Thursday, September 29, 2005

Time to talk turkey on US military spending

Here's the kind of statement that makes me crazy, from a CS Monitor article on the difficulty of finding budgetary offsets to pay for Gulf Coast reconstruction:

Overall, it would be next to impossible to offset $200 billion in Katrina costs in one year's budget, says Mr. Collender. Federal spending is $2.6 trillion a year - but take away Social Security and other entitlements, debt interest, defense spending, and supplemental war appropriations, and only about $500 billion remains. Finding $200 billion in savings would require almost a 50 percent cut in this remaining portion - which includes food safety programs, National Park Service salaries, and salaries for White House staff.

Did you catch it? Let me highlight it for you:
Overall, it would be next to impossible to offset $200 billion in Katrina costs in one year's budget, says Mr. Collender. Federal spending is $2.6 trillion a year - but take away Social Security and other entitlements, debt interest, defense spending, and supplemental war appropriations, and only about $500 billion remains. Finding $200 billion in savings would require almost a 50 percent cut in this remaining portion - which includes food safety programs, National Park Service salaries, and salaries for White House staff.

My point is, and the Monitor, whose work I genuinely admire, is far from alone in this, is that defense spending is assumed to be every bit as sacrosanct as Social Security and other entitlements, as well as our debt obligations. Why should this be so?

Currently the military budget constitutes far and away the largest portion of US discretionary spending. For 2005 it is projected to be $421 billion, not including Iraqi war supplementals which amount to ten of billions themselves. The next biggest portion of discretionary spending goes to education which, at a mere $60 billion, isn't really in the same ballpark, as the chart here illustrates.

Further, the US for some reason feels compelled to spend as much on its military as THE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED!

Now I realize the world is a dangerous place, and that BushCorp™ policies have made it increasingly more so, especially for Americans. But really, do we Americans have to be spending, let me repeat it, as much on our military as THE REST OF THE WORLD COMBINED?

Perhaps so, perhaps not. I believe not, but I could well be wrong. What I'm not wrong about though, is my disgust with the total absence of debate about whether this degree of military spending is indeed appropriate.

And while I understand that politicians are afraid to appear weak by opposing defense spending, what excuse does the media have? In our quest to avoid the appearance of weakness must the American public also remain ignorant and stupid?

So, as the Gulf Coast rebuilding project runs up costs in the hundreds of billions of dollars, while millions of Americans live in poverty, and millions of others go without health insurance, can we at least consider rethinking our military spending? Can we at least talk about it?

[Note: Speaking of the esteem whith which I hold the CS Monitor, here's a nifty little article putting Iraq war spending in historical context. Apparently Iraqi war spending has now surpassed WWI, number 4 with a bullet! Next up Korea - CK]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Is it hot here or is it just me?

Gosh, with hurricanes threatening to submerge the gulf coast, and scientists discovering accelerating melting of the arctic icecap and oil prices doing whatever is the opposite of free fall, isn't it nice that W. suggests we might at least dally with the notion of be coming better "conservers" of energy?

His declaration, as Dan Froomkin points out, was hardly a call for sweeping conservation reforms:

Bush was talking very specifically about how Hurricane Rita, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, had affected the distribution of gasoline and that the administration had relaxed a handful of rules to minimize any disruptions. And he spoke about some problems getting gas to retailers in Houston.

It was in that very specific context that he ad libbed the following:

"[W]e can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy. I mean, people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would [be] helpful. The federal government can help, and I've directed the federal agencies nationwide -- and here's some ways we can help. We can curtail nonessential travel. If it makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel, it darn sure makes sense for federal employees. We can encourage employees to carpool or use mass transit. And we can shift peak electricity use to off-peak hours. There's ways for the federal government to lead when it comes to conservation."

Is he even saying this new kick should last more than a few days? Who knows? Either way, it's a far cry from announcing a major policy shift. But the press picked up the story as if he were declaring the moral equivalent of war.

Of course, as noted by Jon Stewart on TDS, the fact that our petro-prez even acknowledges some small, no doubt temporary conservation might be a good thing is the real shocker.

Does this mean that sometimes, just sometimes, actual reality seeps into BushCorp™'s inner sanctum? One can hope. For even if E.J. Dionne's assertion that the Bush era is over, we've still got to live with him for another 3 and a half years. Let's just hope we can at least minimize the harm he yet can cause.

The Hammer gets nailed

It was only a matter of time, from the LAT:

WASHINGTON -- A Texas grand jury today indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and two political associates, charging them with a conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws. DeLay said he was temporarily stepping down from his post as the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Yes for Tom "the Hammer" DeLay, the Republican leader's long history of corruption and abuse of power is finally catching up to him. After years of ethics reprimands that affected him not at all the Bugman has finally put his hand in the cookie jar too many times for his fellow Texan's taste.

But given the ethical standards of today's Republican party you can hardly blame him for trying. One can only hope that conservative voters will finally begin to see the cynical veneer of such "family values" politicians peel away and expose the ugly, Machiavellian underside of the Republican leadership.

