam Hussein. After testifying defiantly, and accusing the members of the committee of malicious rumor-mongering, bad investigatory techniques and smearing enemies of the Bush administration, Galloway has been subjected to a smear campaign, claiming that he lied under oath to the Senate committee. He went on television yesterday morning demanding to be prosecuted for perjury, claiming that he can prove that the charges being made against him are baseless. He said his "bags are packed" and he'll be on the "next plane to the U.S." if and when charges are actually laid.
No Child Left Behind: The effectiveness of the fundamentalist Christian effort to undermine science education in the United States is finally becoming clear: For the first time in nearly a century, most Americans do not accept the facts of evolution. Instead, 51 percent of Americans say God created humans in their present form, and another three in 10 say that while humans evolved, God guided the process. No wonder that America is rapidly falling behind the rest of the world in the biological sciences.
News From The Various Wars: The American Civil Liberties Union has begun the release of thousands of documents they have received as the result of Freedom Of Information Act requests regarding detainee treatment in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. The documents paint a very disturbing picture of widespread detainee torture and abuse, including several deaths, that occurred during interrogations while in U.S. custody. It wasn't just the military, either, it was also "OGA's" - "other government agencies," a code phrase for the CIA.
Two thousand dead. That is the official number of Americans who have died as the result of combat activity in Iraq, but Smirkey's response was yet another flat "stay the course" speech, this one given yesterday to wives and mothers of American servicemen who have died there. Of course, they were all carefully vetted before being allowed into the venue. No Cindy Sheehans there.
An alleged terrorist, accused of plotting to kill Smirkey, is now on trial and the judge in the case has allowed the use of a "confession" obtained by torture at the hands of Saudi police. This is the first known case of an American judge allowing confessions obtained in foreign jails by torturing accused criminals into providing confessions of their own guilt. It certainly waters down the standards for evidence to be used in criminal trials in the United States.
Smirkey in the dock in Iraq? It would happen if the lawyers for Saddam Hussein have their way. Saddam Hussein's defense committee wants to put US President George W Bush in the dock to mirror the Baghdad trial of the former Iraqi leader over a Shi'ite massacre, a Jordanian lawyer said on Tuesday. "We shall contact international and Arab lawyer associations and will put forward the proof allowing for a trial of the criminal Bush at the same time as the fake trial takes place in Iraq," Saleh Armuti told a meeting of the Amman-based Saddam defense committee. Don't hold your breath.
The No-Bid News: Your tax dollars were wasted by Pentagon officials who spent more than $1 million buying seven lemon cars in Iraq. When the Pentagon went shopping for seven armored cars for senior Iraqi policemen, U.S. officials turned to an Iraqi supplier to provide them some hardened Mercedes-Benzes. After spending nearly $1 million, here's what they got: six vehicles with bad armor and run-down mechanics. They also were a little more than slightly used: The newest model was a 1996; the oldest, a 1994.
Minnesota Republicans Saving The Environment: Word from Minnesota is that a 3M plant there has been discharging a variety of perflourchemical compounds into streams near the plant, and the result has been contamination of fish in the Mississippi river downstream, making them unfit for human consumption. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Coordinator for Emerging Contaminants Fardin Oliaei. put together a powerpoint presentation which was obtained and released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).The chemicals, which cause liver disease and bladder cancer, have been found in workers from the plant. After the company reported PFC contamination on facility grounds in 2002, Oliaei sought to investigate the matter further but was rebuffed in the efforts by her boss, Sheryl Corrigan, a former 3M executive. According to a whistleblower complaint filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration by Oliaei, the MPCA decision to end investigation into 3M contamination "resulted in an unnecessary extension of PFC contamination of residents’ drinking water" and further endangered Mississippi River wildlife.
House Republicans Saving The National Park Concept: In an effort to expedite final approval of an appropriations bill passed this spring, the US House of Representatives is set to consider today an energy bill bearing a trio of proposals to allow government sale of leases to energy companies wishing to explore and exploit resources in the nation’s national park system off the coast. Put forth by the ethically-challenged House Committee on Resources head Richard Pombo (R-California), the package includes proposals to open the northern coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, offer states an "opt-out" on coastal offshore oil drilling prohibitions and allow the National Park Service to sell mineral rights and land to mining interests.
New York Repaying The Heros Of 9/11: Claiming that a 2003 pension board decision changing the rules for firefighters seeking 9/11-related disability payments may be "political," a group of 30 current and retired New York City firefighters is preparing a class-action lawsuit against the city fire department to force officials to either return workers to full status or allow them to retire with the original pension. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 members, is aimed at pulling those suffering from lung problems due to recovery and rescue work conducted after the September 11 terror attacks out of "career limbo," UFA Vice President James Slevin said.
News From The Hurricane Relief Efforts: It appears that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco has lifted the moratorium on tenant evictions in the aftermath of Katrina. Until now, landlords could not evict absent tenants who were in arrears on their rent, but beginning yesterday, they can, and the courts are expecting a flood of applications for permission to evict. Thousands of desperately needed apartments are still full of rotting, stinking furniture and other personal property ruined in the flood, and owned by tenants who have still not returned to New Orleans. The landlords are eager to begin refurbishing the apartments, and the space is desperately needed by construction workers flooding into the city.
Republicans Take Care Of Their Own: Disgraced former FEMA director Michael Brown, whose disastrous performance was a key factor in the decline of Smirkey's numbers after Katrina, got a consulting contract with the agency after his resignation. Now it has been revealed that he has managed to get his consulting contract extended. Due to expire on October 10, his contract was extended by four weeks, according to FEMA officials. What a surprise.
Katrina redux: in a replay of New Orleans, people in Ft. Lauderdale's suburbs are asking where FEMA is, and how it is they are expected to boil their water when there is no electricity with which to boil it, and no one seems to be worrying about that. Wilma went through Ft. Lauderdale and environs as a Category 2 storm and did a lot of damage, but this time, the press is absent - no one is learning about the fact that thousands have been left homeless, millions of dollars in damage has been done and FEMA seems to be nowhere in sight. And the liberal biased press is AWOL on this story too.
We Republicans Are More Moral Than You: Montana Republican Senator Conrad Burns' off-the-cuff remarks have gotten him in trouble in the past. He once called Arabs "rag heads," later apologizing for the comment. Another time, the Montana Republican commented on how challenging it is to live with so many blacks in Washington. Now, two Northwest Airlines flight attendants say Burns offended them recently when he told one of the women she could stay at home and be a mother if she lost her job to outsourcing. "He's still living in the '50s," said Karen McElvaney, who is raising two young children in Atlanta while working for Northwest. "If I could stay home, I certainly would love to stay with my kids." Burns, who is up for re-election next year, said Tuesday morning he did not recall the conversation. He later said through a spokesman that he remembered speaking to the flight attendants but never told one she could stay home with her children.
A Break In The Rain
We had a break in the rain today. The convection off of Panama never did develop into anything and kinda fell apart, and both Wilma and Alpha are now well out of the area. Dryer air is moving into the Caribbean from North Africa, and this has led to a reduction in the rains. Yesterday the rains were lighter, with frequent breaks, and today, we had several hours of brilliant sunshine mid day, with only sprinkles the rest of the time. Circulation over the area continues out of the west, an extremely unusual condition - running directly contrary to the usual direction of the easterly trade winds that normally dominate our area. This has been an extremely unusual year that way - and it has also suppressed the usual thunderstorms that dominate our afternoon weather. It has been more than a week since we had a real thunderstorm - and that is more typical of the dry season than now.
Good thing, the rains have ended, too. The heavy rains of the last few days have washed out the road between Quepos and Dominical, which means that what was a one-hour trip has become a grueling eight hour slog over the Mountain of Death, through Cartago and San Jose, and back down the congested and scary San Ramon grade. This is a problem for the many trucks going down the InterAmerican, which normally use this route to avoid the San Jose metro area and its traffic, congestion and additional travel time between Nicaragua and Panama. It is going to add to the traffic on the already hugely overloaded InterAmerican Highway through the Central Valley. Forecast for the next few days is for lighter rains, more usual for this time of year. I am sure the already saturated Pacific coast will regard that as welcome news.
I cut down a new banano (bunch of bananas) yesterday, and after letting the raceme bleed out of its badly-staining sap, I got it hung up to ripen in the kitchen. This is a different variety of bananas than any I have tried before. It is an ornamental variety with short but very fat bananas, but the gardener says they are quite good, similar to the commercial variety with which everyone is so familar, so it is going to be interesting to see how they compare in terms of flavor. They were already starting to split open, though not yellow yet, so they're definitely ready even though they're green as grass. I also have a big bunch of platanos (plantains) that are getting close to be ready, as well as some quadrados (cooking bananas) that will be ready in a month or so. In addition, two other bunches I had cut down and hung up before my last Granada trip were ripe yesterday, so I got those peeled and frozen. I use those frozen bananas in banana betidos (milkshakes), of which I am quite fond. They actually freeze quite well, if you use them while still frozen. Add a tablespoon of Costa Rican cocoa powder, and you have a wonderful chocolate shake to enjoy with lunch.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Twilight of the neo-con god of Free Markets At All Costs? Not quite, but close: The battle reported in this space several months ago between the neo-cons and the Texas oil interests has come to a resolution. When the neo-con sponsored plan of the Bush administration (in the form of flooding the world markets with cheap Iraqi crude oil) from before the invasion came into direct conflict with the oil companies' interests in maintaining stratospheric crude oil prices, guess which won? Well, it seems that an epiphany struck even Dick Cheney, who had been pushing the neo-con strategy of privatizing Iraq's oil fields and then turning the international oil companies loose to pump as much as they could manage (they had hoping for 6 million bpd. to cause the oil price to crash). It didn't happen for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the opposition by the Iraqis themselves (and the insurgency just kept blowing things up in the oil fields), but mostly because the Texas-based international oil companies, whose profits are at record levels these days, would have none of it. And even Halliburton, whose principal business is oil field services, was opposed. So after a remarkable series of epiphanies among all the neo-cons involved, Iraq is now back to happily selling its oil under the OPEC-imposed quota system through a state-owned oil production monopoly. Oh, about the American economy that has lost a third of its growth to high oil prices? The principal losers were heavy industries, unionized by unions dominated by Democratic party controlled leadership. So the Democrats were the big losers there. Nice little bonus. But it seems that the principal outcome was a lesson for Smirkey: Don't mess with Texas.
The next conservative scapegoat-du-jour is apparently going to be illegal immigrants. Smirkey is desperate to distract attention from all the scandals, mismanagement and incompetence in his administration, so he is doing what conservatives always do in such circumstances - find someone to blame. And it appears it is going to be all those dark-skinned folks who talk funny. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao testified this past week before the Senate Judiciary Committee using the rising hysteria over illegal immigration – which is being pumped into the press by their own minions of spin – to promote the Bush administration's agenda for battling the supposed threat to America's borders.
The next chairman of the Federal Reserve, to replace Alan Greenspan, will be Ben Bernake, a Harvard-trained economist who is head of the economics school at Princeton, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, and a governor on the board of the Federal Reserve. By all accounts he is qualified, though some are raising objections to his lack of experience outside of academia. Nevertheless, his resume would indicate he is qualified for the job - a refreshing change from the long string of totally unqualified crony appointments we are used to. This guy may be a crony, but at least he is qualified. Insiders are saying that Smirkey didn't have the heart (or political capital, most likely) to fight for yet another crony. The markets were up on the news.
Two key elements of Smirkey's "base" are at war with each other: the military is desperate to see an end to the attempts to drill for oil in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, off of the Florida panhandle. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., cited memos from the military about the matter in a letter dated Wednesday to the ethically-challenged House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who has been trying to craft legislation that would open the eastern gulf to oil and natural gas drilling. Given Pombo's rather shameless pandering to campaign contributors, he must surely be in a quandary at the moment as to whom he should pander.
Welcome To America - Here Is Your Prison Cell: The United States now has the largest prison population on the planet, surpassing even China and India. It is now at 2,270,000 people, an increase of 1.9 percent in 2004 alone, accounting for 0.7 percent of the U.S. population - 25 percent higher than any other nation. Women constitute the fastest-growing proportion of the prison population, accounting for 7 percent of the population, but nearly one in four new incarcerations. 3.6 percent of the American population is now in prison, on parole or has been in prison in the past. Federal incarceration is growing at the rate of 5.5 percent per year, and federal prisons are now at an average of 40 percent over-capacity. Tougher sentencing, reduced use of alternatives to incarceration, and three-strikes laws account for the bulging population. Drug offenses account for 12.5 percent of new incarcerations.
Rats Deserting The Sinking U.S.S. Bush:The Harriet Miers nomination for the Supreme Court is now in serious trouble. Fairly united opposition from the Democrats, combined with defections from the Republican far right, mean that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is now confident in saying that "I think, if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority, either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor."
Turns out Miers has other problems, too: The U.K. Guardian is reporting that she was grossly overpaid on a Texas land deal resulting from an eminent domain proceeding back in 2000, and when the deal was revalued - downward - she failed to pay back the money. The family was paid $100,000 for land worth about a tenth of that.
The Canadians are beginning a modest little effort at prosecuting Smirkey on war crimes charges. A court case that has been on embargo for the last year has now been released to public information, and the case, going forward in the Supreme Court of the Province of British Columbia, is based on Smirkey's promotion of torture, suspension of habeas corpus and other abuses. Whether it will actually get anywhere remains to be seen, but the judges have ruled that the case is within their jurisdiction, and there is foundation to the charges (one of the Guantanamo detainees is a Canadian minor).
The rats are starting to desert Tony Blair's ship too: It seems that a senior British military officer in Iraq has resigned because of the lack of armored vehicles for his troops, which the Blair government has refused to supply. The lack of armored vehicles is killing his troops, and Lt. Col. Nick Henderson of the 1st. Btn. of Coldstream Guards no longer wants their deaths on his conscience. Would that American military leadership were so principled. Of course, such news is not slowing down Tony at all. Rumors are circulating that he could participate in a military invasion of Iran if the U.S. goes that far. Meanwhile, a report leaked to the press indicates that the British war on terror has also been a failure and has also been counterproductive.
Free Markets Are Good For The Economy: The cash-strapped General Motors Corporation is now preparing to start selling off the family silver - this time, it is the truck divisions in South Africa and Australia. They are in talks with Japan's Isuzu to transfer these assets to Isuzu. In addition, Isuzu will increase its current 8 percent stake in GM.
Liberal Biased Media Watch: The 2006 Project Censored Award is won by Greg Palast, again. This time, it is for his report on the fact that the Republican Party has actually generated "caged lists" of African Americans and other minorities, which it arrogantly will not allow to register and/or vote, as the result of their control of the electoral process in most of the United States. When the reports came to light, they were big news in Latin America and Europe, but got all of two newspaper articles in the United States, one in the San Francisco Chronicle and the other in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Jim Crow lives. Great democracy you have there, America.
Merlot Democrats, Dom Perinon Republicans: The Republican National Committee has released a statement accusing Democratic National Committee chairman of being a leader of the "Merlot Democrats." They write: "Howard Dean today, as leader of the Merlot Democrats, displayed a troubling unwillingness and inability to acknowledge the real progress occurring in Iraq..." What did Dean say that was so bad? He said: "We cannot have a permanent commitment to a failed strategy, and George Bush has a failed strategy for Iraq. When you don't tell the truth when you go into Iraq, it's unlikely it will be a successful program... The president has no plan. The third piece is we're clearly not going to stay there forever. The president seems to think the choices are only between cutting and running and staying forever. They're not." Somehow, with Republican's kids safely at home sipping their Dom Perinon with their moms and dads, and not trudging through the sands of Iraq in body armor they had to buy themselves, well, I'll just report. You can decide.
Free Markets Are Good For You: Roche, the company that makes Tamiflu, one of only two drugs effective against avian flu, and the preferred choice, stands to make big bucks on the upcoming pandemic. And for the heirs, the Oeri, Hoffman and Sacher families, avian flu could be good news. Over the next two years, the heirs of Fritz Hoffman, founder of Roche, one of the world's most powerful pharmaceutical companies, and who already rank as among the world's richest families, could see their combined $18 billion fortune reach giddy heights. Twenty members of the founding family control Roche, which industry analysts estimate will benefit from the Tamiflu drug thought to relieve the symptoms of avian flu, with extra profits of $800 million this year and $1.6 billion next. All this has been just too much for Taiwan, which has announced that it is going to ignore the patent on Tamiflu, and manufacture their own version locally.
Scandals Du Jour: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was given considerable information about his stake in his family's hospital company, according to records that are at odds with his past statements that he did not know what was in his stock holdings. Since 2001, the trustees have written to Frist and the Senate 15 times detailing the sale of assets from or the contribution of assets to trusts of Frist and his family. The letters included notice of the addition of HCA shares worth $500,000 to $1 million in 2001 and HCA stock worth $750,000 to $1.5 million in 2002. The trust agreements require the trustees to inform Frist and the Senate whenever assets are added or sold. The scandal is threatening his political career: he is saying that the probe will affect his decision to enter the 2008 presidential race.
Military intelligence: The Pentagon paid $20 apiece for plastic ice cube trays that once cost it 85 cents. It paid a supplier more than $81 apiece for coffeemakers that it bought for years for just $29 from the manufacturer. That's because instead of getting competitive bids or buying directly from manufacturers like it used to, the Pentagon is using middlemen who set their own prices. It's the equivalent of shopping for weekly groceries at a convenience store. And it's costing taxpayers 20 percent more than the old system, a Knight Ridder investigation found. The higher prices are the result of a Defense Department purchasing program called Prime Vendor, which favors a handful of firms. Run by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the program is based on a military procurement strategy to speed delivery of supplies such as bananas and bolts to troops in the field. How much you wanna bet that a lot of those "Prime Vendors" are Republican friends of administration officials?
News From The Various Wars:At least four deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq have been blamed on CIA misconduct, but apparently they are going to avoid any repercussions and prosecution for them.
The practice of issuing enemy body counts, a policy discarded since the phony-count scandals of the Vietnam War, seems to have been unofficially revived by an administration desperate to show some progress against the insurgency in Iraq. So far, the releases have tended to be associated either with major attacks that netted significant numbers of enemy fighters or with lengthy operations that have spanned days or weeks.
The drug-war business is good business: Apparently DynCorp, the company that contracts with the State Department to do aerial coca-crop eradication in Colombia, has made so much money that they now figure they're ready to go public. They have filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month to sell $450 million worth of stock in an initial public offering. Until February, DynCorp had been owned by Computer Sciences Corporation (!), which acquired the company in 2003. Listed among the directors of the company is retired U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey who was SOUTHCOM’s commander from 1994 to 1996 and President Clinton’s anti-drug czar from 1996 to 2001.
If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Turns out that the models for sea level rise, based mostly on the thermal expansion of water in the oceans, may have left out a significant factor that means they'll actually rise much faster than predicted. A possibility, scientists say, is that the melting and collapse of floating ice shelves near the coasts of Greenland and Antarctica will continue and in the process destabilize the ice sheets behind them. This could cause a much more rapid flow of ice to the sea and lead to melting events that transcend those now anticipated due to global warming. Based on this, the researchers say that current projections of sea level rise should be considered a minimum to expect, and the levels could be much higher and happen more quickly. In one event about 14,600 years ago, Earth's sea level rose about 70 feet in less than 500 years -- 20 times faster than the current rate of sea level rise.
