Saturday, August 04, 2007

Renewable Resource

Well done, "Poppy" Bush:
Afghanistan will produce another record poppy harvest this year that cements its status as the world's near-sole supplier of the heroin source, yet a furious debate over how to reverse the trend is stalling proposals to cut the crop, U.S. officials say.
U.N. figures to be released in September are expected to show that Afghanistan's poppy production has risen up to 15 percent since 2006 and that the country now accounts for 95 percent of the world's crop, 3 percentage points more than last year, officials familiar with preliminary statistics told The Associated Press.


American Democracy, 50s Style

Our shining example for the people of Iraq:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq — The sign taped to the men's latrine is just five lines:


It needed only one: "NO IRAQIS."

Here at this searing, dusty U.S. military base about four miles west of Baqouba, Iraqis — including interpreters who walk the same foot patrols and sleep in the same tents as U.S. troops — must use segregated bathrooms.

Another sign, in a dining hall, warns Iraqis and "third-country nationals" that they have just one hour for breakfast, lunch or dinner. American troops get three hours. Iraqis say they sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes in hot lines to get inside the chow hall, leaving just 15 minutes to get their food and eat it.

It's been nearly 60 years since President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. military. But at Forward Operating Base Warhorse it's alive and well, perhaps the only U.S. military facility with such rules, Iraqi interpreters here say.


Periodic Power Outages = The Good Old Days

All is well in Iraq. No worries. We promise:

Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage of infrastructure, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, officials said Saturday.


Batshit Crazy

Yet, "open-minded" to non-insane options. That's mighty white of him:
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo’s campaign stood by his assertion that bombing holy Muslim sites would serve as a good “deterrent” to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from attacking the United States, his spokeswoman said Friday.

“This shows that we mean business,” said Bay Buchanan, a senior Tancredo adviser. “There’s no more effective deterrent than that. But he is open-minded and willing to embrace other options. This is just a means to deter them from attacking us.”

On Tuesday, Tancredo warned a group of Iowans that another terrorist attack would “cause a worldwide economic collapse.” recorded his comments.

“If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina,” Tancredo said. “That is the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they would otherwise do. If I am wrong, fine, tell me, and I would be happy to do something else. But you had better find a deterrent, or you will find an attack.”


It's All Okay, Then

That's right, Gonzales. The issue all along has been which building these meetings occurred in:

Justice Department officials attended at least a dozen political briefings at the White House since 2001, including some meetings led by Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, and others that were focused on election trends prior to the 2006 midterm contest, according to documents released yesterday.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that he did not believe that senior Justice Department officials had attended such briefings. But he clarified his testimony yesterday in a letter to Congress, emphasizing that the briefings were not held at the agency's offices.


At the July 24 hearing, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) asked Gonzales whether any of "the leadership of the Department of Justice" had participated in political briefings, pointing to examples involving employees from the State Department, Peace Corps and U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Not that I'm aware of. . . . I don't believe so, sir," Gonzales said.

Justice officials attended 12 political briefings at the White House, and another held at the Department of Agriculture, from 2001 to 2006, according to the list sent to Waxman. At least five were led by Rove or included presentations by him.


Fear of Black Men Made Me Do It

Not the most novel of defenses, it must be admitted. Nor, really, at all plausible:
State Rep. Bob Allen told police he was just playing along when a undercover officer suggested in a public restroom that the legislator give him oral sex and $20 because he was intimidated, according to a taped statement and other documents released Thursday.

Allen has already denied any wrongdoing, but the recordings and documents offered new details about what he and police say happened on July 11 inside the men's room at Veterans Memorial Park.

"I certainly wasn't there to have sex with anybody and certainly wasn't there to exchange money for it," said Allen, R-Merritt Island, who was arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution.

"This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park," Allen, who is white, told police in a taped statement after his arrest. Allen said he feared he "was about to be a statistic" and would have said anything just to get away.