And, of local interest, DeLay's resignation elevates David Dreier (San Dimas, CA) to a share of the Majority Leadership position's duties. Let us hope the congressman from Bill and Ted's purported stomping grounds fares better than his ethically challenged predeccesor, though one wonders, since Mr. Dreier is reputedly relatively honest, how he'll ever succeed in a Republican leadership position.

So much corruption, so little time

Has this ever happened to you? You've just finished a meal at a nice restaurant and the waiter rolls up an enormous desert cart, filled with so many lucious tidbits that it's just impossible to choose?

That's almost how I feel when confronted with the all-you-can-eat buffet of Republican corruption stories now surfacing.

Latest of course is former presidential hopeful Bill Frist's "Martha Stewart" problem (and I'm talking insider trading, not burnt brownies).

And speaking of Brownies, let us not forget the BushCorp™ cronyism that put political hacks like Michael Brown in charge of critical agencies like FEMA, to disastrous, and for too many, fatal effect.

And, of late, you may have heard of David H. Safavian, BushCorp™'s top procurement official, who, while overseeing billions in federal spending, was being wined and dined by the increasingly infamous "Casino Jack" Abramoff. Mr. Safavian, it seems, showed poor judgment not only by acquiescing to Mr. Abramoff's blandishments, but by then lying about it to federal investigators. Oops.

"Casino Jack", as it happens, finds himself increasingly involved in any number of GOP corruption stories, his ties to Tom Delay, and Karl Rove have gotten fairly wide media play.

Today's NYT now ferrets out another Abramoff crony, former Attorney General John Ashcroft:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 - The Justice Department's inspector general and the F.B.I. are looking into the demotion of a veteran federal prosecutor whose reassignment nearly three years ago shut down a criminal investigation of the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, current and former department officials report.

They said investigators had questioned whether the demotion of the prosecutor, Frederick A. Black, in November 2002 was related to his alert to Justice Department officials days earlier that he was investigating Mr. Abramoff. The lobbyist is a major Republican Party fund-raiser and a close friend of several Congressional leaders.

Colleagues said the demotion of Mr. Black, the acting United States attorney in Guam, and a subsequent order barring him from pursuing public corruption cases brought an end to his inquiry into Mr. Abramoff's lobbying work for some Guam judges.

Colleagues of Mr. Black, who had run the federal prosecutor's office in Guam for 12 years, spoke on condition of anonymity because of Justice Department rules that bar employees from talking to reporters. They said F.B.I. agents questioned several people in Guam and Washington this summer about whether Mr. Abramoff or his friends in the Bush administration had pushed for Mr. Black's removal. Mr. Abramoff's internal e-mail messages show that he boasted to clients about what he described as his close ties to John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, and others at the department.

Mr. Black's colleagues said that similar questions had been raised by investigators for the Justice Department's inspector general's office, which serves as the department's internal watchdog.

Ah yes, I think I'll try the mud pie.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Frist Strategy

It's all becoming clearer.

At first I wondered why Bill Frist, senate majority leader and purported 2008 Republican presidential candidate, would risk his political career to save himself a few bucks by engaging in insider trading as regards his supposedly blind trust.

The stock was in HCA Inc., a chain of hospitals founded in the late 1960s by Frist’s father and brother. At the time of the sale, insiders also were selling. Shortly after that sale, the stock price dipped because of a warning that earnings would not meet Wall Street expectations.

“If, in fact, Frist was actively involved in this decision, he certainly has to supply an explanation of how that’s consistent with a blind trust,” said Bob Bauer, a Washington attorney who has set up blind trusts for Democratic members of Congress.

Supply an explanation indeed, or so it would seem at first glance.

But then I remembered, Frist is seeking the REPUBLICAN nomination. And the key to the GOP nod, as evidenced daily by BushCorp™, is a combination of incompetence, ignorance and corruption unattainable by normal human means.

Now Dr. Frist has done well in the incompetence leg of the Republican triathalon what with his video diagnosis performance in the still shameful Terry Schiavo debacle. But his ignorance quotient went way down with his endorsement of stem cell research. Obviously he needed to shore up his corruption q score or kiss that Republican nomination good-bye.

And what better way than insider training? Hell, look what it's done for Martha Stewart's career?

Now, if only he'll come out in favor of Intelligent design, he'll be unstoppable.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

For Pope, gays are the new jews

So, the Grand Iquisitor, er, Pope, wants to ban gays from the priesthood:

The Roman Catholic Church is to ban homosexuals from becoming priests, even if they have no intention of being sexually active.

The tough new directive, to be signed by Pope Benedict XVI as an "instruction", has already been written and is expected to be published after the international synod of bishops in Rome next month.

Scotching rumours that the controversial document may have been shelved, a church official in Rome told The New York Times: "The matter is not if it will be published, but when."

The document will lend substance to Pope Benedict's stated desire to "purify" a church whose reputation has been besmirched, in the United States and elsewhere, by a devastating paedophilia crisis implicating thousands of ordained priests. A recent study found that 81 per cent of the victims of paedophile priests were adolescent boys.