News From The Hurricane Disasters: Throwing away the elderly - about 60 percent of the nearly 500 dead bodies discovered floating in the flood waters of New Orleans, in homes or piles of debris identified so far were age 61 or older, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has reported. "The elderly were much more likely to be in hospitals and nursing homes as well as possibly homebound and not able to access transportation in order to evacuate from the storm," said agency spokesman Bob Johannessen. A majority of people killed by Hurricane Katrina were older residents unable or unwilling to evacuate in the rising floodwaters, according to a study of almost half the bodies recovered in Louisiana.
More military intelligence in the Bush administration: The predictable Republican reaction to the hurricane response chaos has been not to examine what works and works well in emergency response (such as, for example, how the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management fight wildfires ), but simply do what conservatives always do - impose more control, as if tighter control is the solution to all problems. So now they are looking at using the military to respond to these disasters. Get ready to abandon what remains of the Bill of Rights, while the disaster response gets even poorer.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Right-wing Christian and professional homophobe Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, is apparently as ethically challenged as some of his acquaintances. Turns out the baby-faced candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia has been a close associate of indicted uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and had worked closely with him on access to key administration officials, looking for political plums for their clients. Now, Reed's relationship with Abramoff is being investigated as part of the investigations surrounding the numerous scandals Abramoff is currently involved in.
Republicans fighting for transparency in government: Ahnold's taking a trip to China. And to pay for it, the California "governator" is soliciting donations from businesses all over the state. Just who are those businesses, and how much are they contributing? And what are the quid-pro-quos? We don't know, except that $50,000 will apparently get you a seat on the plane and an invitation to meet with officials over there. The administration says the fundraising effort saves taxpayers money, but experts in public ethics question the governor's practice and the access it affords private interests, at the expense of the common public interest. When private money finances government activity, elected officials can be compromised, they said. And voters cannot hold officials accountable if they can't learn where all the money came from and what donors may receive in return, they added. Can we say "legalized bribery," boys and girls?
News Of The Weird: It appears that there may be a problem with long-term space missions that no one had thought of - that might make them difficult: sex. Yes, it appears that out-of-this-world sex might cause such serious problems that the whole design of long-duration space missions, such as Mars missions, may need to be reconsidered, according to a report by a panel of the National Academy of Science. "If there are instances of sexual conflict or infidelity, that may lead to a breakdown in crew functioning. Breakups can lead to violence and all kinds of things," agrees Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a psychologist specialising in sexuality and intimacy based in Oakland, California, who was not part of the NAS panel. "People are very primitive in their emotions around partnering and sex."
Good Bye Wilma, Hello Alpha
Rain, rain and more rain - it has been raining hard for the last two days, on and off all day. There were a couple of hours today when the rain let up a bit, and the gardener got the yard cleaned up, but that was about it. It closed back in and started raining hard again before he had even finished.
The rain from yesterday was the last of the feeder bands from Wilma as that storm finally moved out. No more feeder bands today, but lots of rain nonetheless. No longer had Wilma left the region than a huge area of convection bloomed up just south of Panama, and the circulation around a large new tropical storm, Alpha, out over the eastern Caribbean, began to draw that moisture in over land. That is now the new fear - that the convection south of Panama will develop into a tropical depression of its own, and be carried up the Pacific coast of Central America. That would be the worst of all possible scenarios - bringing us lots more rain just at a time when soils across Costa Rica are heavily saturated already. On the TV news tonight, the meteorological institute seemed to be concerned that the effects of Alpha could bring us some serious rain as the result of the circulation around it. But the Hurricane Center in Miami doesn't seem to be very impressed - they're predicting it will move quickly to the north, away from us, and barely even make hurricane status before it is overtaken and ripped apart by a cold front off the east coast of the U.S.
The gardener came today, rather than Friday. I asked about whether this Saturday thing was going to become permanent, but he assures me that it was only because he had to make a trip to Liberia yesterday to get some orthopedic shoes fitted for his daughter, and some glasses fitted for his wife. Back to normal Friday service next week, he assures me. We got a lot of wild heliconias and giant ginger cleared out of an area along the pond, and I am going to get the area cleaned up and plant some giant philodendrons and other aroids there once they're all cleaned out. The vivero (nursery) in Tilaran has some really nice ones, quite spectacular, and they assure me that they will do very well here. We even found some split-leaf ferns that had been planted there a long time ago, but which had been overgrown by the ginger and heliconias, and are going to try to nurse those back to health. He cut down some bamboo that was unwanted and sprouting where the big garbage fire was last dry season, and put the garbage on top of it to suppress the growth. We'll put some plastic over that, and then burn it when the dry season starts in March, and see if that will finally kill it. Once that area is cleaned out, we are going to plant some philodenderons there, too.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: This outrage may be the one that is so egregious that it sparks the start of the revolution once its full implications are understood by the public. A new bill quietly reported out of committee and now on the floor of the Senate (S-1873, "Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2005") is much more than just the usual Republican subsize-and-protect-the-corporations-from-their-victims bill. It is far, far worse - even the Nazis and the Bolsheviks didn't go this far. It would enable the government to secretly create a drug or vaccine, and then vaccinate or drug you with it, by force if necessary, or with any other vaccine or drug they may happen to desire, including vaccines and drugs that may be experimental, harmful, whose ingredients are a secret and whose efficacy is unproven, whose side effects are either unknown, or if they are known, are a state secret. The legislation proposes setting up a deliberately secret government agency that is totally exempt from the Freedom of Information Act or any other form of accountability, to work in direct collaboration with Big Pharma to develop these drugs. If you are injured or your health is ruined or you are even killed, you or your family will, by law, have absolutely no recourse whatsoever against either the government agency who developed it or the pharmaceutical company who made it - any and all damages are totally exempt from tort. In addition, even the very evidence of the injury or death becomes a state secret which you may not discuss with family or friends under penalty of law. If this sounds like something out of a World War II novel, it is much more sinister - rather than using just a handful of concentration-camp victims for medical experimentation as the Nazis and Bolsheviks did, these rabidly pro-business Republicans are talking about using the general American population for this experimentation and doing so with total control and impunity - if you object to the jab or the pill, you go to prison. You are about to become the pharmaceutical industry's guinea pig, whether you like it or not, and if the outcome is bad, you are, in a word, screwed. Consumers' Union is concerned about this as is the New York based Center for Justice And Democracy. So far, they seem to be the only ones who have even noticed what is in this bill. Welcome to the conservative Republican concept of accountability, responsibility, freedom, liberty and justice for all.
The Government Accountability Office has released a report that calls into serious question the security of electronic voting machines, and says that the worst fears of those opposing their use, have been realized. "[C]oncerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes" it said, and that was just one of several chilling revelations in the 107 page report.
"Goodwill" envoy Karen Hughes, who is traveling the world trying hard to sell the manure of American foreign policy, is finding manure to be hard to sell, as one Egyptian diplomat anonymously put it. So she is getting increasingly strident - and unbelievable - in her attempts to sell the Iraq war. Now she is claiming that Saddam gassed "hundreds of thousands" of his own people - a claim that has no basis in fact, and the rest of the world knows it. Great going, Karen, you're showing what the conservative Bush administration is made of - lies and deceit.
The outgoing Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Conner has expressed her dissatisfaction with the administration's policy on both detainee access to family and counsel, and the lack of habeas corpus rights. She says that detainees are entitled to have clear rules on which their detention and trials, to the extent they receive any, are based. How about the American people, Sandra? Maybe, hopefully, she's having some second thoughts at stepping down when she is the only thing that stands between this administration and the complete abandonment of the Bill of Rights - the conservatives in Congress are certainly not defending it. In fact, to the contrary, they're working hard to effectively repeal it.
A millionaire senator apparently didn't figure he was rich enough, and so he fixed the problem with a Powerball lottery win. Matching five of the six numbers, Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire called a press conference to announce that he had matched five of the six numbers, winning $853,492. According to his financial statement, he's already worth millions. Will he keep the money? Count on it. Will he be an inspiration for the construction worker hoping to make enough in a lottery win to feed his family? I doubt it.
A New York policeman was convicted a week ago Friday as the result of his shooting to death of an unarmed African immigrant. The judge who heard the retrial of Bryan Conroy acquitted him of the more serious charge of second-degree manslaughter. Conroy, 27, is to be sentenced Dec. 2 and could receive probation or up to four years in prison. The officer, who was working undercover, fatally shot Ousmane Zongo, 43, two years ago inside a storage warehouse during a police raid in which two suspected counterfeiters of CDs and DVDs were arrested. Why wasn't this a national sensation? Because no one was on hand to videotape it.
The executive editor at the New York Times has sent a somewhat wistful email to his troops, musing over what went wrong with their handling of the Judith Miller controversy. What is remarkable about it is not what it says, but what it doesn't say: nowhere in it is a direct reference to the fact that the New York Times' credibility is at question as a direct result of the fact that they have allowed a reporter, whose independence and objectivity is seriously questionable, to remain on their newsroom staff and continue to "report," when what she was actually doing was simply operating as a stenographer (whether paid or unpaid, we do not know) for the Bush administration. If the New York Times does not want to be viewed as simply a hack mouthpiece for a group of administrative incompetents and political extremists, they will need to make it darned clear to their newsroom staff that independence and objectivity comes first, and access to the White House and Defense Department "news" sources comes as a distant second. Until Bill Keller does that, the New York Times cannot reasonably be considered to be any different than any other politically campaigning newspaper.
Even The Rats Are Deserting The U.S.S. Bush: Those close to the Valerie Plame scandal investigation say that a second Cheney aide, David Wurmser, has agreed to provide the prosecution with evidence that the leak was a coordinated effort by Cheney’s office to discredit the Plame's husband.
In addition, Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser to King George I, is now going public about his disgust for King George II's handling of foreign policy. A Republican and a former Air Force general, Scowcroft is a leading member of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and his critique of both of the style and the substance of the Bush White House, is slated to appear in Monday's editions of the New Yorker magazine.
Even worse, there is the very loud and very public defection of Larry Wilkerson. As Colin Powell's right-hand man at the State Department, Larry Wilkerson seethed quietly during President Bush's first term. Yesterday, to Powell's considerable annoyance, Colonel Wilkerson made up for lost time. He said the vice president and the secretary of defense created a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" that hijacked U.S. foreign policy. He said of former defense undersecretary Douglas Feith: "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man." Addressing scholars, journalists and others at the New America Foundation, Wilkerson accused Bush of "cowboyism" and said he had viewed Condoleezza Rice as "extremely weak." Of American diplomacy, he fretted, "I'm not sure the State Department even exists anymore." He said that if you thought you saw governmental incompetence and unpreparedness during the Katrina relief effort, wait till you see what happens during the flu pandemic.
All the scandals and desertions have lead to a "death watch" mood at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, according to Doug Thompson, the editor of Capital Hill Blue, the most respected of the capital hill blogs. For all practical purposes, governing the nation has stopped as aides deal with an increasingly despondent President, mounting scandals and defecting dissidents from the Ship of State. With indictments expected against Libby or Rove or both any day now from the Valerie Plame scandal, the White House mood has a “Final Days” aura (“Final Days” was the title of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s book about the last days of the Nixon administration). Although no one expects President Bush to be impeached or resign, Internet blogs buzzed this week with talk of a possible resignation by Vice President Dick Cheney. John Dean, one of the men at the center of the Watergate scandal thirty years ago, says that in all his experience in Washington, nothing since Watergate has led to the level of tension and despair he is seeing in the White House these days. Even Iran-Contra during Reagan's last term, didn't equal this. But don't expect much to change in Washington as a result - even if Cheney is indicted - the worst-case scenario for Smirkey - he won't leave office, those who know him say. In a supreme twist of irony, the only way to remove him forcibly would be impeachment, and guess who would be presiding over the trial... none other than Cheney himself. And given his arrogance, he is not likely to resign unless it is an unlikely part of a plea bargain deal with Fitzgerald.
Smirkey can't even hold a press conference where this scandal does not dominate the questioning. All this has the online bookmakers moving the odds on Karl Rove being forced out of the White House from 6-1 to odds on.
Senate support for the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court is also rapidly eroding. The Washington Times has confirmed from two sources connected with the White House that the staffers there are shopping around for a nominee to replace Miers if the nomination hearings continue to go badly.
Even old friends in the military are beginning to question his leadership. They're getting tired of being used for props for Smirkey's photo-ops, and then being given little real support when it's needed most. Military.com, usually a Bush supporter, is now strongly editorializing against him.
And to add the final insult to injury, forty-five percent of the Iraqi people - you know, those folks who were supposed to be strewing rose petals in the path of their heroic American "liberators" - are now saying that attacks on Coalition troops are justified. The poll, conducted secretly for the British, is being cited by the Sunday Telegraph, one of Britain's leading conservative newspapers. Less than 1 percent of those polled believed that the forces were responsible for any improvement in security. Eighty-two percent of those polled said they were "strongly opposed" to the presence of the troops. The paper said the poll, conducted in August by an Iraqi university research team, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defense. Maybe it's time for the Iraqi "sovereign" government to get on board with their own people and send the "liberators" packing and the neo-crazies who got us into this mess sent into disgrace.
Be Careful What You Wish For, Smirkey: In the followup to the United Nations report yesterday on the assassination of former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri, Smirkey has sanctimoniously demanded action in the Security Council, that they bring Syria to heel through sanctions. "The report strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," Smirkey said. Well, Smirkey, if they start following up on such things, you might personally have a problem - such as in Haiti and Venezuela among other places. Evidence strongly suggests that the politically motivated coup against Haiti two years ago could not have taken place without American involvement. Same with Chavez. Meanwhile, Syria has pledged to cooperate with the United Nations in pursuing justice. One wonders whether Smirkey would, if the U.N. found him guilty of meddling in Haiti or Venezuela.
Seems that appointing his crony to the Supreme Court is just not working out for ol' Smirkey. Displaying this administration's typical penchant for arrogance, secrecy and lack of transparency, Harriet Miers is failing to give complete answers to questions by senators trying to vet her nomination to the Supreme Court. Senators on both sides of the aisle are saying that the answers are short and non-descriptive, even in some cases just a single word. Harriet Miers, it seems, can't even manage to fill out an employment questionnaire without offending. Her answers were abrupt, even "insulting," according to some of the senators who were questioning her in her nomination hearings. They have asked her to fill it out again - and this is leading a lot of people in and out of congress to question the quality of the nominee. In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times remarked that Mr Bush's nominee had become "perhaps the most important judicial nominee in history to be offered what amounts to a do-over on a take-home quiz". Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican moderate, called the nomination "chaotic".
News From The Latin American Colonies: It seems that the U.S. has begun to search frantically for a "financial crimes" specialist for posting to Paraguay of all places. More evidence that there is going to be an attempt at a regime change in Latin America, most likely a coup against Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, or only slightly less likely, anyone who deposes Smirkey's puppet president in Bolivia. Once the offending regime is out of power, its supporters are going to find themselves being prosecuted to keep them in jail and thereby kept out of harm's way. Just watch.
Speaking of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has said that if the U.S. actually invades Venezuela, as he claims Smirkey is planning to do, you can expect to see gasoline prices to soar. "We are sure that it will be very difficult for the United States to attack Venezuela," Chavez said. He said his country has eight oil refineries and 14,000 gasoline stations in the United States. "If the United States tried to attack Venezuela by a direct invasion, forget the oil," he said during a two-hour news conference beamed live to Venezuela. "Everyday, we send 1.5 million barrels to the United States." The barrel price of crude oil could hit $150 following a U.S. attack, Chavez said. Currently New York light sweet crude oil trades around $60 a barrel. Meanwhile, In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Chavez's suspicions were unfounded. "I've stated many times before, the United States is prepared to work with any government in the region: left of center, center, right of center. Our issue is with states that don't govern in a democratic manner," McCormack said. Sure. Is that why you fellas sponsored a coup against the twice-democratically elected Chavez last year?
Conservatives Working For The Rule Of Law: It seems a map has gone missing. Not just any map, it is the definition map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which shows where oil drilling is and is not permitted. Seems it was kept in a locked room, and was there in 2002, but isn't there now. Speculation is that when it or its replacement turns up, the areas where drilling will be permitted will somehow have been magically expanded. I would be shocked, of course.
Ultraconservative punditress Ann Coulter's hypocrisy, fascism and opportunism is so blatant, that she no longer denies it. She even says "hypocrisy is soooo cool!" Her moral squalor is so odious that the Center for Principled Conservatism is preparing an expose of her religious and political hypocrisy and opportunism to coincide with her upcoming book. Bradblog has been given exclusive excerpts of an accompanying Powerpoint presentation, and it makes for some really interesting reading. The truly scary part of all this is that she openly called for suppression of free speech in an address before Florida Republicans, which drew their applause! She also criticized the media for being liberal and Democrats for whining about their rights under the First Amendment. "They're always accusing us of repressing their speech," she said. "I say let's do it. Let's repress them." She later added, "Frankly, I'm not a big fan of the First Amendment." Her statements received applause, and many attendees said they enjoyed her speech. And then conservatives complain about the left disregarding human rights? Excuse me? Would she feel that way if she were living in North Korea?
Trickling On Rather Than Trickling Down: The first serious attempt to raise the minimum wage in nearly a decade has met with failure as the Republicans defeated two attempts to raise the minimum wage by $1.10 an hour - hardly enough to even keep up with inflation since the last raise. Apparently the trend to make the poor poorer is one the Republicans would like to be accused of fostering in the congressional elections next year, because they're going to be.
Don't count on Social Security, either: The Senate Republicans have worked out a deal to cut Medicare, the social security health program for the elderly and disabled, by $10 billion over the next five years.
The Democrats in Congress have managed to force a roll-call vote on the Republican effort to remove the requirement for federal contractors operating in Katrina relief to pay prevailing wages. Now the Republicans will have to go on record as voting to reduce voters' wages.
Seems that there is apparently a desperate shortage of IT engineers in the United States. There must be, because Smirkey's crowd in Congress is set to double the number of H-1B visas that permit foreigners to come to the United States and work there for peanuts, while American IT engineers search in vain for jobs occupied by foreigners. Conservative Republicans working for you.
Apparently every Katrina victim, and everyone in Birmingham, Alabama that is desperate for a job must now apparently already have one: It seems that the subcontractor hired by Halliburton to build a tent city at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station in Louisiana hired more than 100 illegal aliens to do the work. The work site was raided by immigration officials and the illegals were detained. The contractor, BE and K, based out of Birmingham, is refusing to even answer their phone. Like that surprises me.
Further evidence that the real estate boom is softening - price drops are beginning to occur in the higher-end of the California real estate market, above about the $500,000 level. Homeowners trying to sell above that price are discovering that they can't get what they thought their homes were worth, and are having to discount to attract buyers. The higher the home price, the steeper the discount. Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold homes is growing ominously, even in the lower price brackets, and listings are growing in the time they remain on the market. This is also beginning to have an impact on homeowners attempting to refinance to pull out equity to finance their consumptive lifestyles.