And Another Lost Generation in the Making

America's going to bear the hardships of this war for decades (Iraq, of course, all the more so):
A study of British troops shows that prolonged periods of deployment, above the recommended limit, harm mental health and lead to problems at home, particularly for troops on the front lines.

Among a random sample of 5,547 active duty men and women in Britain's armed forces, those who were deployed for 13 months or longer over a 3-year period, in breach of guidelines, were much more likely to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and to have problems at home during and after deployment, compared with troops deployed for shorter periods.

Soldiers made to stay on the front lines for longer than expected were also more apt to suffer PTSD, a finding consistent with a recent survey of US troops in Iraq, which found that soldiers who did not known when they were scheduled to return home had increased levels of psychological distress.

Longer than recommended deployments were also associated with severe drinking problems.

Direct combat exposure strengthened these relationships.


Compensation for Kidnapping

This decision is really rather shocking in its implications. That the Australian government is finally admitting the depth of its wrongdoing is impressive:
"The best thing is knowing they never forgot me, my mum and dad. They didn't want to let me go. There's proof of that."

Clutching a mug of tea, Bruce Trevorrow is sitting on a picnic bench in the beautiful national park of The Coorong, a place of wetlands, saltpans and vast skies. He is talking about his parents, Joe and Thora, both dead, and his childhood. It is not a happy tale but one of prejudice, cruelty and loss. He was born near here, a member of the Ngarrindjeri people, but did not grow up here. His childhood and his identity as an Aborigine were snatched from him as one of Australia's so-called Stolen Generation.

This week Mr Trevorrow, 50, won a landmark compensation claim in the South Australian supreme court, the first payment of its kind. A judge awarded him A$525,000 (£220,000), acknowledging that he had been "falsely imprisoned by the state", that the authorities had failed in their duty of care towards him and that such conduct had ruptured the bond between him and his natural family, leading to lifelong depression.

The judgment, delivered in a courtroom where you could have heard a pin drop, was significant, according to one of Mr Trevorrow's legal team, Joanna Richardson, because it acknowledged in legal terms the suffering Mr Trevorrow went through after his removal from his family. It could also establish a precedent for future cases. "It's been fairly emotional," said Mr Trevorrow. He added that it had given him "peace of mind and a feeling of closure".

In 1957, he was 13 months old when he became ill with gastroenteritis. His father was looking after him and his three elder siblings while their mother was visiting relatives and, concerned about his son, asked a neighbour who had a car to take him to Adelaide children's hospital.

The family, who knew about the policy of forced removal in which Aboriginal children were perceived to be better off being raised in white society, wanted to ensure he came back to them. With no telephone or car, they relied on the local police to give them news and repeatedly asked about the boy. A letter, dated five months after he was taken away, was one of several written by his mother to the Aboriginal Protection Board and was produced in court. "I am writing to ask if you will let me know how baby Bruce is and how long before I can have him home as I have not forgot I have a baby in there and I would like something defanat [sic] about him this time trust you will let me know as soon as possible," she wrote.

The board wrote back saying her son was "making good progress" and falsely claimed that the doctors needed to keep him in for further treatment. In fact, Bruce had already been fostered to a white family. Although they cared for him at first, he grew up confused about the difference between him and the other children. He was taunted at school and became emotionally disturbed.

When he was 10, his foster mother handed him back to the state and he was returned to his real family. His father had long died and his mother remarried.

Mr Trevorrow's half-sister Rita, then 16, was the last member of the family to see her brother as he was driven to hospital. "He was poorly but not seriously sick," she said. "He was wrapped in one of those grey government blankets. He was half asleep but he looked at me and gave me a smile. When I saw him next he was 10 years old and such a big boy. He was so shy."

The emotional damage had been done and Bruce failed to settle with his family. He was made a ward of state and eventually taken into care. His adulthood was troubled and he kept in sporadic contact with his siblings. He has been an alcoholic, has spent time in jail and cannot hold down a steady job. In 1998, he walked into a lawyer's office and set in motion his claim for compensation, saying he had suffered depression as a result of being taken from his family.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Eddie Izzard Diplomacy

Russia proves that, yes, they do have a flag:
Russian explorers dived deep below the North Pole in a submersible on Thursday and planted their national flag on the seabed to stake a symbolic claim to the energy riches of the Arctic.