I'm not a Catholic, hell I'm not even a Christian, but my question is, why would gays even want to be associated with a church that so obviously doesn't want them?
Pope Benedict put his views on record as long ago as 1986. Homosexuality, he wrote, was "a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an inherent moral evil". As Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Inquisition, he banned declared gays from mass and closed down gay organisations within the Church. Since he became Pope, the Church has stepped up its declared hostility to gay marriage, and even the mooted recognition in Italy of homosexual civil partnerships.

I mean jeez, "an inherent moral evil"?!

Just to engage in some cheap pop-psychology, can I posit that some gays, no doubt sourced in their much denigrated place in society, are just a wee bit masochistic?

How else do you explain gay Catholics, or gay Republicans?

The opiate of the Iranian masses

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. Karl Marx

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this story, but apparently, in Iran, opium is the opiate of the masses:
According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world -- 2.8 per cent of the population over age 15. Only two other countries -- Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan -- pass the 2 percent mark. With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.

This astounding addiction rate is attributable to a combination of factors including low cost, unemployment, and a lack entertainment opportunities. It's just cheaper than getting drunk.

And I suppose getting any Zoloft is out of the question.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Just added to blogroll

A few months ago I cited a wonderful comment about an American Arab family immediately after the events of 9/11:

The weekend after 9/11 the Mannions went apple picking at an orchard near where we lived in Syracuse. At the orchard we saw two of the bravest people in America that week. A husband and wife, both obviously Middle Eastern, devout Muslims---she was in her chador---carrying a bushel basket of apples between them.

I'm sure that a lot of people looked twice and even three times at them, but I'm also sure that just about everybody who did did what I did, smiled and said to themselves, Good for them.

The author, Lance Mannion, isn't a purely political writer, and his posts cover a wide range indeed, but his observations are uniformly pithy, and writing entertaining.

For an example, check out this recent post: How to be morally superior to a Liberal

More bad news for BushCorp™

Wow, you know things aren't going well for BushCorp™ when folks like Über-winger Michelle Malkin are on your case:

Everything was supposed to change after 9/11. No more business as usual, blah blah blah. But when it comes to immigration enforcement and border security, Bush keeps installing clueless cronies.

What has Ms. Malkins panties in a twist is the nomination of Julie Myers (who is, um, coincidently the niece of Air Force General Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and who is married to DHS cheif Michael Chertoff's cheif of staff, John F. Wood) to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency:
The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.

Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job.

I realize, of course, that Ms. Malkin's real problem is that the agency in question deals with that favorite wingnut bugaboo, immigration. None-the-less, I take it as a positive sign that some Republicans, in some cases, can recognize that government isn't always the problem, and in fact might even be necessary.

I can only hope that this idea also makes them realize that if they are serious about controlling the size of government, (and I'm talking about true conservatives, not BushCorp™ hacks) then making sure that those you do hire are competent is even more important.

Monday, September 19, 2005

What IS that smell?

Better and better.

Sure you expect fighting between Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites. You expect attacks on American forces by Ba'athists and foreign insurgents. But you know things are really getting ugly in Iraq when fighting breaks out between the Brits and Iraqi police:

BASRA, Iraq, Sept. 19 -- Heavy clashes erupted Monday between Iraqi police and British soldiers based in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, witnesses said.

The clashes are the latest in surging tensions in Basra, a Shiite-dominated city that had long been one of Iraq's calmest. Attacks have targeted Britons and Americans there.

Monday's clashes stemmed from the arrest by Iraqi police on Sunday of two British soldiers, whom Iraqi police accused of planting bombs. Iraqi officials described the two as undercover soldiers dressed in civilian clothes and said a shooting incident broke out when police stopped their civilian vehicle.

A Western military spokesman in Basra confirmed "an ongoing disturbance" in the city on Monday but said Iraqi and British forces were working together to quell it.

And Basra, as the story notes, is one of Iraq's "calmest", a veritable Shangri-La of peace amidst the hellhole we've created their.

I have no idea what to make of the whys and hows of the conflict between the Brits and the police, the information, other than from "official" sources is increasingly spotty, and understandably so:
In a separate development in Basra, an Iraqi working as a local reporter in Basra for the New York Times was found dead Monday after being kidnapped by masked men, sources close to his family said. Fakher Haider was found with his hands bound and a single gunshot wound to the head hours after having been seized at his home by four men who took him away in handcuffs, telling the family they wanted to interrogate him. The masked men did not identify themselves as police, the sources said.

The killing came a month after an American freelance journalist, Steven Vincent, was kidnapped and killed in Basra. He was working on a book about the city and had written an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he criticized Basra's security forces.

Gosh, no wonder, as Karl Rove observed, [w]e have not been good at explaining the success in Iraq, they keep killing the reporters.

Anyway, things are pretty bad when the locals are getting tired of even the British. My guess is that, after a few years even polite occupiers begin to annoy those being occupied a teensy-weensy bit.