The Natives Are Restless, Smirkey: The latest evidence of the simmering rebellion sweeping through Smirkey's Latin American colonies is the bombing of the La Plata branch of the Bank of Boston, in the lead-up to Smirkey's planned visit the first week in November. La Plata is a town 50 km. south of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. This is merely the latest in a series of bombings against American businesses and banks in the last two weeks in Argentina in the run-up to the conference he will be attending there.
News Of The War On Iraq: The Irish journalist and correspondent for the Guardian newspaper, Rory Carroll, who was kidnapped and released this week, has called into serious question the integrity of the Iraqi police forces. He says that one of three cars involved in his kidnapping was a police land cruiser, and he says that when he was seized, a man in a police uniform pointed a pistol at his head. "Senior police commanders have admitted that their police force has been infiltrated by militia members, especially on the part of the Shia militia. We know that police moonlight as kidnappers. Now, whether the men in police uniforms who abducted me were pretending to be police or were real police who happen to be moonlighting as kidnappers, I don't know." He says his kidnapping is a symptom of a larger problem in the country. "There is a serious question mark over elements of the police, and that they cannot be relied upon all the time."
Hope for ending the insurgency anytime soon is in its last throes: The insurgency in eastern Salahuddin province is growing more intense, more deadly and more sophisticated. Lt. Col. Gary Brito, the commanding officer of a battalion operating in the region, told the U.K. Telegraph newspaper that in recent months the number of roadside bombs targeting his men had increased by a third - even though journeys out of base have been cut back. They are having a more devastating effect too. "Before only two out of 10 used to be effective," he said. "Now four or five have a catastrophic effect, blowing away a vehicle or causing casualties." In the past few months at least four American soldiers in this battalion alone have been killed. Another 39 have been wounded. Even routine patrols are proving dangerous.
It has long been rumored that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were planned well ahead of the 9/11 attacks, but now there is proof: other nations are confirming that they were told of the plans to attack those countries months before. Both Indian and Pakistani officials have confirmed that their governments were told ahead of 9/11, and their governments' support was solicited.
Scandals Du Jour: The ethically challenged and now indicted Tom DeLay must be getting desperate. After turning down a plea bargain on a misdemeanor charge, his attorneys are trying to get the felony counts dismissed, using the rather novel argument that since he did not proffer cash, but checks instead, he wasn't really laundering funds, i.e., legal tender, but was laundering checks, not funds instead, which they theorize is somehow legal. They're also arguing that since the judge in the case once contributed money to (gasp!) moveon.org, that he is hopelessly biased, and should recuse himself. If giving money to a political cause is a crime, it should be a crime when it goes to money launderers and bribe-takers, Tom.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: It seems that for years, the Catholic Church has been using Alaska as a dumping ground for priests with pedophilia problems. Patrick Wall, a former Benedictine priest and consultant for a Costa Mesa, Calif., law firm that has worked on more than 300 church abuse allegations nationwide, said rural Alaska was a prime place to send abusive priests, because of its isolation and because its cultural reverence for authority figures, such as elders and priests, meant parishioners would be less likely to speak up.
Turns out that an inspector general's report on Iraq's missing $9 billion highlights that the most buried story of 2003 was the Halliburton contract with the Provisional Occupation Authority - it allows Halliburton to pump oil, unmetered, out of Iraq and sell it as they see fit. This is a clear violation of international law, but apparently the conservatives running the Bush administration have redefined theft as being nothing more than business as usual.
Hurricane Wilma Visits Costa Rica
The weather yesterday was a bit rainy, and today it poured down rain most of the morning and evening. A brief period of sun during mid day was a good excuse to dodge the rain long enough to go to town, but by the time I got back, it closed back in and began raining again.
The rain has been from feeder bands from hurricane Wilma. Huge storm, that one. At the same time we were getting rain from the feeder bands here in Costa Rica, they were getting rain from them in south Florida, too - 1200 miles away. As the storm has moved off to the northwest, across the Gulf of Honduras and towards the Yucatan Peninsula, it has continued to grow, sending back its rain bands this way - growing this direction even faster than it moved away from us. Truly a monstrous storm. The rain has been mild, not heavy, and I hope that the rain does not cause more problems in the Nicoya as it did from Stan. They have enough problems already, as they still haven't recovered from Stan's destruction.
Well, wanting to get to the freshly-delivered bread and produce in the grocery store before it was all gone, I headed out to the store as soon as the mid-morning clearing made being out in the weather a bit more pleasant. When I got to town, I discovered that a new store is open - the storefront vacated by the supermarket that moved down the street, has been re-occupied, and by - yes! - a farmacia! I was thoroughly delighted to see it - the store I have been hoping for since moving here is finally open! The inventory is rather small, but they do have the essentials. And the pharmacist, a recent graduate from pharmacy school, seems to be quite knowledgeable - she recommended a new acid suppressant for my nighttime heartburn problem. I'll try it and see how it is - she even gave me a sample to try. She had a new acid neutralizer tablet I have not seen before here - a locally made Tums workalike, and it is much more pleasant tasting, too. Seemed to do a great job when I tried it this afternoon. All in all, I am delighted to not have to go all the way to Tilaran for a simple jar of Tums. Now all this town needs is a farmer's market. Then I'd be all set, and almost never need to go to Tilaran.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: Dick Cheney is rumored to be considering resignation! Yes, it is true, all of Washington is abuzz with rumors that Plame prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be about to issue indictments, and that Cheney or Scooter Libby, his chief of staff, may find their names on the indictment documents, according to the Washington Post. This has led to speculation that he may resign and Condoleezza Rice may be elevated to Vice President, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Is there a coverup of a mad-cow disease epidemic in humans in Idaho? Could be - there have been nine cases, so far this year, of CJD, the human form of mad-cow, diagnosed in Idaho, which normally will get one, at most two cases a year. So far, they're calling it "spontaneous," the usual human type, but at the same time, no one is specifically denying that it is vCJD, the mad-cow version, either. And no one is explaining why the unusually large number of cases.
The producer's price index in the United States shot up by 1.9% in September, an annualized rate higher than has been seen in the United States since the reign of King George I back in 1990. It was higher fuel prices that spawned the huge increase, but when that was subtracted out, the increase was still 0.3%, showing an underlying inflation rate of 3.6% on an annualized basis. Inflation is back. But compensating wage increases aren't. And it is increasingly likely that you'll have to pay for your own health insurance. But the Republicans in Congress feel your pain. They're giving up their cost of living increase in solidarity with you.
Harriet Miers, the Supreme Court nominee, briefly had her license to practice law in the District of Columbia briefly suspended earlier this year, when she failed to pay her dues. When she got the letter informing her that she'd been suspended, she sent the dues money right away.
Don't have big money? Don't run for office! Illinois Democrats, looking for a candidate to run for the seat of the retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (Rep.), have decided not to allow Christine Cegelis to run, when she turned in anemic fundraising results. She raised only $168,000 with $48,000 on hand. Not enough. State Senator Pete Roskam, the Republican who has that party's nomination pretty much in the bag, has $681,000 raised, and $550,000 on hand. That's more like it.
The Republicans have begun their smear campaign against Hillary Clinton. Her likely opponent, Jeanine Pirro, has said "That's a difference between Democrats and Republicans - we don't want them next door molesting children and murdering women." Yeah, right, Jeanine. That kind of smearing shows just what kind of person you really are. Sure makes me wanna vote for you.
Showing just how much Republican governance is helping the nation, it appears that Smirkey's beloved "No Child Left Behind" act has done little to improve public education in the U.S. Rather than improving scores, students nationally have shown no improvement in reading skills, and only very small gains in math.
If You Go There, Don't Drink The Water, Don't Breathe The Air: It is not just air quality that is deteriorating under Republican rule in the U.S., it is also water quality. The Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that 15% of the drinking water samples it tested aboard U.S. aircraft, failed to meet even minimum sanitary standards. In response, the airlines involved say they will begin monitoring drinking water sanitation, and working to improve it. Yeah, right. Like that's their high priority when most of them are in bankruptcy court at the moment. Welcome to third world status, America.
Big Brother Is Watching You: It turns out that color printers sold in the U.S. for the last ten years, generate a secret, invisible code that can be read by the Justice Department to determine the serial number of the printer used, and the date and time that the printout was generated. Sound like a conspiracy theory? It is not. It has been confirmed by most computer printer manufacturers and by the Justice Department, and the code generated by Xerox printers has even been decoded by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
Trickling On Rather Than Trickling Down: Ford has joined General Motors in copying the latter's deal with labor unions to cut health benefits for its retired workers. The deal will save $15 billion for Ford - and displace those costs directly onto the retirees, most of whom are living on fixed incomes. Not that current workers are much better off: Ford has also stated that it will announce "significant" U.S. plant closings and layoffs in January. It has also revealed that it lost more than a quarter billion dollars in the last quarter as its market share continues to erode in the face of high health-care costs its overseas competitors don't have to pay.
Not that the unions can do much of anything about it. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions says that repression of unions is on the rise and their effectiveness in protecting workers' rights is on the wane. The worst problems are in the third world, but the United States is singled out as the most problematic country in the industrialized world.
The latest corporation to duck and run from the United States in favor of India, is one of the crown jewels of American high-tech: Cisco Systems has announced its next $1.1 billion investment in India over the next three years. It has already moved its global research and development operations to Bangalore.
To heat or to eat: Americans who can't afford to pay twice as much to heat their homes this year as they did last, will not get help from the Republicans - in a party-line vote, the Senate has once again refused to augment the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Too bad you're not rich enough to qualify for a tax cut.
Travel to Canada by Americans is down, dramatically, and travel by Canadians to the United States is up. It seems that the sinking U.S. dollar and high gasoline prices is taking its toll on American travel north, and stimulating travel to the States from foreigners. America is becoming a cheap tourist bargain because of its increasingly cheap currency. Welcome to Third World status, America.
Dancing With Them That Brung Ya: Congress has OK'd legislation that has been the gun lobby's top priority - legislation that will shield gun manufacturers for liability arising out of their shameless marketing of handguns to criminals. "Our laws should punish criminals who use guns to commit crimes, not law-abiding manufacturers of lawful products," Smirkey said in his statement saying that he intended to sign it.
The Natives Are Restless, Smirkey: Latin American nations are getting increasingly impatient and hostile with Smirkey's "Plan Colombia" - the effort to eradicate coca and heroin-poppy cultivation in Colombia. Neighboring nations' leaders are complaining of drug eradication spraying ending up on their side of the border, with the result that legitimate crops are sprayed, rivers and streams are contaminated, and the environment being despoiled. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have roundly criticized how the drug war is being fought - and are growing increasingly disinclined to cooperate with it. All this is adding fuel to the leftward, anti-American drift of local politics among Smirkey's Latin American colonies.
Spain has decided not to honor U.S. impunity in Iraq, and has ordered the arrest of two American soldiers who ordered tank fire on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, leading to the death of a Spanish TV reporter and several others just after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. When the U.S. failed to cooperate with the Spanish judge in investigating who fired on the hotel and why, the judge felt he had no choice but to issue the warrants.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, in an interview for the BBC, has reiterated that the U.S. has plans to invade his country. "It is for the oil," he said, "just like it was in Iraq." Well, given Venezuelan nationalism, if they try taking the oil there, it will have the same result as it has had in Iraq - an insurgency will make sure it gets cut off. And Chavez is working hard to make that clear. Intelligence sources say that an insurgency developing just inside the Colombian border, with the cooperation of dissident elements in the Venezuelan military, may be part of the effort to depose Chavez.
Britain is getting miffed at the U.S. American diplomats are simply ignoring the eight-pound sterling "congestion charge" for entering London in an automobile. Designed to reduce traffic in the city center, the charge was raised from five to eight pounds last year, and since then American diplomats have simply been ignoring it. They have run up more than 157,000 pounds in charges that remain unpaid. The British say that it is a charge for a privilege, and it is therefore owed. The Americans say it is a tax, and as diplomats, they are therefore exempt under the Vienna Convention. Can we say "ugly Americans," boys and girls?
Vice-President Dick Cheney and a handful of others had hijacked the government's foreign policy apparatus, deciding in secret to carry out policies that had left the US weaker and more isolated in the world, the top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed on Wednesday. In a scathing attack on Smirkey's record, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January, said: “What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.”
A move to support cultural diversity and protect nations from "negative" effects of globalisation is being considered by UNESCO in Paris. The United Nations cultural body is due to vote upon the new convention, backed by France, Canada and the UK. It is strongly opposed by the U.S., which feels it could lead to discrimination against Hollywood and other cultural exports by the United States.
If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: It appears that the computer models that predict the temperatures of the waters off Antarctica are wrong: the waters there are warming up faster than predicted. Scientists in the U.K. are predicting that populations and even whole species could soon disappear from the region. And the effects on sea ice, and with it, local warming effects, are now being called into question.
The most detailed and accurate model of climate change for the U.S. in a global warming scenario yet calculated, shows that the United States can expect greatly increased numbers of extreme heat events, particularly in the desert Southwest, and more rain over nearly all of the country, particularly along the Gulf Coast, and in the western U.S. mountains, where rain events will become more intense. Nowhere in the U.S. will temperatures actually decline.
Scandals Du Jour: Here DeLay, gone tomorrow - Tom DeLay, the disgraced former Republican whip in the House, did his perp-walk. An arrest warrant was issued for him by the court handling his money-laundering indictment, and was arrested, photographed and fingerprinted. The liberal blogosphere, enjoying the moment for awhile, was betting on who would get the mugshot posted first - the Republican strategists' worst nightmare. They countered it by making sure that the picture was of a broadly smiling Tom Delay in a business suit, sans case number board, sans height scale behind him. He was fingerprinted, photographed, posted his bail and left. Will he get treated that courteously in prison? He won't go to prison. If his case even goes to trial, which is unlikely, the jury will be locked up longer than he will.
Anyone who thinks that New York Times "reporter" Judith Miller really is a legitimate reporter, needs to understand that her relationship with the Coalition military in Iraq was a unique one - she was given a "secret" clearance, which calls into question the integrity of her reporting. Military officials don't hand out "secret" clearances to reporters - they have good reasons not to. But Miller got one, because they knew she would not report anything that the administration didn't want reported. She also effectively had veto power over the command decisions of the commanders of the troops with which she was embedded during the WMD search. That is unprecedented. And it highlights just what can go wrong with journalism when corporate owners of the media and government leaders hop in bed with each other.
Speaking of New York Times scandals, the Times is being sued by a former U.S. Army scientist who that newspaper had named as the possible source of the anthrax used to kill several people during the aftermath of the 9/11 atmosphere of fear.
In the Plame-gate scandal, the list of targets being pursued is widening. The latest are John Hannah and Mary Matalin, consultants to Cheney's office, as well as David Wurmser and Cathie Martin, two more of the neo-con "crazies in the basement," as Smirkey's dad referred to them when he was president.
What did he know and when did he know it? He knew it all along, it turns out, and this "getting to the bottom of it" crap was just yet another of Smirkey's lies. Seems that Smirkey had upbraided Karl Rove two years ago about the Plame identity leak, and Rove confessed to it. But that didn't stop Smirkey from saying last year that he would fire anyone responsible for the leak. Asked about that commitment, Scott McClellan, the White House media pimp, waffled and was non-committal and refused to reiterate the President's commitment to fire those responsible. White house officials also have another thing to worry about - it appears that the Wilsons are considering a civil defamation suit. If they try it, they'd better be ready for some serious trouble from the White House and its media whores, who face increasing scrutiny for their manipulation of the media.
Boston high school students have found out that it's not nice to tangle with Jesus: when they applied to increase the power of their high school radio station from ten to 250 watts five years ago, their licensed frequency was legally opened up to all comers, and the FCC ruled in favor of a well-heeled Christian broadcaster who had crossfiled for their frequency allocation. The FCC said it was a better use of the frequencies, like there is a dearth of Christian radio these days. There is little the students can do - the FCC's decisions can be appealed - back to the FCC - and that's it. High school students, zero, praise the Lord and pass the loot radio, one.
News From The Katrina Disaster: If you ran a religious school in the disaster area, you're going to get more help than if you are an impoverished homeowner. The plan to help reconstruct parochial schools and and other religious facilities is coming under fire from the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Meanwhile, two months on, homeowners in Biloxi and the Texas-Louisiana border area, are still not getting any results from FEMA. Hey, guys, declare your homes to be fundamentalist churches so that government aid to you is unconstitutional, and then FEMA aid will pour forth like a mighty stream.
Responding to criticism of his agency after the Katrina and Rita disasters, Michael Chertoff, the director of Homeland Security, has announced a reorganization of his agency. Somehow, that sounds like rearranging deck chairs on a certain famous passenger ship. Meanwhile, more about the indifference of Michael Brown has come out: when he was brought an urgent message during dinner in a Baton Rouge restaurant that people in the Superdome were beginning to die for lack of food and water, his press secretary brushed off the messenger, saying that he needed more than just 30 minutes for his dinner. I think that this kind of attitude was somehow more of a problem than the arrangement of the deck chairs.
News From The War On Iraq: More evidence that the Iraqis are learning well from their colonial masters - it turns out that of the 18 provinces in Iraq, returns from the constitution referendum are showing suspiciously high turnout in fully 12 of them. And, surprise, surprise, all 12 are in areas where the vote is expected to go in favor of the constitution.
Condi Rice, responding to hostile fire from senators for three hours on Wednesday, is saying publicly that the troops could be in Iraq for another ten years. Well, given the fact that the Army can't seem to find any recruits to replace the soldiers already there, it could be some of those National Guard units who are already on their fourth tour, could still be there by then. That ought to make Smirkey even more popular at home.
Meanwhile, the British are openly talking about exit strategies, and ways to get out with their dignity intact. Things have deteriorated so dramatically in the last year in Baghdad, that the British troops' number one topic of conversation these days is exit strategies. So to prevent unauthorized and uncensored emails from getting back to the folks back home, the U.S. military has shut down access to all non-military email sites from enlisted personnel with only a few exceptions. The excuse used is to keep viruses and trojans out of the military network, but even web interfaces are inaccessible - where viruses and trojans are already filtered out by the providers.
In direct contravention of Islamic law, U.S. troops in Afghanistan burned, rather than buried, the bodies of some Taliban soldiers that they had killed in action. To make matters worse, they faced the corpses west, burned them and filmed the bodies burning, and distributed tapes to the locals. This supreme insult to Islam has inflamed passions throughout the Islamic world, and has led to the Defense Department opening an investigation. Betcha little will come of it.
Saddam's show trial isn't going all that well. It appears that Saddam's co-defendant's lawyer was kidnapped early today.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Going well beyond just the simple Scandal Du Jour, Republican congressman Bob Ney of Ohio has gone to the next level - he has managed to involve himself all at once in several major scandals going on these days in Washington. So far, he has been linked to the Abramoff casino and Indian tribe lobbying scandals, the golf-trip scandals, and an election scandal involving the awarding of telecommunications contracts for several buildings on Capital hill. Great going, congressmen! Corrupt politicians everywhere tip their hats to you!