A mechanical arm dropped a specially made, rust-proof titanium flag painted with the Russian tricolor onto the Arctic seabed at a depth of 4,261 meters (13,980 ft).

"It was so lovely down there," Itar-Tass news agency quoted expedition leader Artur Chilingarov as saying as he emerged from one of two submersibles that made the dive.

"If a hundred or a thousand years from now someone goes down to where we were, they will see the Russian flag," said Chilingarov, 67, a top pro-Kremlin member of parliament.


The Cats Are Back!!

(Actually, the cats have been here all along, it's the camera that had gone missing.)

While they are not happy with all the moving, they're dealing - and as you can see, while Zora attacks the scratching post and Tista takes out his aggression by, er, licking my shoes, Gramsci, at least, has no trouble relaxing...


Thursday, August 02, 2007


From water, from electricity,
and so on.
Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the urban misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of the Baghdad summer.

Residents and city officials said large sections in the west of the capital had been virtually dry for six days because the already strained electricity grid cannot provide sufficient power to run water purification and pumping stations.

Baghdad routinely suffers from periodic water outages, but this one is described by residents as one of the most extended and widespread in recent memory.



When is insurance not really insurance? Here's one example:
Hurricane Katrina victims whose homes and businesses were destroyed when floodwaters breached levees in the 2005 storm cannot recover money from their insurance companies for the damages, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The case could affect thousands of rebuilding residents and business owners in Louisiana. Robert Hartwig, chief economist at the industry-funded Insurance Information Institute in New York, said in June that a ruling against the industry could have cost insurers $1 billion.

"This event was excluded from coverage under the plaintiffs' insurance policies, and under Louisiana law, we are bound to enforce the unambiguous terms of their insurance contracts as written," Judge Carolyn King wrote for a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As a result, the panel found those who filed the suit "are not entitled to recover under their policies," she said.

More than a dozen insurance companies, including Allstate and Travelers, were defendants.

The decision overturns a ruling by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr., who in November sided with policyholders arguing that language excluding water damage from some of their insurance policies was ambiguous.

Duval said the policies did not distinguish between floods caused by an act of God — such as excessive rainfall — and floods caused by an act of man, which would include the levee breaches following Katrina's landfall.

But the appeals panel concluded that "even if the plaintiffs can prove that the levees were negligently designed, constructed, or maintained and that the breaches were due to this negligence, the flood exclusions in the plaintiffs' policies unambiguously preclude their recovery."

"Regardless of what caused the failure of the flood-control structures that were put in place to prevent such a catastrophe, their failure resulted in a widespread flood that damaged the plaintiffs' property," and policies clearly excluded water damage caused by floods, King wrote.


"A List of Possible Fathers"

Another great moment in the history of American legislation:
"This is important because there are always two parents and fathers should have a say in the birth or the destruction of that child," said [Rep. John] Adams, a Republican from Sidney. "I didn't bring it up to draw attention to myself or to be controversial. In most cases, when a child is born the father has financial responsibility for that child, so he should have a say."

As written, the bill would ban women from seeking an abortion without written consent from the father of the fetus. In cases where the identity of the father is unknown, women would be required to submit a list of possible fathers. The physician would be forced to conduct a paternity test from the provided list and then seek paternal permission to abort.


Claiming to not know the father's identity is not a viable excuse, according to the proposed legislation. Simply put: no father means no abortion.


Sold Out

Some days, it's just too depressing.

After weeks of uncertainty, House Democrats have decided against a confrontation over automobile fuel economy when they take up energy legislation later this week.

Two proposals to boost the required mileage for new automobiles were submitted Wednesday for consideration as amendments to the energy legislation, but they were withdrawn by their Democratic sponsors.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., sponsor of a proposal to boost vehicle mileage to 35 miles per gallon by 2019, said he decided not to pursue the matter after consulting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi in a statement said she supported requiring automakers to make more fuel efficient vehicles but that the issue was deferred "in the interest of promoting passage of a consensus energy bill."