As Ben Franklin observed: Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

And if your guests are armed, and it's been years? That's some damn stinky fish.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Plus ça change

Plus ça change, plus ça reste.

Here's a little news brief to file away in your mental archives until the next disastrous California fire:

Much like the warnings in New Orleans the century-old dikes in New Orleans needed additional money to shore up the levee system that keeps the city dry, Washington has again cut spending to remove dead and diseased trees in the San Bernardino National Forest. All this despite urging by the U.S. Forest Service and local leaders to stay the course.

Officials in the nation's capitol are gambling the worst-case scenario will not come to be, fresh on the heels of the 2003 Old Fire that ravaged our area.

A few weeks ago, Washington rolled the dice once again and only included $5 million next year to remove the bark beetle infested trees that still dot our landscape. The total money allocated to reduce hazardous fuels for the nation's most urbanized forest is down $25 million from the 2005 allocation. [Emphasis mine-CK]

The only thing more predictable than Gulf Coast Hurricanes and Oklahoma tornados are California wildfires.

Sure, California has that earthquake thing going too, but unlike THE BIG ONE, wildfires in California happen year after year after year, though with varying degrees of damage.

So, next month or next year, as Californians watch their forests and houses burn, think back on our national leaders, whose priorities are funding an unnecessary war, giving tax cuts to the rich and doling out corporate welfare and porkbarrel pet projects.

And to be clear, I'm not simply Bush-bashing (this time, though he and his fellow Republihacks deserve a large part of the blame). Spineless, corporation beholden Democrats are to blame as well.

One point made by Katrina's news coverage has, in fact, been the contrast between the hapless government response, and the courageous, quick, and generous response of the American public. One wonders when we will ever cut the corporate purse-strings which bind our national leadership and elect leaders that accurately represent the best that can be America, rather than its worst.

Rove to head New Orleans reconstuction effort

From WaPo:

"Republicans said Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's chief political adviser, was in charge of the reconstruction effort."

Rove's leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush's image.

That is Rove's hallmark.

And so it is. Already BushCorp™ is pushing to use Katrina as an excuse for some long cherished Republican goals, things like lower wages for Katrina reconstruction laborers and a broad reduction in environmental standards. And they're also pursuing one of BushCorp™'s favorite tacks, using disaster to enrich its cronies and contributors through generous no-bid contracts to companies like, hmm, Idunno...Halliburton.

And so while BushCorp™'s Hack-in-Chief tries to build brownie points with a public increasingly wise to his ways, keep in mind the billions they're throwing at NOLA reconstruction will end up lining the pockets of the Veep's co-workers, and leave the people of New Orleans poorer.

Friday, September 16, 2005

One easy step to cheaper gas

With production reduced due to Katrina, already steep oil and gas prices are expected to rise. Since oil prices are set in the global market, and the faux US energy policy is to do little beyond giving tax-breaks to already wealthy energy companies, what can we, as Americans, do?

Drive less, use less gas. That's it.

From Bloomberg:

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil fell and gasoline plunged to a one-month low on signs that record fuel prices are slowing growth in global energy demand...

Demand for gasoline declined 4.3 percent to 8.6 million barrels a day last week, the U.S. Energy Department said Sept. 14. The fall coincided with the Labor Day holiday when vacationers usually take to the highways. Gasoline consumption peaks during the driving season, which runs from Memorial Day in late May to Labor Day.

It truly is that simple. If you, I, and our fellow Americans use less gas, not only will we be buying fewer gallons of gas, but the cost per gallon will also go down as well. We, as a collection of individuals, can do what the BushCorp™ controlled government has admitted is beyond its powers: reduce the price of gas.

And, as you board the Goldline, or do your grocery shopping in one trip instead of five, know this, not only are you saving money, you are saving money for your fellow citizens and you are also reducing America's dependence on some of the worst regimes in the world.

Feels good don't it?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hurricane warning

Those of us who mentioned global warming as a possible factor in the apparent increasing strength of hurricanes like Katrina were peremptorily pooh-poohed by the wingnut class.

It seems though, that we may have to trade our tinfoil hats for mortarboards:

Warming ocean temperatures appear to be fueling stronger, more intense hurricanes around the world, a new study suggests...

The study finds that the increase in hurricane intensity coincides with a rise in sea surface temperatures around the world of about 1ºF (0.5ºC) between 1970 and 2004.

Writing in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science, the study's authors stop shy of pinning the increase in hurricane intensity on global warming. To do so would require a longer historical period of study and a better understanding of hurricane dynamics, they say.

But in an interview with National Geographic News, the study's lead author, Peter Webster, said, "I'm prepared to make an attribution to global warming." [Emphasis mine-CK]

This being the case, might I suggest that the appropriate prayer on Katrina Prayer Day be for sane fossil fuel policies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Obligatory Pledge of Allegiance Post

I guess that as a blogger I'm required to comment on today's ruling that the term "under God" as used in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. So here's my comment:

I don't care.