Fox "News" hatemonger Bill O'Reilly is discovering that what goes around comes around: He has announced that when his contract with Fox expires in two years, he is not going to renew it. He is sick and tired of the notoriety, threats, having to hire bodyguards, being unable to move in public spaces, etc. Most of what he hates about it, of course, relates to the enemies he has created by his constant hatemongering. Too bad, Bill. Now you know what it is like to be on the other end of the hate you and your fellow ultra-conservatives so love to indulge in.
News Of The Weird: It appears that a group of students at Ball State University have been given an assignment to develop the technology for an edible moon buggy. Yes, that's right, once you're done roving the moon, you'll eat your car. Since the cost of getting to the moon is so high, it only makes sense to use everything as much as possible, and that is one of the ideas for doing so.
Hurricane Weather Is Back
The weather yesterday and today has been delightful. Bright sunny days both days, and all day long, too, even into the late afternoon when we normally get thunderstorms. Last night's full moon shone brightly on the trees and in the garden, and it was a delight indeed, especially going outside in the evening without getting wet for a change.
The nice weather is all due to the new hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Honduras, hurricane Wilma. As it rapidly gains strength, the outflow has begun, and the Meteorological Institute here is warning us to expect heavy rains in Guanacaste province. Well, I am in the one part of the province that is dominated by Caribbean influence, and so I expect mostly sunny and dry weather until Wilma either moves out of the Gulf of Honduras or becomes so big that it dominates Central American weather as far south as Costa Rica.
The forecast is for heavy rains in Guanacaste, particularly in the highlands of the Nicoya peninsula and the far north along the Nicaragua border. Well, that region was still flooded in large areas when I was there last week, and could have used some dry weather. More rain is the last thing they need. And poor Nicaragua - in the portion of the country normally accustomed to frequent droughts and chronic water shortages, even forest fires, they're getting flooding. They don't have any way of handling all that water. And to top it off, that part of Nicaragua had an earthquake yesterday, a 5.7 magnitude, close to the town of Nandaime, a town I have been through frequently. Haven't heard about damage, but it was strong enough to have caused some. I felt it here - a slow rocking motion for about ten seconds. That's very near the Mombacho volcano, too. So I wonder if it has stirred up any activity.
But here in Arenal, that is neither here nor there - like it is a world away. It's just paradise here today - hummingbirds in the ginger and orchid blossoms, butterflies among the bougainvilleas, temperatures in the mid 70's, and a great day for a tropical fruit smoothie out in the hammock. Life is good.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In the States: Holy coincidence, Batman! It appears that the "unspecified major terror threats" in the United States announced by either city governments, such as the subway threat in New York two weeks ago, or by the Department of Homeland Security, always seem to have coincided, within a day or two, of major, planned speeches by Bush administration officials regarding the "war" on terror - or bad news from which the administration was desperate to distract attention. The New York subway incident of two weeks ago was merely the 18th on a list of such coincidences. This administration just seems to have incredible luck. Or maybe not.
Smirkey apparently told British Prime Minister Tony Blair two months before the invasion of Iraq, that Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea may also be "dealt with" over weapons of mass destruction, according to a top secret Downing Street memo leaked to the U.K.'s Independent newspaper. More evidence that the secret plan is as was discussed in this space previously - take out all the neo-con targets by the end of Smirkey's term and leave it to his successor to pick up the pieces. Meanwhile, Syria denies that it has cut a secret deal - meaning that it takes the threat seriously, and has been talking secretly with Washington about defusing the tensions between the two countries.
The Bush administration is beginning to learn the price for disregarding the importance of American prestige in the world - Condi Rice has been rebuffed by the Russians in her attempts to enlist their support in forcing the Iranians back to talks over the nuclear issue or face the U.N. Security Council on which the Russians maintain a veto. They basically told her to go packing.
Beware the "augmentation": the administration is attempting to "augment" the anti-torture provisions of the recently passed Senate appropriations bill for the military. What is the "augmentation?" Well, it is a provision that grants an exception to the CIA. In other words, if The Company does it, it's good. If the military or the police do it, it's bad. Now how's that for moral consistency?
Big tobacco has won big in the U.S. Supreme Court. Seems that the $280 billion fraud and racketeering suit filed originally by the Clinton justice department has not been accepted for review by the Supremes. They have declined to hear an appeal of a lower court decision that would shield the companies from the worst of the penalties. The result: shares of the defendants' stock rose by an average of about 5% on the news.
A report on how the outsourcing of jobs and manufacturing by American companies to third world nations is affecting the American economy, has finally surfaced, nearly a year after it was due by law to be released to the public - and then only after it was released under the Freedom of Information Act. In an open defiance of Congress and the law, the report, published by the Manufacturing And Technology News, shows clear evidence that it was doctored by Bush cronies and then buried.
The effects of the loss of those jobs are starting to become clear. If a pay raise is a distant dream to you, you're not alone. Everyone, from airline pilots to real estate agents to construction workers to burger flippers are seeing an erosion in their bargaining power for decent wages. The increase in skilled immigration, both legal and illegal, in the U.S., along with a declining job base, is putting real and increasing downward pressure on wages. Companies are cutting benefits radically and the workers can do nothing about it. Expect the process to continue - even accelerate - as the U.S. economy enters the recession, and the underground economy takes over. Welcome to third-world status, America.
All this has caused America's economic partners to question how much of a market it is really going to be in the future, and whether or not they should bail out on dependency on the United States for a market for their goods. The China Daily, the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong, is openly suggesting that China should dump its reserve dollars and U.S. Treasury debt, and seek its markets elsewhere, because there won't be a market in the U.S. very much longer.
Meanwhile, that evil leftie commie pinko socialist Hugo Chavez, down there in Venezuela, must be doing something right - poverty in Venezuela is dropping dramatically, and the economy is surging ahead at double-digit rates. Unemployment is down dramatically as well - which would lead one to ask why Smirkey is in such a hurry to replace the guy. Maybe its because of his example - such a contrast to U.S. economic performance and the economic performance of other countries following the so-called "Washington Consensus."
The New York Times credibility, as a result of their "reporter" Judith Miller's involvement in the Plame scandal, is at an all time low, and the news room is dispirited as it has never been. Not one reporter would speak on the record to Raw Story, and when speaking off the record, not one would support Miller. The boss, Bill Keller, is being seen by the reporters as sacrificing his own integrity to protect her on behalf of the publisher's political agenda.
Even talk radio is deserting the GOP. Apparently, the mass audiences for such conservative radio talk shows as Limbaugh and Hannity have seen their audiences dropping by as much as 30 percent in some markets, and liberal talk radio, such as Radio America, is ascendant. They're a long way from on a par, but the trend is at least positive. Some people may be slow learners, but at least they're learning.
Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and Smirkey have apparently had a mutual admiration society going for quite some time. Smoking Gun has published a series of letters, cards and emails exchanged by the two for years, going back to his days as the governor of Texas. The gushy admiration she expresses for that clueless drunkard should all by itself be enough to call into question the quality of her judgment at best or her fawning sycophancy at worst.
The knee-jerk anti-Castroism in Washington is continuing to be an embarrassment for every American who actually owns a passport. The latest: a summit of Foreign ministers from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries have expressed support for Cuba in its battles against the US. "We ask the US government to fulfill 13 successive resolutions approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations to put an end to the financial, commercial and economic blockade which it maintains against Cuba," the ministers said in a statement.
Departing German Chancellor Schroeder has done something that heads of state rarely do: he has taken a swipe at the let-them-eat-cake philosophy of the Republican party. In a speech to a trade union in Hanover on Wednesday in which he warned of the dangers of eroding the welfare functions of the state, he said "I can think of a recent disaster that shows what happens when a country neglects its duties of state towards its people," said Schroeder, who will soon cede his post to conservative rival Angela Merkel. "My post as chancellor, which I still hold, does not allow me to name that country but you all know that I am talking about America," Schroeder said to laughter and applause.
What can be possible - if the big corporations will only allow it: If you are an onion farmer in Central Oregon, you can go out in your field, open your laptop computer, and send a picture of your crop to a potential buyer right on the spot. And it won't cost you a dime. If you are in Philadelphia, and want to open your laptop and send a picture to a client, forget it. You'd better call Verizon first. In the former, wideband WiFi service is available free of charge, provided by a wireless entrepreneur. In the latter, like in larger cities all across America, such efforts have been stymied by the lobbying efforts of the cable and wireless companies who don't like competition from free wireless services, and get them outlawed in compliant, Republican-controlled state legislatures. Welcome to a Republican America, always looking out for the public interest first. Ain't free enterprise grand?
Such anti-competitive efforts are contributing, of course, to America's increasing lack of competitiveness and economic decline. The latest numbers are out from Detroit, and they don't look good. Sales of Yank-tanks, as the Aussies and Brits call those huge American cars and SUVs, are down, and dramatically - General Motors alone has seen a 57% decline in the sale of SUVs. Things aren't much better at Ford, which saw a 45% decline, and at Daimler-Chrysler, sales are off 32%. Sales from Honda America? Off by 8%. Of course, a large part of the reason American cars are not competitive anymore is the fact that American manufacturers bear the health costs of their workers - which foreign manufacturers do not have to pay, as those costs are borne by governments. And General Motors has to pick up the health care costs for more workers that used to work for it than all those who still do - and that is the major reason it is facing bankruptcy. Watch the bankruptcy court absolve GM of that liability - and leave 1.1 million retirees get added to the other 43 million Americans who already don't have health insurance coverage.
A huge tax windfall supposedly intended to create American jobs from corporate profits earned abroad, is, in fact, likely to end up in shareholder pockets. A year after the Jobs Creation Act was signed into law by Smirkey, an estimated $206 billion earned overseas by US multinationals has returned to America to take advantage of a one-off reduction in the rate of corporation tax. Normally, companies face a 35 per cent tax on dividends when they repatriate their profits. But the Act reduces the levy to just 5.25 per cent on the profits of foreign subsidiaries. The aim of the Act was to encourage the firms to create jobs by investing their profits in the US. But there is growing evidence that companies are instead funnelling the tax break into debt reductions and share buybacks, to the benefit of shareholders.
In its first abortion decision under the new chief justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from the State of Missouri from a lower court decision requiring Missouri officials to provide transportation for a prison inmate to have an abortion at state expense. The inmate, four months pregnant and approaching the 22-week limit allowed by Missouri law, sued when the state refused to provide transport to the nearest abortion clinic 80 miles away. If this is evidence of how the Supreme Court will handle Rowe vs. Wade decisions, it may be confirmation of the contentions of some that the Republicans have no interest in overturning Rowe vs. Wade, because doing so would give the religious right what it has been seeking for years, and would therefore no longer impel them to rally behind the Republican cause.
The Ku Klux Klan is coming to Midland (Michigan) public television. According to its website, the Ku Klux Klan brings “a message of hope and deliverance to white Christian America. A message of love, not hate.” But the same website includes links to anti-gay and anti-black web sites and articles.
Tax And Spend Republicans: It appears that the wife of California "governator" Arnold Schwartzenegger, a woman who holds no elected public office, has a staff. Not just a small one, either - and it is the taxpayers that are footing the bill. It is apparently costing the taxpayers of California $500,000 per year to have Maria Shriver waited on hand and foot. Hope you think it is money well spent. I'm sure Arnie does.
Scandals Du Jour: The tickets were hot. The press was barred. But soon after party activists sat down inside the ballroom of the Sheraton Premiere at Tyson's Corner for a fundraiser for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, it was announced that Karl Rove, the advertised speaker, had been scratched from the lineup. No detailed reason was given. The 300 breakfasters listened instead to Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee. So why was Karl scratched? If he goes down in any of several scandals that have implicated him, it might take down Kilgore with him. Or, given the demonstrable level of integrity in the Republican party these days, maybe it was just an ordinary bait-and-switch.
Turns out, too, that the whole investigation into the Plame affair is now beginning to widen into the issue of the handling of intelligence in the run-up to the war. Sources within the investigation, including some of the questions asked of Judith Miller by the Fitzgerald investigation team, indicate that the way classified intelligence was handled by the White House Iraq Group is being examined.
In the latest sign that the White House is getting really nervous about the possible indictment of Karl Rove, the White House's usual clinically clean stage managing of press events is coming unglued. First, there was last week's gaff in which they allowed pre-feed satellite air time to show staffers prepping soldiers for the "impromptu" press conference with the troops. Then it was discovered that there was a flack planted among those "troops." And finally, there was Scott McClellan's performance in a press conference on Friday, in which he was asked whether the administration was distracted by the CIA investigation. He attempted a joke, pretending to ignore the question. No one laughed. He tried again, his eyes swivelling away from the podium. “I'm sorry, I'm a little distracted up here,” he said. Again, no one laughed.
The Bill Frist scandal is heating up again. The Senate Majority Leader is now facing subpoenas on his records with regards to his ownership of shares of the Hospital Corporation of America, which were put in a blatantly transparent "blind" trust when he ran for public office. With his knowledge and approval, the trust dumped the shares just before the stock price tanked, and the Securities and Exchange Commission wants answers about the timing.
Yet another Texas Republican is caught up in a scandal. This time it is U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady, who was arrested on a drunken driving charge in South Dakota. He faces a $1000 dollar fine, a year in jail, and a misdemeanor conviction on his driving record.
In yet another defense contracting scandal, the Special Operations Command, based out of McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fl., is looking into allegations that defense contractors supplied inferior and defective equipment to that command and then bribed at least one procurement officer to look the other way. The officer sold out cheap, too. He got only $3,000 from one contractor, and $9,000 from another. Dude, if you're gonna sell out your country, at least go for the big bucks.
In the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, evidence is emerging that when corporate interests come into conflict with the priorities of social conservatives, that the corporate interests will win every time. When Abramoff was pursuing the quashing of anti-gambling legislation being pushed hard by social conservatives, Abramoff moved in and used his influence and money to undermine support for the legislation - and ultimately defeated it. This has caused some bitterness among the social conservatives supporting the Bush administration.
All these scandals have the Republicans worried about next year. The accurate perception of sleaze and moral squalor left in the minds of voters of the long list of scandals at both state and federal levels, is generating a throw-the-bastards-out anger not seen since the 1994 congressional election.
If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: It appears that September was the fourth warmest on record in the United States, and globally the warmest ever recorded since reliable measurements began. All 48 contiguous states have recorded above average temperatures for the last three months running. 2005 is on course to become the hottest year ever recorded globally.
News From The Hurricane Recovery Effort: It appears that Smirkey is in no hurry to jump start relief and reconstruction efforts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Apparently it is because conservatives in Congress simply don't want to spend the money, after having shoveled it out the door in response to the media attention on the poor response after the hurricanes. In fact, it appears that the $62 billion already appropriated is not being spent. "I want state and local officials to act first," he said. Of course, having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it may never have occurred to him that state and local officials simply don't have the resources that he has.
News From The War On Iraq: The latest abuse from Halliburton is that they are apparently importing and using illegal aliens and slave labor in Iraq. The Chicago Tribune retraced the journey of 12 Nepalese men kidnapped last year from an unprotected convoy en route to an American military base in Iraq. The Tribune's reporting found that to maintain the flow of low-paid workers key to military support and reconstruction in Iraq, the U.S. military has allowed KBR to partner with subcontractors that hire laborers from Nepal and other countries that prohibit citizens from being deployed in Iraq. That means brokers recruiting such workers operate illicitly. Meanwhile, millions of Iraqis are without and are desperate for jobs themselves. I am sure this is winning their hearts and minds.
Ever wonder what happened to that SUV stolen from your co-worker last year? It could have become a car bomb in Iraq. Yes, that's right, it appears that a car theft ring has been using cars stolen in the U.S. as car bombs in Iraq because they fit in with U.S. convoys and don't attract attention. At least one used in a car bombing in Baghdad was found to have been stolen from an owner in Texas, where it was still legally registered when it was used by a suicide bomber.
The Iraqis are learning well from their Republican masters how to steal elections: it seems that it has been noticed that during the constitution referendum, that there was a dearth of voting places in Sunni-dominated areas that were likely to vote against it. Stealing a page from the Ohio Secretary of State, they simply made it difficult for people likely to vote against the constitution to actually do so. In some cases, whole towns lacked a single place to vote, and even cities may have had only one or two voting places.
The Coalition of the Willing is fast becoming the Coalition of the Outta Here: Norway is the latest nation to jettison the war and bring its troops home. The left-leaning coalition preparing to form Norway's next government said Thursday it planned to withdraw Norwegian troops from Iraq and from U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.
Seven members of the First Battalion of the 184th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard have been convicted of using stun guns to torture Iraqi prisoners in their custody. The group, including three sergeants, received sentences of up to 12 months. The Regiment has had a tough year - it has lost 10 percent of its strength to casualties suffered in combat, and has suffered other allegations of abuse.
After two years of chiseling the grunts, the Department of Defense has finally issued a policy on reimbursement of the troops for their private purchase of the basics they need to safely do their jobs, when the DoD would not supply them. Private purchases of body armor, combat helmets, ballistic eye protection and hydration systems are covered by the policy, with reimbursement of up to $1,100 per item — including shipping costs — covered for items purchased from Sept. 11, 2001, through July 31, 2004. Current service members, and those who deployed but have since left the military, are eligible. The list of covered items is far less than envisioned by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the primary sponsor of the reimbursement program approved by Congress last year as part of the 2005 Defense Authorization Act. DoD issued the policy just hours after the Senate, in a display of displeasure with the department, voted for an amendment to the 2006 defense appropriations bill that would have taken the reimbursement program out of the Pentagon’s hands and given entire responsibility for it to unit commanders. Shows just how much these Republicans really support the troops.
Speaking of Republicans supporting the troops, it is not just the sons and daughters of Congressmen and the President that aren't to be found trudging through the sands of Iraq these days. It is also the Young Americans For Freedom, the College Republicans and the Campus Republican National Committee who are themselves above fighting in the cause they declare to be so noble. A survey of those two groups shows that virtually none of them have either served or intend to serve in the military. I guess they're learning young that hypocrisy is the principal conservative family value.
Armed Forces Radio, run by the Department of Defense to entertain and inform the troops, has recinded its decision to add the Ed Schultz show to its lineup, which includes such reactionary talk-shows as Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh. Why? It appears the decision to recind was taken Friday after Schultz roundly criticised assistant secretary of defense Alison Barber, over President Bush's staged conversation with U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Army, for all its might, is a fragile institution and easily broken - and now it has been broken badly and will take more than a decade to repair, if seasoned observers of that institution are right. Being run by a president and a defense secretary, neither of whom ever actually served in the military on active duty, their incompetence in military leadership has eroded confidence of military leaders in their commands, and the confidence of the commands in their leadership.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: More details are coming out on the organizer of the Christian Coalition of Oregon's molestation of family members. Three have now said that they were molested by Louis Beres at some point in their youth, and that it had damaged their lives. All have been interviewed by deputies as part of a criminal investigation. Beres is also the former chairman of the Multnomah County Republican Party.
It seems that a lawyer for the Ohio House Republican Caucus, a man known as the "Naked Photographer" has been released from jail. Stephen Linnen ambushed women in the nude and took photos of their shocked expressions. He was sentenced last year to 18 months in a program that sent him to jail at night but allowed him to work. That program has since been terminated.