The House was scheduled to take up the legislation on Friday in one of its last actions before lawmakers depart for their monthlong summer recess.

Pelosi said she supports the Senate-passed mileage measure and that the issue would be addressed when the House and Senate bills are merged, probably in September.

"The American people in every region of the country overwhelmingly support stronger fuel efficiency standards" for motor vehicles, Pelosi said.

Markey said he also was confident that "our strength in both the House and Senate" in support of raising the auto fuel economy requirements for the first time since 1975 is sufficient to assure the measure will be included in the final bill sent to the president.

Markey had been working feverishly to line up votes for his proposal, backed by environmentalists. It would boost auto fuel economy requirements by about 40 percent over the current 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks by 2019.

Also abandoned was a proposal backed by some of the auto manufacturers that was supported by both Democrats and many Republicans. It would have required cars and trucks to meet efficiency rules of 32 to 35 mpg by 2022.

Its chief sponsor, Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind., had offered the amendment as a "pre-emptive measure" to counter the Markey proposal, his spokeswoman, Katie Moreau, said.

Markey said he believed he had a majority of House members with him on his legislation. The bill sponsored by Hill had at least 143 co-sponsors and on Wednesday the centrist-to-conservative "Blue Dog Democrats" said at least two-thirds of its 47-member group preferred Hill's bill over Markey's.

Automakers had lobbied heavily against the Markey legislation, as they had unsuccessfully in the Senate last month.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the trade group would continue to push for "realistic fuel economy standards" that would preserve jobs and vehicle choice.

Congress has not changed the federal auto fuel economy standard since it was imposed in 1975. It has been at 27.5 mpg fleet average for cars since 1989. The truck requirements, which include SUVs and passenger vans, recently were raised to 22.2 mpg.



That it took them this long:

Texas students will have four more words to remember when they head back to class this month and begin reciting the state's pledge of allegiance.

This year's Legislature added the phrase "one state under God" to the pledge, which is part of a required morning ritual in Texas public schools along with the pledge to the U.S. flag and a moment of silence.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, who sponsored the bill, said it had always bothered her that God was omitted in the state's pledge.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Let It Sink

That's always been the Bush policy on New Orleans. And it still is:
In a major blow to Louisiana, President Bush threatened Wednesday to veto long-awaited legislation with billions of dollars to shore up hurricane protection along the Gulf Coast.


Gonzales: Objectively Pro-Hillbilly Heroin

You just gotta love the "party of morals."

The night before the government secured a guilty plea from the manufacturer of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, a senior Justice Department official called the U.S. attorney handling the case and, at the behest of an executive for the drugmaker, urged him to slow down, the prosecutor told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney in Roanoke, testified that he was at home the evening of Oct. 24 when he received the call on his cellphone from Michael J. Elston, then chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and one of the Justice aides involved in the removal of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Brownlee settled the case anyway. Eight days later, his name appeared on a list compiled by Elston of prosecutors that officials had suggested be fired.

Brownlee ultimately kept his job. But as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales confronts withering criticism over the dismissals, the episode in the OxyContin case provides fresh evidence of efforts by senior officials in the department's headquarters to sway the work of U.S. attorneys' offices.


Situation Normal, All Fucked Up

Sometimes, you just get tired of all the stupid:

The US government cannot account for 190,000 weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to an investigation carried out by the Government Accountability Office.

According to the July 31 report, the military "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armour and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi forces."


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bad Neighbors, Cont'd

I've noted this before, but it warrants further mention:
A BP (BP) refinery in Indiana will be allowed to continue to dump mercury into Lake Michigan under a permit issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The permit exempts the BP plant at Whiting, Ind., 3 miles southeast of Chicago, from a 1995 federal regulation limiting mercury discharges into the Great Lakes to 1.3 ounces per year.