And here's why. Think back to your youth. It's 8:00 AM. Your 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Witherspoon tells the class to stand, place a hand over their hearts and recite the pledge, which sounds something like this:

"Ipledglegiancetotheflag (breath) oftheunitedstatesofamerica (breath) andtotherepublicforwhichitstands (breath) onenationundergod (breath) indivisible (or somesuch unintelligible mutter - breath) withlibertyandjusticeforall (breath-shuffle-shuffle)."

And so all the brouhaha on both sides will be spent on something to which no reasonable child is really paying the least bit of attention.

And by the time I was old enough to really care to think about the meaning of the words in the pledge, my conception of religion was well formed beyond the strength of any such invocation to influence.

So, as with the periodic anti-flag burning amendment proposals, a great deal of sound and fury will be spent, as usual, signifying nothing.

May I suggest that the energy spent on either side of this issue might be much better spent addressing the actual quality of children's education, their health, the environment they live in, or the debt with which they're being saddled.

Plenty of incompetence to go around

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Meanwhile, news on the other BushCorp™ debacle:

Series of Baghdad Attacks Kill At Least 160

BAGHDAD, Sept. 14 -- Insurgents killed at least 160 people Wednesday in more than a dozen separate bombings and rocket attacks that made for one of Baghdad's deadliest days.

Targets included crowds of Iraqi civilians and at least three U.S. military convoys. The deadliest attack, in a northwest Baghdad neighborhood, exploded among crowds of Shiite Muslim day laborers gathered to look for work. Iraq's Interior Ministry spokesman, Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, said 90 people were killed.

Good to see the insurgency in its "last throes" ain't it?

Yes indeedy, I'll give it to the folks at BushCorp™, they're incompetent, but at least they're consistent.

And speaking of consistent incompetence, it seems that FEMA director Michael Brown wasn't alone in his snail-like reaction time to New Orlean's pending destruction. DHS head Michael Chertoff has some 'splainin' to do as well:
WASHINGTON - The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina's early morning Aug. 29 landfall, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department. [Emphases mine-CK]

So, let's get this straight, the guy who has the real power doesn't use it, while his underling is reassigned and resigns in disgrace. If it walks like a scapegoat and quacks like a scapegoat...

Now I'm certainly not defending Michael Brown, a hack who got what he deserved. I'm just wondering when Chertoff and the other BushCorp™ hacks, including the hack-in-chief will get their just rewards?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Racism and rescue

Much has been made of late of the fact that the faces of those left stranded by Katrina were uniformly black.

Charges of racism have been followed by the inevitable BushCorp™ denials.

Now I'm not suggesting a thought anything like: "Oh just black people are at risk, why bother?" ever passed through the mind of anyone involved in rescue operations.

But is it any wonder that a poor black district failed to win sufficient federal funding to shore up levees well-known to be vulnerable?

Is it any wonder that upperclass politicians didn't immediately realize that just warning that it's time to get out of a threatened area isn't sufficient? That some people don't have the means to just pick up and leave?

Is it any wonder that the plight of impoverished (pre-dominately minority) groups registers little, if at all with self-satisfied, well-fed politicians?

Is it any wonder?

If you still doubt that race and poverty played their parts in this tragedy consider this: Had thousands of wealthy white people been at such risk, would it have taken the president 2 days to even hear about it?

Another senseless death

It's the type of headline all too familiar anywhere in the country:

Students mourn teen: Alhambra students mourn cheer captain killed in freeway accident

ALHAMBRA -- Friends and classmates of Jazmine Jimenez mourned her death and remembered her life Monday at Alhambra High School.

Jimenez, 15, a captain of Song, a dance and cheer team at the school, was killed just after 1 a.m. Sunday when a car she was riding in with fellow students slammed into a soundwall on the Pomona (60) Freeway in Diamond Bar.

"She was always happy," said Mirna Glover, 16, a junior at the school. "She always had the biggest smile on her face. Everyone knew her from the smile."

My heart goes out to all concerned, but I also wonder, will we ever become concerned enough to do something to reduce such senseless tragedies?

Seatbelt laws perhaps? But all four passengers where wearing them.

Maybe tougher DUI laws would help? But no, drugs and alcohol were not responsible for this accident:
Jimenez was one of four teens in a 1994 Honda that crashed on the freeway, according to Sgt. Ed Martinez of the California Highway Patrol's Sante Fe Springs office. The car was traveling westbound when the driver, a 17-year-old from Alhambra, abruptly turned to the right and lost control, Martinez said.

It is unknown at this time why the driver turned rapidly, he said. All four occupants were wearing their seat belts, and it did not appear that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the accident, Martinez said.

Then why would a sober 17 year old, driving at 1 am make an abrupt turn on the freeway and lose control of his car?

According to the Center for Disease Control:
  • Two out of five deaths among U.S. teens are the result of a motor vehicle crash (CDC 2004).

  • In 2002, more than 5,000 teens ages 16 to 19 died of injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes (CDC 2004).