The Garden While I Was Gone
We have been enjoying outstanding weather here in Arenal, considering that the rainy season is full-on and the rains are supposed to be about the heaviest of the year. Yesterday, the weather was overcast all day, but with little rain, though rains were heavy during the night. By nine this morning, it had cleared off, and most of the day we enjoyed sunny weather that is rare for this time of the year.
I took advantage of the weather to go out into the garden and check on things, to see how they have been doing during my absence last week. And I was curious to check on a few things so went out for a walk in the garden and enjoy it a bit, along with checking and seeing how things are doing. The red ginger has many new blossoms, and the older ones are ready to be cut and planted, and I will need to get with the gardener and have him do that. I want to continue planting the new plants along the fence lines to give me more privacy than I have now, particularly along the fence with my neighbors.
I have noticed that last week's fertilizing of the cacao tree has brought it to life a bit, and some new sprouts are starting to grow. I have concluded that cacao trees really like a fertile soil, and that makes more difference than climate - the one tree I have seems to be doing much better now that it is out in the sun, but it really grows well only as long as I keep feeding it fertilizer. And my orange, lemon and lime trees seem to be growing fine, whether fertilized or not - but fertilizer seems to produce much healthier, greener growth.
There are several bananos (banana bunches) that have been growing, and are showing good development. One cooking banana has a huge bunch, and is out and prominent where it can be seen from the street. But it has at least a month to go before it will be ready to cut down, and I am sure hoping it doesn't get stolen before then. I have a good crop of plantains and sweet bananas coming on, too, and hope that they don't get stolen before I cut them. The two bananos I cut two weeks ago are hanging up in the kitchen, and one has a few ripe bananas on it, and have started making a few betidos (milk shakes) again. They're my favorite use for sweet bananas.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States Smirkey's "spontaneous videoconference with the troops," his pathetically ineffective attempt to shore up support for the war in Iraq, was staged, as was made clear by the pre-broadcast satellite transmission. The ten US soldiers and one Iraqi were coached in their answers before the event by Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Allison Barber. They were even given suggested phrasing for the answers to the questions the president was going to "spontaneously" ask. Of course, the White House's usual media whores quickly denied any staging. Yeah, right. Just like Smirkey is the Great Communicator who never mangled a sentence.
For the first time ever, more people in the United States consider the Bush presidency to be a failure rather than a success, according to a new poll released by the Pew Center For People And The Press. The margin isn't a small one, either: 41 percent say that in the long run, it will be considered unsuccessful, versus 26 percent who say the opposite. This stands in stark contrast to as recently as January, when the ratio was 36 percent successful versus 27 percent unsuccessful. This comes amidst a host of other polls which shows his popularity sinking.
The impending flu pandemic is all but inevitable, according to the Bush Administration's principal public health officer and former Utah governor Mike Leavitt. After having toured Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, he has concluded that the proclivity of the cultures there to live in close proximity with livestock, including pigs and chickens, means that evolution of the flu into a human-to-human transmissible form is inevitable and unstoppable, and even the surveillance to catch it early when it happens, would be unrealistically difficult. Added to that is the fact that abuse of Tamiflu has led to a drug resistant strain evolving in at least one girl in Vietnam.
Star Wars is dead. Well, not quite, but it is headed there. Finally conceding to what scientists told Ronald Reagan 20 years ago about the reality that the "Star Wars" missile defense initiative won't work, has finally begun to soak through conservative hubris and has instilled a dose of reality - no new attempts to improve the Star Wars interceptor missile are going to be made, even though they are going to continue to deploy those already designed. Alaska will be made secure from the Soviet Red Menace from Russia by the end of 2007. No, I am not making that up - they're still deploying Star Wars missiles to defend against a Soviet ICBM threat from across the north pole in Russia and in Europe as well! I suspect that the deployment has more to do with campaign contributions and Republican cronyism than any thought-out defense doctrines.
Christian hate groups are targeting for boycotts, a popular line of dolls and other toys for children from a company known as American Girl. Apparently the company has made the grave mistake of supporting liberal causes, including Girls Inc., a national nonprofit organization which describes its mission as "inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold." Now, that sure sounds like a direct threat to western civilization to me.
The best kept secret in New Orleans: Many of the areas of town that were flooded after Katrina and Rita, are now so heavily contaminated from the pollution caused by the hurricane damage to nearby chemical plants and carried in on the flood waters, that they would qualify for Superfund Toxic Site status. But no one is telling the property owners, and they're moving back in to begin cleanup and rebuilding. The health effects of the toxic pollutants can't be hidden, though, and are starting to show up among the people moving back in to the formerly flooded neighborhoods. Environmental groups are raising the alarm, but so far without response from federal or local officials.
The Republicans Take Care Of Their Own: Apparently the news of the bombing threat on the New York subway system recently was leaked several days in advance. At least two E-mails revealing the purported plot were sent to a select crowd of business and arts executives several days before Bloomberg's announcement, by New Yorkers who claimed to have close connections to Homeland Security and other federal officials. The leak has sparked a probe within the Department of Homeland Security. We'll see if anyone gets nailed - don't hold your breath.
Liberal Biased Media Watch: Parade Magazine, that pulp magazine suppliment that comes in your Sunday paper, has demonstrated rather blatantly that they have some White House media whores on their editorial staff. In their Q and A feature, bylined to "Walter Scott" (a pseudonym for Edward Klein, the rabid neo-con author of the "Truth About Hillary" hackpiece), in answer to a question about Castro's funding, they wrote: "In the wake of the collapse of the USSR, which bankrolled him to the tune of $4 billion a year, Castro has turned to Hugo Chavez, Marxist president of Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter. In addition to shoring up Castro, he's funding revolutionaries and terrorists throughout Latin America." Wrong on several counts. 1) Chavez is not a Marxist and has said so quite emphatically, and nothing in his administration's behavior is indicative of Marxist tendencies. 2) Castro pays for the oil he gets from Chavez by supplying 20,000 doctors who work in Venezuela without cost to the Venezuelan government, in exchange for oil sold to Castro at a deep discount, and 3) there is not a shred of evidence that Chavez is financing revolutionary movements anywhere in Latin America. The fact that all three of these misconceptions reflect official White House statements, long since discredited, indicate the level of bias on the part of Parade.
Judith Miller, the White House media whore who masquerades as a "reporter" for the New York Times, seems to have suddenly developed a defective memory. In testifying before a grand jury about who told her of the identity of Valerie Plame, she seems to suddenly be unable to remember who first told her - even though her protection of her "source" sent her to jail for several weeks. Her whoring for the White House has become so blatant that fellow staffers at the Times refuse to share a byline with her. Why she is allowed to remain on the Times staff is a mystery to everyone, explainable only by the Times' own bias towards the administration.
Protecting The American Patrimony: The National Park Service is now requiring new hires to its management structure to sign a statement saying that they are loyal to a document called the "President's Management Agenda," known as the "PMA." This refers to a 64-page White House document outlining plans to incorporate outsourcing and further reduce the federal workforce, in addition to privatizing portions of the government and inviting greater participation by religious organizations. Just what we need. Loyal lapdogs instead of real managers. Less accountability and more profiteering. The conservative agenda advances.
Your Conservative Big Brother Knows Best: Proving once again that they are advocates of personal freedom, the Republicans in Congress are working hard to oppose efforts made by women's health groups for a rebirth of Plan B, the ememagogue for which Barr Pharmaceuticals has unsuccessfully been seeking approval as an over-the-counter drug. The effort has been stalled by Food and Drug Administration Director Lester M. Crawford - for what can only be described as political reasons. Apparently Barr hasn't contributed enough to Republican campaign funds.
News From The War On Drugs: It appears that the active ingredient in marijuana - tetrahydrocannabinol - isn't as bad for you has common wisdom has it - in fact, it can actually be good for you. A new study shows that in isolation and in highly potent doses (either as the natural compound or a synthetic analog), it may actually help improve memory and increase the growth of new brain cells in a portion of the brain known as the hippocampus, and can reduce depression and anxiety. The anti-drug warriors are certainly going to welcome that news. Researchers caution, however, that marijuana smoke contains a lot of other substances in addition to THC, many of which are known to be deleterious to your health.
News From The War On Terrorism: A group of eight people, including U.S. and British citizens, have been arrested by Afghan police in Kabul on suspicion of gun smuggling. The expats were carrying forged documents saying they were attached to the International Security Assistance Force. Yeah. CIA is more likely.
News From The War On Iraq: It appears that the bloody clashes between U.S. troops in Iraq and Syrian troops operating along the Iraq-Syrian frontier, as reported previously in this space, are becoming more frequent and violent. It has led to hints that the U.S. may be preparing to enter Syria to quash what it considers a threat from Syrian troops. These reports, however, should be viewed with some caution; given the well-known desire of the U.S. to do a regime-change in Syria, it may well be that these reports are disinformation designed to provide a fig leaf for the invasion of Syria.
The U.N. Food envoy in Iraq says that the Coalition forces are deliberately withholding food and water from Iraqi civilians in an effort to force them to leave areas in which the Coalition wants to operate. Such activities are a violation of the Geneva conventions, but the Coalition responds that it is not doing this deliberately; supply disruptions are an inevitable consequence of war, it says. In response, the envoy cites several specific examples of where the Coalition knowingly and wilfully withheld food and water, or prevented their entry into cities and towns under siege.
A Knight-Ridder reporter recently embedded with Iraqi troops not operating under U.S. command paints a pretty grim picture of the readiness of Iraqi troops to shoulder the burden of the defense of a democratic and representative Iraqi government. "Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that's tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population," Tom Lasseter writes. The soldiers he traveled with are "seeking revenge against the Sunnis who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein's rule."
Making The World Safe From Democracy: It appears that Smirkey is not content with allowing the Venezuelan people to choose their president by democratic means, so now his "Operation Balboa" is beginning the guerilla phase, using hired mercenaries and rogue elements in the Venezuelan military, to start a "splendid little war" against the Hugo Chavez regime. "Private military contractors" (a.k.a. mercenaries) are now operating in Colombia, just inside the border from Venezuela, and are starting to engage in incursions in Venezuela. Watch them portray it as a "homegrown rebellion against the Marxist Chavez." Can we say, "Vietnam" boys and girls? Meanwhile, the unrepentant Pat Robertson has taken up the war cry: "Isn't it a lot cheaper sometimes to deal with these problems before you have to have a big war?" he asks. What he doesn't tell you is that Chavez is keeping more money for the Venezuelan people than Robertson had originally counted on when he invested in Venezuelan oil production - and that loss of money probably has more to do with Robertson's carping than any principles about Chavez's presumed socialism.
Speaking of Venezuela, more details are emerging about the "New Tribes Mission," a fundamentalist Christian so-called "missionary" group forced out by Chavez a few days ago. They are apparently bent on forcing tribal peoples everywhere away from subsistence lifestyles and into the industrialized global "Christianized" economy, regardless of the welfare of the people involved, for which they have no visible concerns whatever - they even refer to them as "savages" on their web site. Given the thoroughly despicable nature of their activities and their sickeningly arrogant chavinism, Chavez can only be faulted for not having thrown them out years ago.
Scandals Du Jour: More trouble for Tom DeLay - it was reported here on Friday that DeLay's phone records were being subpoenaed. Now comes word that prosecutors are looking into the financing of a Toyota minivan that he purchased as well. In addition, it has come to light that "soft" money controlled by DeLay not allowed by law to be used to support individual candidates did, in fact, get used for such purposes.
As serious as the Plame and DeLay scandals are, however, it is apparently the Abramoff scandal that has the GOP most seriously worried. Insiders are saying that the potential of that scandal to suck in just about every major player in the Bush administration is huge - and it could seriously damage Republican prospects for retaining control of Congress next year.
Free Markets Solve All Problems: The manufacturer and patent holder of the formula for Tamiflu, one of only two drugs known to be effective against bird flu, has announced that it will not share manufacturing rights with other companies, nor will it license the drug to other manufacturers, and it would be many years before it could expand its own production enough to meet the demand from a flu pandemic. The only other option is for the U.S. government to issue a compulsory license, as was done for Cipro after the anthrax scare a few years ago. This will put Smirkey in an awkward position in the event of a pandemic - protect the company and its intellectual property rights or protect the public health. Any bets as to which will win?
Asked why the Bush administration will not release oil from the Emergency Heating Oil Reserve, even though the price has risen high enough to trigger the legal authorization to do so, the Department of Energy is offering the lame excuse that "supplies are adequate to meet demand." Of course they are. If the price gets high enough, supply will always meet demand. I suspect the fact that Smirkey's cronies in the oil companies' corner offices are making a killing at these absurdly high prices is the real reason.
Now you can breathe easier - or maybe not. Seems that a new law just proposed by Smirkey's crowd would allow coal-fired power plants to pollute more, not less, of virtually every contaminant they produce, including mercury. "We are now doing to smokestacks what we did to tailpipes," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. Great. Just what I am sure you needed to hear.
An energy trader at Morgan Stanley has been sentenced to 42 months in prison and forfeiture of the money he embezzled from the company, for having set up a phony offshore energy company and trading Morgan Stanley's money through it, stealing $24 million from Morgan Stanley. He would have gotten more time, but he helped prosecutors with the Enron investigation of that company's stealing of billions. If he had used a gun to steal a hundred bucks from a liquor store to buy food for his kids, though, he'd probably be doing life.
Home At Last
I have returned from my short hiatus, and now the blogging has resumed. My apologies to those who have grown accustomed to reading my blog and have grown to depend on it. I was away in Nicaragua, in the colonial city of Granada, oldest continuously inhabited city on the North American continent. The colonial architecture there is outstanding, and the city deserves its World Heritage Site status as it approaches the 500th anniversary of its founding, just seventeen years away.
The weather, unfortunately, was miserable, and it had been raining for about three weeks by the time I arrived, with the result that the mosquitos were unusually bad, and I found myself getting chewed up rather badly by them. The trip to Granada, by bus along the InterAmerican Highway - Central America Route 2 - was for the most part uneventful. Border crossing at Penas Blancas, on the Nicaraguan - Costa Rican frontier, was swift and painless, as the crowds had been mostly driven away by the rain. The street vendors outnumbered the tourists.
When I arrived in Granada on Monday afternoon, I had not much more than checked into the hotel and it began to rain - hard. With only a brief respite, I dashed out into the tentative afternoon sun to a bar near the hotel. It is a place run by a gringo who has established it as the gringo hangout in town, and serves the best cheeseburger in the city. It was great to have a good lunch after the long bus trip.
The next two days were spent mostly catching up with old friends I had met on previous trips to Granada. A Canadian lady owns a bookstore with a coffee bar and reading patio where it is fun to go hang out and chat with other expats - catching up on the local gossip and getting plugged into the local political scene, where I gained some useful insights into some of the meddling that The Boys From Up North have been engaging in during the last few months.
The trip home yesterday was uneventful, and proceeded without problems. I got stamped back into Costa Rica by ten in the morning, and by three in the afternoon, I was home, sleeping soundly after a rather tiring journey. Today I am still dog tired, so this blog entry is going to be a rather short one, but I should be back in business by Sunday if all goes well.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: Showing empathy as always for the Middle Class, the Republicans are now looking at ways to finance their latest round of tax cuts for the rich by soaking the Middle Class yet again. So get out your checkbook, Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner, it looks like part of the most cherished of all tax deductions, the home loan interest deduction, is going away. Not the entire thing, at least not yet, but certain aspects of it - such as the capital gains exemption, or the interest deduction on second mortgages, etc. One member of the commission studying the proposal said, however that "everything is on the table." One thing is guaranteed, however, and that is that it will cost you a lot more than it will cost the rich.
Watch your backside, Big Brother now has an official dirty tricks department: The long-anticipated dirty tricks agency has finally been formally announced by the Bush administration. To be known as the National Clandestine Service, its mandate is to control all clandestine activities by all agencies under one roof. The chief of the new service, whose name will remain anonymous, will supervise the CIA's espionage operations and co-ordinate all overseas spying, including those of the FBI and the Pentagon. Just what we need - more governmental spying, less accountability and oversight.
Harriet Miers, the latest nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court is in trouble with Smirkey's conservative base. And the trouble is deepening - she can't demonstrate her ultra-conservative bona fides to their satisfaction, and so they are angrily rebelling against her nomination. The situation has gotten so bad for her that now the White House is insisting that she won't withdraw her nomination, and neither will Smirkey. The fact of this statement shows how little support she has among Smirkey's base.
With Smirkey's support base eroding in the face of all the revelations about corruption, abuse, Katrina contract fraud, and now Harriet Miers, Smirkey's poll numbers are at the lowest ever. The latest poll released by MSNBC shows that his approval rating has dropped to 39%, the lowest of his presidency. Among African Americans, his poll numbers are amazingly low - only 2% approve of his performance, the lowest number ever recorded for a sitting president.
Don't think that Canada is a great place to seek haven from this kind of right-wing nonsense either. The Canadians recently deported a hospital patient, catheter still attached, to the U.S. border and handed him over to authorities there, because he had been using marijuana for the control of severe chronic pain. Steven W. Tuck, in detention, was then denied medical treatment for five days, and given only Ibuprofen for his pain. He was still fitted with his urinary catheter when he was wheeled into Federal Court for his detention hearing. His lawyer said "This is totally inhumane. He has been tortured for days for no reason." Welcome to Smirkey's more compassionate conservatism, Steven. Isn't Republican America a wonderful place to be?
Inflation, it appears, has come roaring back. Smirkey's handling of the economy has been so deft and skillful that he has managed to give us an inflation rate that is the highest since 1990, at the same time that employment is stagnant. I recall that being called "stagflation" way back during the last time this happened under another Republican administration - the memorable era of Richard Nixon. The Fed will have to fight it the only way it can - by running up interest rates - thereby pushing down rising housing prices, currently the basis of consumer spending. Now that ought to do wonderful things for the economy. Meanwhile, the trade gap widened by 1.2 percent in August alone, reaching $59 billion, adding to inflationary pressures.
Al Qaeda Says It Ain't So. The letter released last week by the Coalition in Iraq, which claimed to be a missive from Al Qaeda's number two in Iraq back to headquarters, is a forgery, if Al Qaeda is to be believed. Well, frankly, I don't find claims by the Coalition to be much more credible, so I am inclined to ignore the whole thing as a disinformation exercise.
Coloradoans are finding out that when you try to drown government in the bathtub, it performs like it had been... well... drowned in the bathtub. There is now an increasingly popular ballot initiative to undo one of the anti-government freaks' most cherished pieces of legislation, the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" known as TABOR, which limits the growth of government spending in that state to population growth plus inflation. Coloradoans have discovered to their dismay that as productivity increases, tax revenues go down, and with it, the ability of government to perform the services on which the taxpayers depend. So the result is that Colorado now ranks 47th in the nation for state tax funds supporting higher education per $1,000 of personal income. That’s the lowest in 40 years, and represents a drop from 34th in 1992. And when recessions hit, tax revenues go down, but cannot recover when the economy does - so other services go unattended as well, just when they are needed most - to keep an economic expansion going. The effort to repeal TABOR appears to be headed for victory.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has booted out a Christian missionary group on its ear. The "New Tribes Mission" was supposedly evangelizing indigenous groups, but the numbers of missionaries (at least 3700) were far out of proportion to a reasonable number to accomplish that task, and they were engaged in a lot of non-proselytizing activities, such as setting up luxury camps out in the jungle. When evidence began to appear that they were engaged in spying activities on behalf of the CIA, Chavez gave them the boot, and has replaced their humanitarian activities with those of his own government. Of course, in my view, booting out the Christian missionaries out of Latin America is something that should have been done five centuries ago.