The BP plant reported releasing 3 pounds of mercury through surface water discharges each year from 2002 to 2005, according to the Toxics Release Inventory, a database on pollution emissions kept by the Environmental Protection Agency that is based on information reported by companies.


Monday, July 30, 2007


On the house!

Top: View of the backyard as seen from the deck.

Bottom: Side of the house, looking back towards the sunroom.



Here it is, the new home we've got locked down in Oshkosh.


Ain't That America

A jingoistic bully? Either arrest him or elect him!
Islamic leaders praised the Bay County School District on Thursday for firing a school bus driver charged with cursing and spitting at Muslim children.

Thomas Plaisted, 60, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of evidencing prejudice while committing an offense.

Plaisted was arrested in May after he allegedly cursed and spit at the children in a Lynn Haven fast-food restaurant.

According to sheriff reports, Plaisted was in a Taco Bell when a Muslim mother, wearing a traditional scarf, entered with her children.

When the mother went to the counter to order, Plaisted cursed and made threatening gestures at the children.

He then uttered anti-Muslim epithets and spit food on one of the children, deputies reported. Plaisted also shoved an 11-year-old child, the report stated.

He left after customers and employees confronted him, according to his arrest report.

(Thanks to the father of Miriam's friend Miriam.)


Unnatural Disaster

Bush has so much blood on his hands, it's practically unimaginable:
About 8 million Iraqis — nearly a third of the population — need immediate emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, relief agencies said Monday.

Those Iraqis are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter, said the report by Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee network in Iraq.

The report said 15 percent of Iraqis cannot regularly afford to eat, and 70 percent are without adequate water supplies, up from 50 percent in 2003. It also said 28 percent of children are malnourished, compared with 19 percent before the 2003 invasion.

"Basic services, ruined by years of war and sanctions, cannot meet the needs of the Iraqi people," said Jeremy Hobbs, the director of Oxfam International. "Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee the violence, either to another part of Iraq or abroad. Many of those are living in dire poverty."


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fuel the Fires

More proof of America's absolutely amoral pursuit of profit regardless of all else. We're dumping massive amounts of weaponry into the Middle East:
The Bush administration is facing claims that it is fuelling an arms race in the Middle East following the disclosure of a plan to sell $20bn (£9.8bn) of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The plan, which will be announced today, will be balanced by a 25% increase in US military and defence aid to Israel. A further $13bn will be pledged to Egypt.

"This administration does not have an arms sales policy, except to sell, sell, sell," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association. "That approach in the Middle East can be like throwing gasoline on a brush fire."


Well Done, China

Given this report from late last year, China's common sense here is commendable:
China has ordered all hotels, holiday resorts and public showers to provide condoms, part of nationwide efforts to fight the spread of AIDS, a newspaper said on Friday.

The regulation, issued by the commerce and health ministries, also required pamphlets about AIDS prevention to be displayed, the Beijing News said.


Lest We Forget

Another report comes along to describe in excruciating detail the idiocy of the Bush administration in the wake of Katrina:
A new report reveals the US government turned down offers of help from across the globe in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, telling one diplomat "human assistance of any kind is not on our priorities list."

The report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington relies on a review of 25,000 documents obtained from the State Department. The report reveals the US was interested mostly in cash assistance and materials, rather than direct aid from foreign relief workers and doctors, after Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"A review of the State Department documents reveals distressing ineptitude," CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan said in a prepared statement. "Countries were trying to donate desperately needed goods and services, but as a result of bureaucratic bungling and indifference, those most in need of these generous offers and of aid never received it."

Offers to help came from 145 countries and 12 international organizations. The US did accept help from its top allies around the globe, but CREW's report shows it left unclaimed hundreds of thousands of prepared meals, water pumps, doctors and medicine.

Many of the offers were turned down because of a strict adherence to bureaucratic regulations, the report reveals.


The Two Chucks

Here's a little something for that segment of the populace who are fans of both Charlie Brown and Charles Bukowski.