  • The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (IIHS 2004).

  • Teenagers represented 10% of the U.S. population in 2002 and accounted for 14% of all motor vehicle–related deaths (IIHS 2004).

  • The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers; the risk increases with the number of teen passengers (Chen 2000).

Why is this all so?

Certainly teens have a greater risk through lack of seatbelt use and alcohol or drug consumption, but that isn't always the case, not is it here.

Simply put, the obvious answer is that teens are, by nature, and no blame to them, reckless.

Maybe its the hormones. Maybe, as has been suggested of late, teen brains are just different, but whatever the cause, no-one seriously disputes that teens are generally nore reckless than adults.

Why then should such individuals be allowed to drive wheeled missles weighing thousands of pounds on our streets? Why should they be allowed to bring their friends along for the ride?

If we were truly interested in protecting teens from their worst instincts we'd restrict the driving privilege until majority (though I personally believe something around the mid-20s would be better, at least for guys).

Being reckless is apparently a biological imperative, virtually unavoidable (regardless of what doting parents may believe). So let teens take foolish risks on skateboards and bicycles. Let them make unfortunate fashion choices with their clothes, hair, piercings and tatoos. Fine.

Just take them out from behind a steering wheel where they can kill, not just themselves and their friends, but myself and those I love, yourself and yours.

[Note: Information on assisting Jazmine's family is available by clicking here.]

Monday, September 12, 2005

More victims of Republican incompetence

As Paul Krugman points out in his latest article, FEMA is hardly the only government program who has been degraded by Republican cronyism and anti-scientific politicization.

Krugman points out that the Environmental Protection Agency and Corporation for Public Broadcasting have been hollowed out by political appointees. No surprise there of course since both agencies are longtime Republican bugaboos.

However, rampant Republican mis-management is also infecting agencies like Treasury and even the Department of Homeland Security that one might assume Republicans support.

Apparently if you believe government is the problem you don't bother to run it with any degree of competence. Why make an agency whose goals you oppose effective after all?

Another agency suffering under ideological and pro-corporate Republican rule is the Food and Drug Administration:

Serious questions have been raised about the agency's coziness with drug companies, and the agency's top official in charge of women's health issues resigned over the delay in approving Plan B, the morning-after pill, accusing the agency's head of overruling the professional staff on political grounds.

Now we see further evidence of FDA incompetence:
NEW YORK, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Months before the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety alert in June about problems with Guidant Corp. heart devices, a company report to the agency showed that some of those units were short-circuiting.

And, as with FEMA, beureaucratic incompetence has also resulted in death, note the timeline:
As part of a lengthy annual report that Guidant submitted to the FDA in February, the company disclosed data showing that one of its widely used defibrillators, the Ventak Prizm 2 DR, was short-circuiting at the rate of about one a month, a rate that some doctors say was troubling.

A month later
, a college student who had one of those units implanted in his chest died of sudden cardiac arrest, the Times report said.

In June, the FDA issued an alert about the model, later updating it to say that the short circuits, while rare, posed a significant risk because they could render the device useless just when it was needed most. [Emphases mine-CK]

The news media still faithfully reports the death toll in Iraq, and is still eagerly tallying the death toll for Katerina. Now add to those numbers both the lives lost to faulty heart devices, unwanted pregnancies preventable by plan B, and lives ruined through BushCorp's refusal to recognize the scientific potential of stem cell research, as well as the as yet unrealized destruction caused by unchecked global warming. Add to those numbers all the family and friends affected by each disease, each death and the toll becomes staggering.

Is it too much to ask that government agencies be run by people who are not diametrically opposed to their purposes?

Time to give the lie to Reagan's Big Lie

Well, I'm back in Pasadena after my sojourn to Palm Desert. Have I missed anything?

I'm still getting back into swing here, so this post will be brief, but I keep having this thought: When will we finally be able to call out Ronald Reagan's Big Lie: that government is the problem, not the solution?

And when will we get over our shock that a government run by people who believe this, or at least claim to, is being poorly run?

It continually amazes me that our spending spree President still manages to do the most important things government does on the cheap.

Billion dollar payoffs to energy companies? Sure. Funding for the Army Corp of engineers to shore up New Orleans levees? Gotta excercize "fiscal restraint".

And to be clear, blame for this situation goes wider than the party currently in power and covers Democratic leaders who both fail to make the case to the American public that sometimes government does matter, to the media that fail in their obligation to expose governmental shortcomings, and frankly to a complacent public which meekly accepts whatever talking points are fed to them, as long as housing prices continue to rise.

I wait with bated breath for someone in the Democratic leadership to finally make the case that yes, sometimes a national initiative which can only be run on the federal level is needed. That in such situations wouldn't it be better if people who actually believe government can be a positive force were running the show?

[For more examples of how BushCorp™ is degrading government see Paul Krugman's article in today's NYT here.]

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Presidential Peter Principle

Amazing, BushCorp is actually firing an incompetent employee.

I just wonder what award he'll be receiving.