Scandals Du Jour: The Valerie Plame CIA identity leak scandal investigation is widening. A little known White House group calling itself the "WHIG" (White House Iraq Group) is the latest target of the investigation, as it goes beyond just Vice Pres. Cheney, his chief of staff "Scooter" Libby, and presidential advisor Karl Rove. It would appear that anyone who was involved with WHIG is now a target - and that includes a lot of top White House staffers as well as government officials.
It appears that the ethically challenged former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay is about to have his phone records scrutinized. The prosecuting attorney in the money laundering investigation has asked for his phone records to be turned over from both his personal telephone and the telephones of his campaign headquarters.
Republicans Take Care Of Their Own: Seems that Florida Governor Jeb Bush has a new Circuit Court judge. And he is not just any judge. He is the judge, who, as the chairman of the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, helped swing the election count in the 2000 election in favor of Jeb's brother, Smirkey.
If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away: Looks like 2005 is right on track to going down in history as the hottest year on record, continuing a 25-year run of increasing global temperatures. The planetary average temperature has already beat 1998's record by one tenth of a degree.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Potentially the biggest sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church yet revealed has broken out in Los Angeles. For seventy years, at least 126 priests in Los Angeles were allowed to continue to minister to parishes after they had been caught in or accused of sexual abuse of minors in their parishes. The church responded with "therapy" followed by reassignment. For at least forty years, victims were counseled to keep quiet about what had happened to them. Most of the cases have yet to go to trial, but the potential judgments could surpass even the $85 million payed out by the Catholic Church in the Boston scandal.
Today will be the last blog entry until late next week. I will be away from my computer and unable to generate a blog entry until Friday or so, and I regret the inconvenience for those of you who have come to depend on this for much of your real news. Very sorry, but the interruption is quite unavoidable. I'll be back at the end of the week. See you then.
The weather has been typical rainy season, rains mostly in the afternoon and evening, with some sun during the day. But what is weird about it is that the winds have been off the Pacific. We're not used to this here - it is pretty unusual for the winds here to come out of the west this time of the year, but ever since Stan began, they have been doing that. So the rains have been erratic, but not a lot less than normal - not what one would expect for weather off of the Pacific, which normally brings us hot and dry weather. Still some of the remnants of Stan, which still haven't moved out of the region, a week on.
The gardener didn't show up at all yesterday. He had agreed to cut the weeds on the North Forty today, and so I had actually been expecting him to be a bit early, but when he didn't show at all, I grew concerned. It is not like him to simply not show - usually, he'll let me know a week in advance when he is not going to be on time, or needs to show on Saturday. But not yesterday.
So today, when I woke up about seven, and heard his weed whacker going, I was a bit surprised. I got up and dressed and went over to talk to him - his patron (principal employer) had needed him to swap a day, so he did that, and he came today early so he could avoid the weed whacking during the heat of the day Once he was done with that, I had him get everything fertilized - it has been two months since I had done any fertilizing, and things were showing a need for it. So that done, he has been working on getting the rest of the chores done, and cleaning up the yard.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Before you get the idea that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is a Really Nice Person who just happens to be caught up in the Bush administration's sleaze, consider this: When she was running the law firm of Locke, Liddell and Sapp, that firm was repeatedly forced to pay millions of dollars to victims who sued that law firm for assisting a Ponzi scheme in defrauding investors of $34 million. The case became a test case, testing a Texas law that provides that when a law firm helps a company do a Ken Lay, it can be sued. L.L. and S apparently did, and it was forced to pay. Sued more than once, in fact - one time for a total of $22 million. The details of the case should be quite troubling to anyone who would like to think well of this nominee. Apparently she is just another ethically challenged Smirkey crony.
Holy coincidence, batman! The subway bombing threats in New York on Wednesday were revealed by New York City officials on their own initiative, according to the White House, and were not revealed in coordination with the president's speech on terrorism of that day. Of course, no one is asking if the administration's informing the New York city officials about the threat may have actually been intended to be revealed by them - New York City officials say that they had no choice but to go public with the threats, because it had leaked to the media. Shouldn't someone be asking who leaked the information to the media, and why?
The Centers for Disease Control has become the latest victim of Smirkey's penchant for secrecy and lack of accountability. And knowledgeable scientists are saying that the nation and the world could pay the price in the form of retarded vaccine development in the face of the pending bird flu pandemic. A 34-page "Information Security Manual" gives employees nineteen different ways of hiding information from public access without having to secure a secret classification. The Federation of American Scientists published the manual on its web site and declares that it runs counter to the CDC mission, as well as the public interest. It certainly runs counter to the basic principles of science, which demand free and open information sharing.
The little-known hunger strike among the detainees in Guantanamo is more serious than is generally appreciated, according to the Red Cross. Of the 500 detainees, 200 are currently on hunger strike and about 20 are currently being force-fed, according to them.
The plan by the ethically challenged California Republican house member Richard Pombo to sell off the national parks has been approved by the House as part of the modifications to the Endangered Species Act, and has finally gathered notice from the environmental organizations. Of course, they don't like what they see. Due to lack of reporting by the "liberal biased press," however, the American people remain completely unaware that 23% of national park land is about to be sold off for oil and gas exploration. Maybe Fox should report so the American people can decide.
It appears that in spite of what the heavily Republican-biased Gallup organization claimed last week, reported in this space, that Smirkey's poll numbers are up, a new CBS News poll, just released, shows that instead, they continue to decline. His approval rating is now only 37%, the lowest of his presidency, and even lower than after Katrina. By nearly three to one, people think the country is on the wrong track. Of course the Republicans approve of his performance, but mostly because Smirkey's policies are benefiting the white, upper class, conservative, adult, male, heterosexual, fundamentalist protestants. The rest of the country can go to hell, which it seems to be doing.
Smirkey isn't real popular with the governors at the moment, either. His suggestion that the military should take over disaster response from the governors has gone over like a lead balloon. USA Today did a poll of the governors, and of the 38 who responded, only two thought it was a good idea - Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, both Republicans. Even Smirkey's brother, Jeb Bush, governor of Florida, panned the idea. He said that if "state and local response is a complete failure, there might be a way for the federal government to step in. But a takeover is not appropriate." Montana governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer was not quite so polite: "People in Washington, D.C., can yap all they want, but they're not going to undermine the constitution of the state of Montana."
The report by the BBC, reported here on Thursday, that Smirkey said that God told him to invade Iraq, has been denied by the White House press office. Calling it "absurd," Scott McClellan, Smirkey's press pimp, said that "He never made such comments." Meanwhile, the BBC is apparently distancing itself from the report on the comment, under pressure from the White House and Downing Street, but the man quoted in the BBC report has confirmed publicly that Bush did, in fact, make the comment, but Nabil Shaath, a negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, says that when he heard them, he didn't take them literally. Well, Nabil, maybe you should have.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick is back in Nicaragua, browbeating that rebellious Central American colony over its reluctance to join CAFTA and its attempts to rid itself of its U.S.-installed president, Enrique Belanos. The fig leaf being used to cover all this meddling is that they are trying to "defend democracy," but hey, when they're propping up a president whose support is in the single digits, and force ratification of a treaty that is almost universally opposed by the population, that fig leaf has a few holes in it. The ultra-right wing "Liberal" party, which brought Belanos to office and no longer supports him, has denounced the visit as "outrageous interference."
Italy has issued warrants for the arrest of three more CIA agents, in addition to the 19 already under warrant. Italian newspapers reconstructed the deleted files from one of the suspect's computer disks and found that they were all engaged in an "extraordinary rendition," whereby suspects the CIA would like to interrogate are packed off to third countries where they are tortured until the desired information is given up.
The U.S. economy is facing a new hurdle: it appears that the rising housing bubble is finally in the process of bursting, and with it, all the refinancing that is driving much of the economy. As prices rise, Americans have been pulling their new-found equity out by refinancing, and then spending the money that they're receiving from the refinance, on monthly expenses. But evidence is that prices are softening, and actually going down in some areas, so that process has come to its inevitable conclusion. Prices have declined by 13 percent in the last three months in Manhattan, and are no longer accelerating in Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, a town that led the bubble.
Canada to Martha: Take off, eh! Martha Stewart, the potpourri princess famous most recently for having redecorated the interior of a jail cell, was refused entry into Canada as a convicted felon. Waivers are routinely granted, but apparently she was inexplicably turned down, and as a result, she was not allowed to cross the border to attend a pumpkin festival in Windsor, Nova Scotia. She said she was devastated by the decision.
Apparently thinking that if you command it, it will be done, Smirkey has commanded vaccine manufacturers to come up with ways to step up production of bird flu vaccine, to make it available for everyone. The problem: bird flu attacks birds, and flu vaccine has to be grown on living eggs - a basic, fundamental problem, as the inoculation will kill the egg. Scientists are working on a solution, but so far, no good replacements for the egg method have been developed.
Liberal Biased Media Watch: Apparently the romantically challenged Rush Limbaugh has a new girlfriend. And she is, according to the Washington Post, none other than CNN's news anchor Daryn Kagan. Rush read a love note from her on the air the other day - and in reference to Thursday's terrorism speech by Smirkey, it said "This is great. This sounds like you wrote this speech. This sounds like you giving this speech." Which has called her on-air moderating into question, and so Media Matters For America has had a closer look at the transcript of her analysis of that speech - and sure enough, there's a subtle, but noticeable pro-administration tilt to it - read the transcript and you'll see what I mean. So much for the "objective" CNN. Note to Daryn: Check out his marital/romantic history if you want a clue as to how well this is going to work out. And are you sure you want to get hooked up with an Oxycontin addict?
It has come to light that Fox News apparently has no written standards for journalistic ethics, and the ethical standards have sunk so low that reporters occasionally just make things up, with corporate being aware and doing nothing about it. One former employee, when he went to work for MSNBC was struck by the fact that the first thing that happened on his arrival was that he was given a 50-page manual on journalistic standards and ethics. Nothing like that ever happened at Fox, he said.
Trickling Down On You: The recession has begun and it is going to be a doozie. According to the American Bankers' Association: "The percentage of overdue US credit card accounts jumped to a record in the second quarter as gasoline prices surged... Consumers had more trouble making payments on personal, auto and home-equity loans during the three-month span... Delinquencies on these loans, collectively, rose to 2.22 percent from a revised 2.03 percent in the prior quarter... Delinquencies on home-equity loans increased to 2.75 percent of all such loans, up from a revised 2.61 percent. Delinquency rates for indirect auto loans, which are made by auto dealers and held by banks, increased to 2.08 percent from 1.87 percent the previous quarter. Those for direct auto loans gained to 2.07 percent from 2.04 percent."
If you are still in a house by year's end, expect it to cost you more to heat it this winter - a lot more. As reported here previously, midwest natural gas prices are expected to increase by 57%, but that's barely the half of it - Accuweather meteorologist Ken Reeves is predicting a "very cold winter" for New York, and he is expecting heating bills there to be as much as 70% above last year. Other parts of the country could see bills as much as 90% above last year.
Meanwhile, employment is down, more than expected, as a result of Katrina, and manufacturing (what is left of it in the U.S.) has also slowed. Consumer spending has fallen at the sharpest rate since 9/11, even as consumer prices have been rising at the rate of 0.5% per month. But before everyone rushes out to blame Katrina, the numbers show that the economy was slowing before Katrina hit.
But don't feel sorry for everyone; the millionaires are doing fine, and in fact, there are now 700,000 of them in the U.S., more than there have ever been.
The United States is being pushed ever closer to having to relinquish control of the Internet. The meeting recently in Geneva between the U.S. and the rest of the world, resulted in a consultative council being established which would set technical standards for the net. Critics say, however, that this is meaningless, as long as the U.S. retains control of the root nameservers.
Conservatives Strengthening Democracy: A group of right-wing students and campus police roughed up a protestor who had been peacefully and legally protesting in front of a military recruiter's table at George Mason University. The Pakistani student had often been there protesting before, but this time, a group of students ripped off the protest statement on a piece of paper taped to his chest - which read "recruiters lie - don't be deceived" - and ripped it up. Campus police intervened and completed the roughup.
The Senate's revolt over the torture limitation issue in the defense appropriations bill, will result in the first veto by Smirkey, if it arrives on his desk with the limitation on the use of torture still intact, according to the White House. The vote was one of the largest and best supported congressional revolts during President George W Bush's five years in office and shocked the White House. "We have put out a Statement of Administration Policy saying that his advisers would recommend that he vetoes it if it contains such language," White House press pimp Scott McClellan warned yesterday.
This kind of arrogant disregard for the will of the people, not to mention their rights, is sparking a revolt among the people. A new web site, hoping to spark a "mass outpouring of resistance to the Bush regime" is rapidly gaining momentum in the blogosphere, and is advocating a "day of resistance" on November 2. The natives are getting restless, Smirkey.
AOL-Time Warner, in a foretaste of things to come, has censored the Alex Jones web sites - Infowars.com, PrisonPlanet.com and PrisonPlanet.tv - from their broadband customers on their Roadrunner ISP network. Claiming that the Jones websites were engaging in "hate speech," they defended their actions until angry and numerous protests by their subscribers restored access. Of course, neither the 700 Club web site, nor Fox News, where assassination of foreign leaders was actually called for, or calls for discrimination against homosexuals on the Rush Limbaugh web site and numerous Christian-group web sites are frequently preached, were banned. It is obvious that one man's hate speech is another man's advocacy - and AOL-Time Warner's advocacy - defined by what they do allow - is hate speech by any measure. I think a better word for what AOL-TW was doing was plain, raw, old fashioned censorship.
Scandals Du Jour: The Louisiana prison abuse scandal goes on. Human Rights Watch and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP have interviewed 23 prisoners and had heard horrifying stories of abuse and torture from 22 of them. The two organizations are demanding a federal probe of conditions inside Louisiana prisons, and that includes prisoners transferred out of New Orleans jails during Katrina. The ACLU has filed a suit over the conditions that some prisoners were forced to endure - being confined to cells with standing water in them, in which feces and corpses were floating, is one of the charges.
In the ongoing election scandal, it appears that new questions are being raised about private ownership and control of voter databases. The same company that brought us the felon voter scrub list scandal in Florida is now handling the entire voter databases in some states, and there are allegations that the results are not pretty. Some states report that their databases have not been readied on time, others have generated cost overruns and are failing to meet federal requirements. The Help Americans Vote Act of 2003 requires states to privatize their voter databases, removing oversight functions from public scrutiny, because the databases become private property. HAVA clean election, America.
The ethically challenged Karl Rove is facing a new scandal: it turns out that one of his erstwhile neighbors in Texas has told the registrar of voters that he's never seen the guy hanging around town. It's a crime to register to vote when you don't actually live there, and Karl doesn't seem to spend much time living in Texas these days. Seems he's never even been seen at his registered address. So another registered voter has done his civic duty and filed a complaint with the county registrar of voters. We'll see if Karl's voter registration survives the investigation.
Speaking of White House scandals, Smirkey's nominee for deputy attorney general, the number two slot at Justice, Timothy E. Flanigan, has withdrawn his nomination, because of his close ties with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a man with close ties to Karl Rove. Questions have been raised about his lobbying activities on behalf of Tyco International after leaving the White House staff, and his bragging about close connections to the recently indicted House Majority Whip, Tom DeLay.
Piled higher and deeper: The evidence against Tom DeLay in his money laundering scandals just seems to be accumulating. Now it is a series of emails that have been uncovered that implicate him yet more deeply in directing monies coming into and out of the Republican National Committee to aid specific candidates in Texas. Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that he and his successor as the House Majority Whip, Roy Blunt, traded secret campaign contributions. Apparently, as an ordinary member of the house, his salary has been dropped by $20,000 per year, but is still pulling down a cool $150,000.
News of Katrina/Rita:
It's an open secret - and has been reported in this space - that the elite in New Orleans don't want the impoverished of the 9th Ward and other poor neighborhoods of New Orleans to come back. The elite have a commission to oversee the plans for the rebuilding, called "Bring New Orleans Back" and the poor need not apply - the latter are charging that is why they have been involuntarily dispersed across 40 states, even though many are ready and eager to return. The commission has a vision for a rebuilt New Orleans that activists and development experts fear will be "soulless" and "corporate-led" and lead to a "soulless shell of a once great southern city." The plan is why the poor are still, six weeks on, not being allowed back into the poorer districts. The elite apparently want to keep them out - and keep them from voting. The result is that activists are starting to put together a network of New Orleans evacuees, and agitate for representation on the commission. Good luck, fellas, you're going to need it.
Many of the no-bid contracts that FEMA handed out after the storms have been opened up to bidding. The waste was so outrageous that even the Republicans couldn't abide it, and so many of them are being reviewed and opened up to competitive bidding. Of course the beneficiaries of the largesse are predictably outraged and threatening to sue.
Working against their own: the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, is complaining that the White House is working silently, and behind the scenes, to torpedo the bill he is pushing, to get Medicaid relief to Katrina victims. The bill would authorize Medicaid benefits to Katrina evacuees, and would reimburse states 100% for the costs. Meanwhile, six weeks on in Louisiana, Medicaid officials have turned away more than 6,000 people, or 55 percent of hurricane evacuees housed in shelters who sought aid, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported this week.
We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You: Governor Taft of Ohio is set to become the only Ohio governor convicted of a crime while in office to remain in office. After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report golf outings paid for by lobbyists, he paid his $4,000 fine, apologized to the people of Ohio - and then defied them by saying he will remain their governor.
The evangelical Christian proselytizing scandal at the Air Force Academy just goes on and on - now the Air Force has been named defendant in a lawsuit by a cadet who says he was badgered and intimidated because of his Jewish affiliations. Mikey Weinstein, from Albuquerque, said "My problem is not with Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity or even evangelical Christianity. It's that whenever a religion - in this case a group of people - tries to engage the machinery of the state, it is constitutionally repugnant and violative."
News of the weird: It seems that all those pythons let loose in the Everglades over the years by Florida pet owners, have become established and are fighting it out with the alligators for control of the swamps. But they better not eat the gators - it seems that when they do, the gators have learned to claw their way through the bellies of the snakes and make their way out. Several instances of this behavior have been noted.
In other news of the weird, it appears that the Ig-Nobel Prize for Medicine this year has gone to Gregg Miller, an inventor who mortgaged his home and maxed out his credit cards to bring you - I'm not making this up - prosthetic dog testicles for neutered dogs. He's apparently doing a land-office mail-order business for "Neuticles," too - and has sold 150,000, more than doubling his investment. The silicone creations come in various sizes and firmnesses. Apparently some owners just can't abide the thought of their pet rotweiler going around embarrassed in front of the ladies.
And finally, a Brazilian psychic is claiming the $25 million reward that the Iraq Occupation was offering for information leading to the capture of Saddam. He claims that he sent letters with the exact location to the U.S. military, as far back as September, 2001, including information on the hole, and it was with that information that they were able to find Saddam. A Brazilian court has agreed to take up the lawsuit. The court has said that if the claimant is successful, the judgment will be communicated via diplomatic channels to Washington. Good luck, buddy!
Stan Visits Costa Rica - Kinda
The rainy weather continues. It has been drizzly all day, although we had about a six hour break in the weather yesterday. It cleared off mid morning, and was bright and sunny into the evening, but eventually the weather closed in again, and the rains resumed. Other than about a half hour break mid day, the rains have been relentless all day today.
I am learning that it is all the result of the remnants of Hurricane Stan, which have wreaked such havoc in southern Mexico and Guatemala. Thank goodness we have not been visited with that level of destruction, but the rains I saw on Monday during my trip to Liberia were, indeed, feeder bands from Stan. And now that the hurricane has fallen apart, it continues to rain, because the remnants are simply not moving out, but continue to dump rain - relentlessly. There has been some flooding alerts on the Nicoya Peninsula, but the rain hasn't made much of an impact this far inland. So far as I have heard, there hasn't been much flooding over there yet - at least not the last few days.
That would explain why I have been enjoying warm weather in spite of the rain. Watching CNN tonight, I have been enjoying with a sly satisfaction the images of an early snow in Montana and the Dakotas. Well, they can have it, doesn't look even slightly enticing to me. Hey, I grew up in southern Idaho, and delivered newspapers in those arctic winters for four years. If I never see another snowflake or icy windshield or slippery sidewalk again, it will be plenty soon for me.
Speaking of southern Idaho, I went to the U.S.G.S. earthquake server to look up a small tremor we had here a few nights ago, and noticed on the list of recent earthquakes, a series of small quakes in southern Idaho. But they were in the mountains north of Boise, on the other side of the state from my home town of Idaho Falls. So I guess nothing nothing serious.
The earthquake here? It was a subduction earthquake (the Cocos Plate sliding under Central America), and was a 5.0 off the coast of the Osa Peninsula. I am surprised I even felt it here.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Not In The States: Harriet Miers, the replacement Smirkey has nominated for Sandra Day O'Conner on the U.S. Supreme Court, is apparently a rabid anti-abortionist. A former campaign manager who managed her campaign for the Dallas City Council in 1988, said she is "on the extreme end of the anti-abortion movement... I suspect she is of the same cloth as the President." The much-trumpeted fact that she once gave money to an Al Gore campaign overlooks a subtle detail that changes everything: the money actually went to a primary campaign chaired by none other than Rick Perry, the current Republican governor of Texas, who, when Al Gore was running there, was a Democrat, as was Harriet at the time. Rick Perry is a lifelong conservative ally of the Bush family. At that time, many Texas conservatives were members of the Democratic party, a historical reaction to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of a century earlier. There are also questions about her involvement in Smirkey's avoidance of service in Vietnam. She was also doggedly zealous in defending Microsoft against consumer lawsuits in a 1990 case stemming from problems with MS-DOS. In a White House that has hero-worshipped Smirkey, she stood out in her zeal: she once said he was "the most brilliant man I have ever met." And she is a Supreme Court nominee? Scary!
Smirkey is showing just how scary he can be, too. He apparently told the Palestinian cabinet that God told him to invade Iraq, and God told him to give the Palestinians their own state. Well, I'm glad for the latter, but the concept of a guy with his finger on the button that thinks he's God's rotweiler - well, that is a concept I find a bit unnerving.
And if you think that is scary, consider this: Three senior Israeli officials last week announced that if Iran posed a threat, they would act unilaterally if necessary. Well, consider that the U.S. has plans, as reported previously in this space, to possibly invade Iran before Smirkey is out of office, well, given where it happens to be on the map, it sure looks like Iran is toast and just doesn't know it yet. Looks like there's almost a competition over who gets to do the dirty work.
Another scary crony of Smirkey's is John "two tone" Bolton, the crazy anti-UN zealot that Smirkey appointed to the ambassadorship of the United Nations. Well, Bolton went to his alma mater, Yale, for a student presentation, and got a really frosty reception. In fact, he was outright hissed - a traditional Yale mark of extreme disapproval.
Wanna know if it's gonna snow? Get out your resume: If you are a member of the press and you want to interview a federal or local official of the National Weather Service, you are going to have to get yourself approved before permission for the interview can be granted. Yes, they're going so far as to control access to the National Weather Service. Now lets see how they justify that one using the War on Terror!
More evidence of the transparency of this administration: The Democrats in congress are complaining loudly about how the administration is imposing a blackout on the progress (or more likely the lack thereof) of the war in Iraq. They have gone so far as to ask for a formal report on the progress. Can't seem to learn anything from the "liberal biased press."
Showing just how far the ultraconservative Republicans will go to get their way, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has said that he will oppose Miers' nomination, solely for the reason that, as he says, she has not yet established her conservative bona fides. Can we say, "litmus test" boys and girls?
The Senate has voted to defy Smirkey. By a vote of 90 to 9, they have sent to the house the military appropriations bill, with the anti-torture limitations intact, in spite of Smirkey's threat to veto it. I can understand why - I'd hate to have to face voters at re-election time, trying to explain a vote for torture. Whether Smirkey will follow through on his threat, well, we'll see.
In his latest move to strengthen democracy in the United States, Smirkey has announced that he may use the military to impose quarantines during a bird flu pandemic if needed, he says. Maybe the National Guard - which would be legal under current law - but maybe the Army, which would clearly not be legal. He is asking Congress to study the issue. Another excuse to repeal Posse Comitatus.
Under the Supreme Court's recent decision to allow property rights only for the wealthy who have the money to sue an overly ambitious local government, a Florida city has announced plans to confiscate the property of 6,000 of its low-income residents to build a $2 billion yachting and housing complex. Riviera Beach has agreed to allow Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, LLC., a New Jersey-based outfit, to redevelop the 400 acres of property once the owners are booted out.
Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, who is most famous there for his "zero tolerance" policing policy in that city, is considering a run for president of the United States. He said a few days ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, that he is considering a run, and will make the decision next year.
Alabama is poised to add to its Supreme Court none other than Tom Parker, a judge known for his refusal to remove a two-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments from his courtroom. But it turns out that there is more to him than that - he is a tried and true neo-confederate, who recently traveled to Selma to the home of friends to celebrate the birthday of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a wealthy slave trader who became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The more some things change down south, the more some things stay the same.
A legislative committee in Indiana is considering a bill for submission to that state's legislature that would limit the reproductive rights of lesbians, gays and single people. It would prohibit gays, lesbians and single people in Indiana from using medical science to assist them in having a child - such scientific procedures would be available only to married couples, and in Indiana, gays cannot marry. State Sen. Patricia Miller acknowledged that the legislation before her panel would be "enormously controversial" but intends to pursue it anyway.
A power struggle may be brewing in the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Missouri congressman Roy Blunt, who took the Majority Whip position from Tom DeLay when the latter was forced to step aside temporarily, is now reportedly working to consolidate his power and support for a permanent assignment to the position. Apparently, besides DeLay, Tom Boehner of Ohio is apparently jockeying for support for the permanent leadership. This could get interesting - the conservative Republicans eating their young.
Six Democrats who are Iraq War veterans, are running for Congress in four states, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. They say they are well qualified to ask the tough questions about the war. They're not alone in asking questions - only 37% of the American public currently approve of Smirkey's war policies.
The Department of Defense has OK'ed $2 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia - the source of most of the foreign fighters in the Iraqi insurgency. Saudi Arabia is interested in 144 armored personnel carrier vehicles, about 55,000 rifles and nearly 200 vehicle radio systems, among other equipment. Prospective purchases also include trucks, tankers and buses that are not considered major defense equipment.
Smirkey was asked at his press conference earlier this week, if he was still a conservative. "Proudly so, proudly so!" he replied. The questioner asked how he can claim that, when he has grown government spending so much, and failed to balance the budget. He responded that it is only spending on "security" that has grown.
NAFTA sure seems to be helping Mexico lift itself out of poverty: it appears that a record number of people have died trying to cross illegally from Mexico into the United States, according to U.S. Customs. It is not just from dying from heat in the deserts; it is also from drownings and car accidents. The deaths apparently reflect a small increase in illegal immigration, but primarily an increasing militarization of the border, forcing illegals to use more hazardous crossing points and methods. The increase in deaths is huge, too - a 43% increase over last year.
Not that the U.S. economy is doing gangbusters, either. There is evidence that growth in the largest sector in the American economy, the service sector, is slowing. This could be a problem for the Federal Reserve, which faces growing inflationary pressures, and will therefore need to dampen the economy to dampen the inflation. This could trigger a full-blown recession - just in time for the mid-term elections next year.
Think you can avoid sales taxes by buying online? Not for much longer. A coalition of 18 states has worked out an agreement to tax online sales. It includes a consolidated method of collecting the taxes, a reimbursement to retailers for the costs of collecting it, and an exoneration from previous sales on which taxes were not collected.
Turns out it isn't just a few jobs being exported these days, it is practically whole regions. More than half of all Silicon Valley companies that were surveyed recently, said that they are planning to outsource their work or outright move to India. China will be getting about 8% of Silicon Valley's jobs. Would the last engineer to move out of Silicon Valley please turn out the lights?
Compassionate conservatism helps out again: in the face of winter heating bills that could be as much as 77% above last year, Republican leaders in Congress say they have no plans to increase funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program which helps fixed-income seniors and the poor keep their homes heated. Increased funding "is not on the agenda" for the administration "at this point," said Energy secretary Samuel Bodman. Instead? A "Smokey Bear" -style conservation campaign. So if you're a low-income senior, be patriotic. Freeze to death.
News from Katrina/Rita:
Since Smirkey's cronies are largely white, it should come as no surprise to learn that very few contracts for relief and recovery are being awarded to minority-owned firms. Normally, federal rules require that 5% of federal contract monies be awarded to minority-owned firms, but so far, only 1.5% of Katrina relief has been awarded to such firms. I am sure we are all surprised.
The Corps of Engineers had a close call. There was very nearly another major breach of the levee system that could have led to additional flooding, once again, of the city. A combination of strong east winds and high tides did breach a levee about 60 km. from New Orleans, but fast work did manage to staunch the flooding. The corps says it is on schedule to have the levees repaired to their pre-Katrina strength by June 1 next year - the date that the next hurricane season officially starts.
The City of New Orleans is laying off 3,000 workers, in response to the financial crisis that has beset the city government. With tax revenues flagging, almost non-existent, Mayor Nagin has said that he has no choice. A few restaurants in the French Quarter that are re-opening are advertising for staff, but of course it will be nowhere near enough to soak up the flood of workers coming off of the city payroll. The mayor says he has looked "high and low" for the funds to keep them on, but nothing has worked. He can't even get loans.
From the Scandals Du Jour desk, we are learning that the ethically-challenged Tom Delay has been indicted again - this time for money laundering. The original indictment was defective - it was for the violation of a law that had apparently been passed after the congressman had committed the alleged offense. Meanwhile, the prosecuting attorney says he has new evidence to support his indictment.
We are also learning that Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecuting attorney looking into the Valerie Plame leak, may be getting close to indicting Karl Rove. He has been invited to testify before the grand jury again, but this time he has been warned that his testimony could be used against him. Well, pushing that scandal back off the front pages could explain all the sudden nonsense about the War on Terror today - first a big speech about the War on Terror - and then, a bomb scare in the New York subway system. Holy convenience, batman!
News of the weird: An Oregon doctor has had his license suspended, and has been sent to jail after having convinced a patient that he could cure her lower back pain by having sex with her. He then charged the Oregon Health Plan $5,000 for his efforts. He'll be returning the money.
More news of the weird: IRobot, Inc., a company that is best known for its robotic vacuum cleaners, is now doing a military contract. It is going to develop a robotic anti-sniper device, designed to go out and find snipers in urban settings, so military anti-sniper teams can find them and take them out.
Trip To Liberia In The Pouring Rain
The rainy season weather has been setting in big time - and yesterday was rainy most of the day. It started out with light rain in the morning, on and off, and by noon it had started raining in earnest and just didn't quit. The cooler temperatures were welcome, giving the air a pleasant, if damp comfortability.
I had some fairly urgent business in the provincial capital, Liberia, yesterday, so in spite of the rain, I had to charge out into it and drive the 103 kilometers to Liberia. After a fairly leisurely breakfast, I closed up the house and got on the road. After a quick stop at the gasolinera to get my left front tire filled, I headed out over the dreaded Arenal-Tilaran highway. I was surprised at how well the MOPT's patches have been holding up - there are a few new potholes, but few of the old ones have come unpatched. In all, the trip to Tilaran was fairly speedy, having to dodge potholes only a few times. Traffic was remarkably sparse, too. I think the high cost of gasoline ($3.37 per gallon at the moment) has pushed a lot of people into the buses. And I notice more buses on the road, too. I think that the high passenger loading (lots of strap hangers lately), combined with the increase in fares recently, have encouraged people to ride the buses instead of driving.
I had no business in Tilaran, so I headed straight out to Canas. The intermittent rain, with the sudden, unexpected potholes, meant I needed to keep the speed down and enjoy the scenery. That route is a beautiful one, with patches of jungle with a canopy that closes clear across the highway, interspersed with dairy pastures on rolling hills, is always pleasant, but this time of the year, with the greenery brought on by the rain, it is always particularly beautiful.
The InterAmerican Highway from Canas to Liberia was in poor condition - the rainy season and the heavy truck traffic have taken their toll. It was originally built in the late 1940's, and has never been repaved since. Instead, new pavement has been put down over the old, until it is now six inches thick in some places. But the pavement is separating between layers, and is coming up, and the result is potholes with paved bottoms - a square-wave topography that can be really hard on shocks. So I kept the speed down to about 80 clicks - 50 miles an hour.
By the time I arrived in Liberia, it was noon, and the office I needed to visit was closed, so I had lunch at Papa John's. I ordered the personal calzone ($2.15), and was rather disappointed when it came - the dough on the crust was uncooked on the inside, even though it was the proper golden-brown on the outside. Clearly Papa John needs to send someone down to Costa Rica to visit the franchises for some quality control work.
After some waiting at the office, I got my business taken care of, and having no other business in Liberia, I headed back to Arenal, back along the InterAmerican. I had to wait for road construction taking place just out of Liberia - a road crew was out there cutting out potholes, right down to the road base and filling it back in with asphalt. They were doing it right, except for one thing - all this was going on in a pouring rain. The tropical downpour was hitting the hot asphalt and generating copious quantities of steam. I can only wonder how long those patches over wet roadbase, and put down in pouring rain, are actually going to last. Methinks it won't be long.
As I drove along the InterAmerican, I noticed that a lot of the streams were out of their banks. By now it had been pouring down rain for a couple of hours, and the flat topography of the Plains of Cortez means that the water had nowhere to go, and was backing up in the streams, canals and drainage ditches. Nowhere was it over the highway, but in a couple of places it was close.
Once I was back onto the secondary roads, however, it was another matter. Just out of Canas, on the road to Tilaran, the capacious roadside desaguas (drainage ditches) were running over, and one was pouring across the road, deep enough I was uncertain as to whether to cross. Having been over that spot a few hours before, and knowing that it was not likely washed out, I eased my Raider through it. No problem, it was shallow, and the underlying pavement intact. I continued on. Numerous driveways were draining out onto the highway, and more than one desagua was also overflowing, but nothing like the first one. When I got to Tilaran, the rain was a serious downpour and not letting up. It occurred to me that I was out of stomach medicine, so I stopped at a farmacia and got some more - sixteen doses - that was all they had. Better than nothing, though. It should tide me over until I am back in Tilaran.
The trip back to Arenal went past several derrumbes (small landslides), though nothing had yet gotten bad enough to block the road. Just up to the edge in most places, and blocking about half a lane in one case. But by nightfall, I expect the road will be cut off. Just par for the course for the rainy season in mountainous Costa Rica.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: This should send a chill down your spine - The pentagon can soon legally spy on you. That's right, the military spy agencies will soon have legal authority to spy on Americans domestically, without having to reveal the existence of the investigation as they have previously been required to do. So not only can the FBI and CIA spy on you, now the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the several others, will be able to spy on you at will and you will have no knowledge or recourse.
If that didn't send a chill down your spine, then this will: it was reported here on Saturday that the Indian government has let it leak that it has been warned that Smirkey has a plan to invade Iran before his term of office expires. Well, it turns out that he is apparently planning not just one war, but two, both of which will be initiated by nuclear strikes. Paul Craig Roberts, a former editor of the Wall Street Journal, contributing editor of the National Review, assistant secretary of the Treasury, and currently the John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and also a fellow at the Independent Institute, is saying that Smirkey is planning first-strike nuclear attacks on both Iran and North Korea. The U.S. military is stretched beyond its resources, and so to project U.S. power, nuclear weapons will be used on a first-strike basis for the first time ever. Of course, an attack on Iran would alienate the Shi'ites in Iraq, which represent the only significant group in Iraq that currently support U.S. involvement in Iraq. That would unify both the Shi'ites and Sunnis against the U.S. occupation and make it untenable. Additionally, world reaction at a first-strike nuclear attack on Iraq and North Korea would cause the world to begin to isolate the United States, politically, economically and militarily. The consequences would be huge, but the boundless hubris of Smirkey and the neo-cons is so great they can't begin to foresee those consequences.
Saber rattling over Iran has other consequences, too. It is already endangering access by the U.S. to the International Space Station. Currently, the U.S. depends on Russia for access while the shuttle fleet is grounded, and if Iran becomes a sore point between the U.S. and Russia, the Russians could simply say nyet! to continued use of their Soyuz space vehicles as they have been quietly threatening to do.
One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter: Miami-Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Cariles will not be extradited to Venezuela to stand trial for bombing a Cubana airliner in 1976, which led to the death of 73 people, and who stands accused of a series of bombings in Cuba, and is wanted by the Cuban government to stand trial for them. A U.S. judge has ruled that he will not be sent back, and predictably, the Venezuelan government, which has sought his extradition since May, has expressed its outrage. The reason he is not being extradited? He might be sent to Cuba to stand trial there on the hotel bombing charges.
Cariles isn't the only terrorist that Smirkey is harboring - turns out that the organizer of Haiti's notorious FRAPH, the paramilitary goon squad that terrorized the Haitian people and kept the notorious dictator Papa Doc propped up in power, was offered and accepted asylum in the United States. Toto Constant's FRAPH killed between 3,000 and 5,000 people when Papa Doc ran the show, and so it is a good question as to why the U.S. is sheltering him, and even gave him a green card. Could it be that he will be needed in Haiti once again? Apparently so - many of the "security patrols" in Haiti are manned by former FRAPH members.