Which brings to mind the question. Just how does a US administration, with all the resources this great nation can provide, still manage to do so many things so badly?

Sure, symptoms are easy to spot: the preference for faith over science, the preference for corporations over small business and labor, the Nixonian secrecy, the nearly psychotic inability to admit error.

But why?

I begin to agree with those that believe BushCorp's reliance of corporate style management is its greatest flaw. Because, although in theory corporate management allows for the best use of the best minds available, what it frequently results in is the promotion of those who are best at currying the boss's favor. And since BushCorp's "Board of Directors" is, in effect a largely inattentive electorate, and its stockholders can't dump their stock on any given day, even the usual corporate restraints are lacking.

So one gets thinking like this:

WASHINGTON - There's an intense damage-control debate at the White House over whether President Bush should name a Katrina relief czar, and the idea's backers are pushing former mayor Rudy Giuliani as a dream candidate.

But some top Bush aides think a brand-name disaster boss like Giuliani, dubbed "America's Mayor" for his leadership after 9/11, or former secretary of state Colin Powell would remind Americans of the administration's sluggish initial response to the hurricane.

"You don't want someone overshadowing the President," said an official in the "ride it out" camp. "That leaves him looking weak." [Emphasis mine-CK]

Talk about taking the Peter Principle to the next level. Don't hire the competent, because it demonstrates Bush's own shortcomings.

So, the best leadership this administration can handle is limited to a not-too-bright, fake good ol' boy who likes to play dress-up (manly togs only of course), whose claims to "strong leadership" are bolstered by keeping those in sub-ordinate leadership positions around him even more incompetent than himself.

Michael Brown suddenly makes much more sense.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Late Posting

Your CaliBlogger's taking a long needed break, visiting his folks in Palm Desert. So much to cover, so little time, but I've a few thoughts I'll be sharing on the morrow.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Earmarked for Treason

In my outrage and frustration over the inadequacy of governmental response to Katrina I've been, perhaps, a little harsh in my criticism of the President particularly, and Republicans generally. Not that the criticism isn't warrented, it is, with more to come.

But I would be remiss in my duties as your trusted CaliBlogger if I didn't point out that there is plenty of blame to go around.

I'll note for the record, for example, that former President Clinton has of late been just as disingenuous in claiming that the flooding we now see in New Orleans was unforseeable. It was foreseeable, and by no lesser group than Presidents Bush and Clinton's own Army Corp of Engineers, it's just that those needs were ignored:

Both the Bush and Clinton administrations proposed budgets that low-balled the needs. Local politicians grabbed whatever money they could and declared victory. And the public didn't exactly demand tax increases to pay for flood-control and hurricane-protection projects.

Just last year, the Army Corps of Engineers sought $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans. The White House slashed the request to about $40 million. Congress finally approved $42.2 million, less than half of the agency's request.

And the Presidents are far from alone in their failure. Indeed it could well be argued that the single largest failure lies with Congress.

The recently passed roads bill, while shortchanging the Gulf Coast, managed to shower dollars on the pet projects of powerful congressional leaders based, not on national neeed, but almost exclusively on the amount of power a particular Congressman wields:
Pork has always been part of politics, and a little bit of it can help grease the gears of government. What makes this legislation remarkable is the sheer magnitude of pet projects, and the shamelessness of the members of Congress promoting them.

Tucked into the highway and mass transit bill are funds for bus stops, parking lots, hiking paths, museums, even horse trails and a "deer avoidance system."

Motorists will pay at the pump to finance:

• $223 million for a bridge linking Ketchikan, Alaska, to an offshore island where only 50 people live.

• $231 million for another locally controversial bridge linking Anchorage to an undeveloped point of land nearby — a bridge the bill names "Don Young's Way," for the Alaska congressman and Transportation Committee chairman who pulled off the boondoggle.

• $5.8 million for a snowmobile trail in Vermont.

• $3 million for "dust control mitigation" on Arkansas' rural roads.

• $480,000 to rehabilitate a 19th century warehouse on the Erie Canal in New York.

Young is the champion at tapping the Treasury for local projects, mandating almost $1 billion for public works across his thinly populated state. And he self-aggrandizingly twisted the bill's name into the cumbersome "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users." The resulting acronym, SAFETEA-LU, redeems a promise to name the bill for his wife, Lu.

Other powerful members of Congress have used their clout similarly. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., grabbed $630 million for his largely agricultural district. Rep. James Oberstar, top Democrat on the transportation panel, snagged $121 million for his Minnesota district, including $560,000 for a Paul Bunyan State Trail.

All such stuff gets inserted into appropriations bills through the notorious earmark, whereby a Congressman can insert particularly egregious bits of spending into teh bill without it going through the rigors of peer review. The Congress as a whole is then faces the choice of rejecting a, typically, critical spending bill, or accepting the pork-laden earmarks. The same decision is faced by the President.