Speaking of Cuba, Smirkey's "transition coordinator" - the man appointed to coordinate U.S. meddling in Cuba once Castro is gone - has been discussing the plan of the "Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba," the document from 2004 that led to the establishment of his office. The 400 page document tells about "upgrading" the Cuban health care system (privatizing it, perhaps?), in spite of the fact that it is producing a lower infant mortality rate than is the U.S. system. It proposes independent trade unions, which of course, would not be a bad idea for the United States as well, and the upgrades to the educational system - which has produced a lower illiteracy rate in that country than in the U.S.
Speaking of meddling, the U.S. has been talking about its options for meddling in Syria. The options range from economic sanctions to military invasion. Smirkey's national security team is set to meet to decide on a course of action. The intelligence supporting the complaint - that they're allowing fighters into Iraq - is inconclusive, but as we have seen, Smirkey's never been one to let the facts get in the way of a good excuse. It has been known since 1996 that the neo-cons and Israel want to do a regime change there.
Demonstrating that they have something to hide, the Israeli diplomats involved in the AIPAC spy scandal are refusing to testify. Since they are in Israel, they cannot be compelled to do so, but clearly if they were not spying, their cooperation would be good for Israel's image. Clearly, Israel is hiding something that it deems more serious a threat to its reputation than their refusal will be. The whole affair has led the administration not to worry about spying, but to worry about leaks. I guess it is OK if Israel spies on the U.S., as long as nobody finds out.
The Bush administration has plans to dismantle the Veterans Administration, according to military.com. They are quoting an unnamed senator as saying, "What VA? By the time this administration is done there won't be a VA." There are a number of reasons why Smirkey wants to get rid of it, one of them being that the VA hospital system is a model of efficiency and effectiveness that the private health care system can't begin to match, even if it is grossly under-funded. If this report is true, it should certainly help their recruiting efforts.
Microsoft's efforts to rip off its "permatemps," has gone sour. It has lost a class-action lawsuit against it that claimed that the huge number of "permatemps" as the long-term temporary employees were called on the Microsoft campus, were kept on that status solely for the purpose of denying them benefits. Now it will be forced to pay each of the former "temporary" employees an average of $8,429 before payroll taxes. The lawyers got $24 million out of the $79 million judgment.
News of the war:
Some of the soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal have been talking to human rights organizations, and are saying that one of the reasons they engaged in torture was for stress relief. Well, now that's a novel excuse! I can't help but wonder if there is some element of disinformation there - that they're hiding the orders from higher up that we know they have received.
One of the reasons that the Iraq occupation is so resented is that soldiers' mistreatment of Iraqis often goes unpunished or lightly punished. This accusation has often been raised and denied, but a new study by the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, using previously unpublished records from the Department of Defense, have shown how shockingly lax some of the discipline has been. Many cases were not prosecuted, and those that were, often received light sentences, or none at all. "I've been surprised at some of the lenient sentences," said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. "I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim."
Al Qaeda claims to have captured two U.S. Marines, and is holding them hostage, demanding that all female Shi'ite prisoners be released. If this is not done, it says that the U.S. "need not bother to look for your children." A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, said: "I have not heard anything about any of our folks being taken. I would suspect that these are unfounded rumors, as that is what has happened in the past."
House heated by natural gas? If so, get out your check book: natural gas bills this winter are expected to rise by an average of 52 percent over last if this is an average winter. The reason? Supplies will be down by 20% due to the hurricanes in the Gulf, and the fact that production has not been restored, and it is not known when it will be. In spite of the cost, however, the industry believes there will be enough to go around - if you're willing to pay for it.
In spite of the high price for gas, most Americans' love of big cars has not yet been broken. Several automakers including Toyota, have plans to introduce big new SUV's, and even though the sale of hybrid cars are up dramatically, they still don't amount to that much of the American market.
Deja Vu all over again - or at least it soon could be. In shades of the Mike Brown controversy, it appears that Smirkey has appointed another crony to an emergency management position - this one to the agency that responds to international emergencies to which the U.S. government offers help. One leading international relief group is publicly opposing the appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Others have privately expressed their concerns. Ellen's qualifications? She is a former member of the Republican National Committee and was Bush's Maryland state campaign chairwoman in 2000. Emergency relief qualifications? None so's you'd notice. Smirkey would appear to be a slow learner.
News of Katrina/Rita:
Bleaching it white: Smirkey's secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso R. Jackson, has stated publicly that New Orleans will be "whiter" after it is rebuilt. It will never be a black-majority city again, he said, or if it does, it won't be for a long, long time. Black leaders in and out of government are outraged by this comment. Is this evidence of a conspiracy to de-populate the black wards? I would never suggest such a thing...
The Texas mayors are saying that FEMA's response after Rita has not been any better than it was after Katrina - they are complaining about promises not kept, unneccessary bureaucratic delays and red tape, and an indifferent attitude towards getting things done. Even in Katrina's wake, a lot of the promises made, especially for emergency housing, have still not been kept.
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away department, we are learning tonight that the Amazon basin, the lungs of the planet, is the dryest in living memory. Navigation on the main rivers is being impaired by low water, and forest fires have appeared in the Peruvian and Bolivian margins of the forest. The dry weather has been blamed on the warm water in the Atlantic, from which air is rising (often in the form of hurricanes), and which pulls moisture away from the Amazon. This is one of the predicted effects of global warming.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You department, we are learning that the ethically challenged Tom DeLay has said that even though he is not the House Majority Leader anymore, he says "I can do my job, with or without the title" - like it is his job to do. Besides being ethically challenged, he is also apparently modest as well.
The moral crusader and gambling addict, William "Book of Virtues" Bennett, will pay dearly for his remark about reducing crime by aborting black babies. It turns out that a Philadelphia parents group is demanding that the Philadelphia school district drop its contract with Bennett's company, K12, Inc. The contract loss will cost the company $3 million.
George Stephanopolous said this weekend on ABC's "This Week" that George Bush was directly involved in the Valerie Plame scandal. If so, it would explain why Smirkey spent more than an hour answering questions by Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the case. If Smirkey was involved, he cannot be indicted because of constitutional limitations. But that wouldn't stop him from being impeached. We can only wish.
Today it is back to the rainy season. After a delightful day most of the day yesterday here, and some time spent in the garden, it is back to the rain. It appears that the tropical storm Stan that just formed in the Gulf of Honduras, has moved over the Yucatan on its way to becoming a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, with landfall expected around Vera Cruz in Mexico. The movement out of the Gulf of Honduras means that the circulation here to the south of where it was, has finally returned to normal, and the onshore winds from the Pacific have stopped and been replaced by the normal trade winds off of the Caribbean. So now, the rainy season has resumed.
The brief spate of warm weather has brought out the bichos (biting insects) in spades, especially the mosquitos. Seems like I am waking up in the mornings these days with a fair number of insect bites on me, and I suspect most are mosquito bites, as they don't produce the intense itching that the blackflies here do.
I have also noticed an increase in the daytime mosquito bites too, and that is a concern, because that is the variety that spreads dengue fever. It hasn't been much in the news in the last few weeks, so I am assuming that the health authorities are getting a handle on this year's outbreak, which has been pretty serious. There has not been an outbreak around here in Arenal for two years, so I am hoping that there won't be before the dengue season ends in about a month and a half. I may have to hire a peone to clean the bromeliads off of the trees - that is the only real standing water I have around here, the water cups in the center of the bromeliad plants. I am reasonably confident that is why I am seeing as many of them as I am.
More Reasons Why I Am Glad I Am Out Of The States: Smirkey has plans to invade Iran before he leaves office - so says a leading Indian newspaper. Citing sources from inside the prime minister's office, they say that high ranking U.S. officials told equally high ranking Indian officials of the plans to invade Iran before Smirkey's term ends in 2008. The Calcutta Telegraph published the report on the 26th, but so far there has been not a single ripple about it in the western press. I suspect that is because no one believes he would be so stupid as to try it. But this is Smirkey we're talking about - one should not underestimate of what that man is capable.
According to Dr. Christopher Kelley, a professor in the Department of Political Sciences at Miami University, as of April 2005, President Bush had cited the doctrine of "Unitary Executive Theory" 95 times when signing legislation into law, issuing an executive order, or responding to a congressional resolution. What does that mean? It means, in essence, that if the president does it, it's legal. That doctrine flies in the face of checks and balances, but it is tailor-made for a chief executive hell-bent on expanding executive power, and this one has grown dangerously drunk on executive power. The doctrine has obscure origins, but it is blatantly unconstitutional according to most scholars. But that has not prevented the president from citing it, and with a majority on the Supreme Court supporting him, he soon will be able to use it unchallenged.
Not widely known is that the government narrowly averted a shut-down. A stopgap funding measure was quickly passed by the house and senate and sent to the president for his signature just in time to prevent the government from being forced to cease operations because of a lack of funding. The regular appropriations measure has been stuck in the Senate, with Democrats and Republicans wrangling over the level of funding for programs destined to help the poor and needy get through the winter, including emergency subsidies for home heating fuel, especially for Katrina victims.
Judith Miller, the New York Times "reporter" and White House shill who was in jail for not revealing her sources to a grand jury, has not explained her real motivations for revealing her sources now, rather than earlier, and rawstory.com has given us a run-down on all the possible reasons why she may have decided to come clean now. They range from her being a Yankees or Sox fan and wanting to watch the big three-game series, to wanting to boost her credibility, which because of her work as a shill, had fallen to an all-time low. Her decision to come clean about her sources comes at a bad time for Smirkey, who wanted to keep this particular scandal swept under the rug, but since there is no big news to compete with it at the moment, the scandal is back out on the front pages.
"Dr. Doom," the Hong-Kong based oil industry analyst Dr. Mark Faber, says that a conflict is brewing over the oil that the U.S. controls and that China needs. Eventually, he says, the conflict will become so acute that it could even spark World War III. Personally, I doubt that. China wouldn't need to go to war. All it would need to do is to threaten to cash in the $700 billion it holds in U.S. debt instruments - and it could strangle the American economy overnight. And Americans would see the Chinese doing to them what America has done to the rest of the world for a century.
Realizing how vulnerable it is to both an American economic collapse and to blackmail, Venezuela has just announced that it has completed a program to move all of its reserve assets out of U.S. instruments and institutions, and into Europe. Chavez has also called for South American nations to come together to form a central bank of their own to provide a counterweight to American economic hegemony in the region.
The ethically challenged Tom DeLay, suspended from his job as House Majority Whip as the result of a conspiracy indictment, is now lying about not having had the opportunity to explain his side of the story to the grand jury that indicted him in Texas. But even his lawyer is having none of that lie, admitting that the prosecuting attorney, had issued him an open and standing invitation to appear more than a year ago.
This is hardly a surprise, but it needs to be reported anyway: The U.S. Army has reported that its recruiting shortfall is the largest since 1979 (when the Army was about twice its current size), and the recruiting shortfalls continue to get larger. The recruiting year ended with a shortfall of 7,000 per month - making its target of increasing the size of the Army by 30,000 an impossible goal.
The high price of fuel, in particular the shortage of jet fuel, which has increased in price by 39% in the last month alone, has begun to take its toll on the economy. American Airlines, the nation's largest passenger carrier, and Independence Air, a regional carrier based out of the Dulles airport near Washington D.C., have both announced that they are cancelling certain routes until further notice, and laying off staff accordingly.
The New York Post is reporting that Dan Rather would like to have a second go at George Bush's military record, but that his bosses at CBS News are blocking the story. But he insists that the story is correct and would like to proceed.
More evidence if any were needed that the corporate news media in America cannot be trusted: The Government Accountability Office has released a report saying that the Bush administration has bought news coverage for contrived stories, and that doing so is a violation of federal law. Unfortunately, there are no penalties associated with the violation, so there is little that can be done to stop it. But hey, the fact that your tax dollars are being used to lie to you, strictly for Smirkey's benefit, should hardly come as a surprise.
The Bush administration's contrived nonsense about why America is a target for terrorism is transparent to anybody who stops to think for himself, but if freedom and success is the reason the terrorists go after America, why aren't they bombing Norway? It has a higher standard of living than does the U.S., and it also has more freedom and liberty according to the United Nations Development Index. So why isn't it a target? Could it be that it minds its own business?
Given all this self-deception, it will probably come as quite a surprise to most Americans that France is one of the most admired nations in the world, and the U.S. is one of the least. Both culturally and politically, France is right up there near the top in most polls, and the U.S. near the bottom - coming in 15th out of 23 in a study conducted by the Project on International Policy Attitudes. Why is France so admired? Culturally, because French products, cuisine, movies and literature is considered superior. Politically, because France had the hutzpah to stand up to the United States in opposing the war in Iraq - and in many other aspects of aggressive American foreign policy. Smirkey, what you are doing is screaming so loudly in the world's ears that they can't hear what you are saying.
Three months after the administration signalled its intent to downplay the role of the CIA in covert operations, and use the military instead, as reported in this space, the Republicans in congress are finally catching on to the fact that Rumsfeld is doing what he promised - using the military for covert operations because doing so circumvents the accountability and oversight functions imposed on the CIA. And what they are finding is abhorrent! Well, hello! Glad you're finally awake, fellas!
Smirkey is now doing what everyone feared he would do when he managed to get a majority on the Supreme Court. He is pushing for a ban on abortion. Not a total ban, not yet anyway, but a ban on the procedure known as dilation and extraction - what the Christian hate groups incorrectly call "partial birth" abortion. He has apparently been quietly been sending people around the country to drum up support for legislation that would outlaw the procedure without any exceptions for the life or health of the mother, as demanded by the Supreme Court. And once Sandra Day O'Conner's replacement is on the bench, he is confident it will be upheld.
The FBI makes mistakes. Hardly news, you say. Well, it is when it doesn't say what it does with information gleaned from spying on the wrong people. While such information is not inadmissible in a court proceeding, the FBI isn't saying whether or not they use such information to begin formal investigations. And under the Patriot Act, they don't have to say.
The Justice Department and the FBI are looking into the demotion of a prosecutor who was investigating Jack Abramoff, a hot-shot lobbyist with close ties to Karl Rove. The reassignment effectively shut down the investigation, which was getting a little too close to the White House for comfort. So will the investigation be restarted? Don't count on it.
The lack of a healthy press and freedom of speech in the U.S. has spawned what visitors to Latin America have long been used to seeing - political graffiti on highway bridges and overpasses. It takes the bumpersticker one further - with letters at least six inches high, the message is hard to ignore. And messages are in-your-face to Republicans in denial: "Osama Bin Forgotten" is a favorite, as is "No One Died When Clinton Lied." Messages stay up anywhere from minutes to months - and are being fostered by a group of websites promoting what they call "freewayblogs." A suggestion to freeway bloggers from the billboard industry: keep the message short. Anything more than about seven words is almost impossible to read fully by a driver in a moving vehicle. Also, the bigger the sign, the faster it comes down.
All this bad news has New York Daily News commenting that things are so bad for the Republicans right now that, "things look so low that everything looks like up." The GOP, it says, finds itself in the eye of the perfect political storm. But don't worry. They'll be back. They have what it takes - a compliant, servile press.
In Republican America, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer: New data just released by the Census Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service show that total income for Americans decreased by 1% per year between 1999 and 2003, a total of 4% over that period. Yet over the same period, the income of the richest Americans is up considerably. Clearly, trickle-down isn't working. Is anyone surprised anymore?
News from the war:
Soldiers are still not being reimbursed for the armaments they were forced to buy out of their own pockets. Two years after Congress forced the Pentagon to find a way to reimburse soldiers who were forced to ante up for their own equipment because the Pentagon wouldn't provide it, the soldiers and their families have still not been reimbursed. Why? Apparently because Don Rumsfeld finds the whole situation personally embarrassing.
Lt. Gen. William Odom (ret.) said on Friday that the decision to invade Iraq was the worst strategic blunder in the history of the United States, and that America will pay for it in the form of increased terrorism, decreased good will and cooperation from Arab allies, making it much harder to fight the war on terrorism. If ending terrorism is the goal, he said, America should withdraw from Iraq, and redeploy its forces along the Afghan border with Pakistan to prevent the smuggling of arms, drugs and terrorists that goes on there unabated.
General William Casey, the general commanding U.S. troops in Iraq, admitted yesterday that in all the Iraqi army, there is but one batallion that is functionally ready to operate without U.S. support. But he insisted that the reason that two of the three previously cited were downlisted, was because of tightened criteria, not because of a decline in readiness. We'll see. Meanwhile, Smirkey is somehow claiming progress in the effort to improve Iraqi Army readiness.
News from Katrina/Rita:
We are hearing tonight that health care aid to victims of Katrina and Rita are being held up by the Bush administration which is blocking a bipartisan $9 billion health care package for hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The victims are caught up in a dispute over whether the administration can simply create a fund entirely without the legal support of congress, or whether the victims are eligible for help under the Medicaid program.
The waste and abuse goes on. FEMA is paying roofing contractors about $2480 to blue-sheet each roof that they consider part of a salvageable structure. The contractors spend less than two hours on the roof, and FEMA even supplies the blue sheet. One roofing contractor, who indicated he is glad for the work, nevertheless admits that in most cases, he could repair and re-shingle the roof for less than that.
Two senators are looking at the six month, no-bid contract that was handed to Carnival Cruise Lines, in spite of the fact that the Greek government had offered two cruise ships to be used for the same purpose - and was turned down.
The Scandals Du Jour department is informing us that the Republican culture of corruption is probably no worse anywhere than in Ohio - and now we are going to see just how bad it is. Maybe. A Columbus court has ruled in favor of defeated Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan's request to open the appointment books, calendars and other campaign data to public scruitiny, but the Republicans are fighting back, tooth and nail. What are they hiding? Are they afraid of yet more perp-walks on the evening news?
From the If We Ignore Global Warming Long Enough, Maybe It Will Go Away desk comes some ominous news: Move over bird flu, there may be other, even more sinister pandemics coming. As Arctic permafrost thaws out as a result of global warming, bacteria, molds, and viruses that long ago swept the earth and otherwise died out, may be released once more and cause pandemics on a vast scale, because humanity no longer possesses immunity to them. There may even be diseases that are entirely new to science, so long have they been dormant. Such is the warning from scientists who are studying the possible effects of global warming in the Arctic. Corpses buried and frozen in the permafrost of the Canadian arctic, for example, have provided the only available virus samples of the 1918 flu pandemic that cost 20 million lives around the world. Such viruses, for which living humans have no immunity, could be released again.
From the We Conservatives Are More Moral Than You desk: Poor old Hollinger International. It can't seem to get rid of the neo-cons on its board of directors, no matter how hard it tries. It has censured them, sued them, prosecuted them, fined them, and they still hang around doing the mischief to that company that the same people are doing to the U.S. government for whom most of them also work. Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger and others are making a mockery of corporate governance in that company, and if I were a stockholder, I would be suing each of the board members personally. But then, I wouldn't own stock in a company run by neo-cons, because given their track record, I would expect the company to be thoroughly looted anyway.
More evidence, if any were needed, of the double standard that the Christian hate groups apply to their own and to others: Thinkprogress.org has questioned four of them about Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, and about Tom DeLay's indictment on conspiracy charges in Texas. The Family Research Council, Focus On The Family, the Traditional Values Coalition and the Christian Coalition of America each replied with "no comment" on Pat Robertson, and each staunchly defended Tom DeLay. Predictable moral inconsistency.