And though the earmark has long been with us, it has gotten much worse of late:
Late in Ronald Reagan's presidency, he decided to take a stand against Congress' habit of squandering money on pet projects of no national value. He vetoed the 1987 highway bill because it was $10 billion over his budget and included more than 100 projects demanded by members of Congress.

"I haven't seen this much lard since I handed out blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair," Reagan said at the time.

He should see what's happening now. President Bush flies to Illinois today to sign a transportation bill that's $12 billion fatter than he wanted and uses accounting gimmicks to pretend otherwise. Worse, it contains a whopping 6,371 congressional "earmarks," a 50-fold increase over the number Reagan rejected.

One reason, Bush Republicans, the other, lobbyists:
November 10, 2004
A news item appearing this November in a Virginia newspaper reveals the emergence of what may be a lucrative new lobbying strategy that could substantially increase federal pork-barrel spending. In the past, earmark-seeking entities approached earmark-providing lobbyists for assistance in getting a piece of the federal budget. But in this new strategy, lobbyists openly sell such services to unserved institutions and individuals by convincing them that they might be eligible for an earmark, providing that they are willing to pay a four-figure monthly retainer. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Currently the administration and congress are seeking to divert attention from their corrupt and irresponsible behavior by focusing their wrath on the admittedly woefully inadequate disaster response. But as heads cool, and minds take over, it is past time to hold the President, and especialy Congress responsible for the pork-laden earmark process and the feckless use of our nation's resources.

As we can see from the potentially avoidable tragedy of New Orlean's burst levees, such negligence borders on the criminal, if not the treasonous.

The Congressional earmark process must be severly curtailed, if not eliminated entirely, and in the 2006 mid-terms I expect a promise to that effect from any Congresscritter with the barest hope of being elected.

[x-posted at]

Lost causes

And some people say Republican leaders have no hearts:

It makes no sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that's seven feet under sea level, House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of federal assistance for hurricane-devastated New Orleans.

Democratic lawmakers from Louisiana were quick to disagree Thursday and Hastert sought to clarify the comment during the day.

"It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed," the Illinois Republican said in an interview about New Orleans Wednesday with the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.

On one hand I guess it's good to see a Republican expressing the fiscal prudence their party (pre-Bush) was known for.

I just hope that Mr. Hastert understands that, along with New Orleans, we also assign his political career to the dustbin of lost causes.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bush's beans

I remember once reading a short story (I want to say by Harlan Ellison, but that may be way wrong) about a death row inmate who makes a deal with the devil to escape his death in exchange for his soul. The inmate hesitates at first, until the devil explains that his soul, in effect, amounts to no more than his imagination. Upon hearing this the inmate agrees.

As is usual with such bargains, the law of unintended consequences is in full force. As it happens the inmate had been writing out what he wanted for his last meal and had only gotten so far as "beans". And by the rules under which such tales operate, he avoids his doom because the state won't execute him until he has finished his last meal, and the devil has granted him the ability to eat forever. He is therefore destined to sit in his cell doing nothing but eating beans, a fate, suggests the author, which is its own kind of hell.

One could fill many volumes of stories, and you can certainly fill a blog, with nothing more than a list of the things that BushCorp™ gets wrong. But how to decide what's worst about W and his motley crew?

Is it their almost compulsive secrecy or habitual mendacity? Is it their habit of mouthing obeisance to Christian right wedge issues, while simultaneously filling the corporate trough? Is it BushCorp™'s unflagging inability to admit error?

While all this is definitely not good. Clearly BushCorp™'s greatest apparent failing is its lack of imagination.

With the jets turned missles on 9/11, and now with the disasterous flooding wrought by Katerina, BushCorp™'s excuse for its incompetence is the same: who could've imagined? From Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer:

Sawyer: "But given the fact that everyone anticipated a hurricane five, a possible hurricane five hitting shore, are you satisfied with the pace at which this is arriving? And which it was planned to arrive?"

Bush: "Well, I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday. I mean, I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. I can imagine -- I just can't imagine what it is like to be waving a sign saying 'come and get me now'. So there is frustration. But I want people to know there is a lot of help coming.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will."

On the other hand perhaps it's unfair to assign a lack if imagination as the Bushies' worst failing, especially since it's also a lie.

As with the planes of 9/11, New Orleans' burst levees had been anticipated, just not by the administration. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sunday, August 28:
A computer model run by the LSU Hurricane Center late Saturday confirmed that. It indicated the metropolitan area was poised to see a repeat of Betsy's flooding, or worse, with storm surge of as much as 16 feet moving up the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and topping levees in Chalmette and eastern New Orleans, and pushing water into the 9th Ward and parts of Mid-City. High water flowing from Lake Pontchartrain through St. Charles Parish also would flood over levees into Kenner, according to the model.

Also flooded would be much of the north shore below Interstate 12, including Slidell, Madisonville, Mandeville and Lacombe, according to the model.

And the model doesn't take into account the 5- to 10-foot waves that would be on top of the surge, which could top levees all along the south shore of the lake.

Then again, W famously doesn't read newspapers, so I guess his ignorance is well-earned.

As is his place in hell.