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  • Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Iraq withdrawal - because of success?

    From American Progress:

    On Wednesday, President Bush will deliver an address at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, in which he is "expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces." The speech appears to be an effort by the Bush administration to lay the groundwork for potentially large withdrawals of troops in 2006 and 2007. While Bush recently claimed that withdrawing troops from Iraq was a "recipe for disaster," the White House now appears to have shifted course and is embracing a withdrawal strategy. While Bush and critics of his Iraq policy may agree that a drawdown could be the proper action to take, they differ in one key respect -- the rationale for why such a withdrawal is necessary. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) recently argued that pulling out of Iraq is necessary because "the war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion." Bush, on the other hand, is trying to suggest that a drawdown is the fruits of "good progress" being made in Iraq. A review of the situation on the ground in Iraq yields the conclusion that things are getting worse, not better.

    As of last night, at least 2,107 U.S. troops had died in Iraq and over 15,500 had been wounded. Almost 94 percent of those deaths have come after President Bush stood below a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. Of the total, nearly 60 percent -- 1,246 troops -- have died since the U.S. handover of sovereignty in late June 2004. Approximately three American soldiers are dying each day in Iraq this month -- roughly at the same pace as last month and at some of the highest casualty rates since the war began.

    "Pentagon officials said that in October there were about 100 attacks a day in Iraq compared with 85 to 90 attacks a day in September -- and about half of all attacks involve homemade bombs." That is the highest recorded level of daily attacks since the Iraq war began. By comparison, in January it was reported, "Attacks in Baghdad regularly number in the dozens every day, with nationwide figures hovering around 50 to 70 attacks per day." Also, "more than 225 [foreigners] have been kidnapped since 2004 and at least 38 have been killed." [As of 55 minutes ago, the AP is just reporting on increased kidnappings - DJEB] Ten days ago, a suicide bomber killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad; "the attacks were the deadliest since Sept. 14, when at least 14 insurgent bombings in Baghdad killed more than 160 people."

    In February 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed, "there are over 210,000 Iraqis serving in the security forces. That's an amazing accomplishment." Seven months later, in September 2004, Rumsfeld said that 95,000 trained Iraqi troops were taking part in security operations, less than half the number the administration had been publicizing. A year later, Gen. George Casey testified before Congress that the number of Iraqi battalions rated at the highest level of readiness had dropped from three to one. "That number has apparently not changed." Now, just a few months later, the administration is claiming there are 212,000 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces, "but as it has been for the past two and a half years, it is unclear exactly what measuring sticks [the administration] is using, and whether they present the full picture."

    The coalition in Iraq, "with 37 countries at its peak, has steadily shrunk amid waning public support and rising violence on the ground." There are now 27 countries that are part of the Multinational Forces. In May 2003, there were approximately 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Today, there are approximately 155,000.

    Although the cost of the Iraq war has exceeded $250 billion, there has been little indication that the standard of Iraqi life has improved. Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, reported recently that the "administration promises to use $18 billion Congress allocated to rebuild water, electricity, health and oil networks to prewar levels or better are running into cold reality. ‘We are going to provide something less than that,’ he said." "As the money runs out on the $30 billion American-financed reconstruction of Iraq, the officials in charge cannot say how many planned projects they will complete, and there is no clear source for the hundreds of millions of dollars a year needed to operate the projects that have been finished." In October, the London-based Centre for Global Energy reported that Iraqi oil production had fallen below prewar levels to its lowest point in a decade. Unemployment rates hover near 40 percent. As Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) noted, "If 40 percent of Iraqis have no job and no hope, the insurgency will always find fresh recruits."

    The New York Times reports, "[E]vidence has begun to mount suggesting that [Shiite Iraqi security services] are carrying out executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods." "American officials, who are overseeing the training of the Iraqi Army and the police, acknowledge that police officers and Iraqi soldiers, and the militias with which they are associated, may indeed be carrying out killings and abductions in Sunni communities." The Los Angeles Times writes that the death squads "undermine the U.S. effort to stabilize the nation, and train and equip Iraq's security forces." “People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,” Former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the British newspaper The Observer. "It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

    Geoff Lawton interview

    On October 1st this year, I grabbed Geoff Lawton on the last day of a Permaculture Design Certificate Course he was teaching with Permaculture founder Bill Mollison. Geoff had some alarming things to say regarding the state of the world's environment. DJEB: The last time I saw you, 2004, you mentioned two events – one was a possible event, but the first one you mentioned was the tsunami that you did work on in ’98; and we of course had the big one in December. And the other event was New Orleans, which you mentioned to us and told us what could possibly happen and it wasn’t a conspiracy theory or anything like that. It happened. What are your thoughts on those two events? Geoff Lawton: Well, the tsunami was one that took everyone by surprise. And the size of the event obviously shocked everybody, you know, how vulnerable people are at a distance to a natural event like that. One of the great results from the recovery, sort of the design side of the tsunami, was that some of the government agencies listened to our research that we had from the New Guinea tsunami. And the fact that we had researched the fact that tree belts buffered the impact and particularly filtered out the destructive debris in the waves and were a lot less fatal to people when there was a tree belt on the foreshores. And that was very easy to reference in the December Indonesian tsunami because there was so much footage. And it was easy to see if you scanned through the footage that where there were dense tree belts on the foreshore, there was hardly any damage behind and a very significant drop if any loss of life at all behind large tree belts. Although those shots weren’t shown on the news very much because the media, as usual, concentrated on the sensationalism of the catastrophe and the biggest damage. But particularly the Indian government surveyed the aerial footage and they could see very easily that where there were tree belts, there was less damage. And they initiated a planting of 8 million trees in the first wave of repair along foreshores. And they also looked at using trees that would grow on the foreshore and be functional and productive. So, they choose some productive species that would also handle those situations. And they put in a theme of honoring all the people who were lost in that there were trees that were donated to victims, and their families were given permission to plant trees at ceremonies, so they [the trees] are kept alive. So that was good. One of our directors, Andrew Jones, actually got the job of heading up the post-tsunami rehabilitation assessment consultancy team in Indonesia, based in Jakarta. And we’ve got permaculture education systems going up in the repair of Aceh on the people-scale to start with and the initial reconstruction. And there’s still talk of total redesign in a more sustainable way – but there’s been a large problem with the bureaucracy throughout the Indonesian government on the spending of the money and how it will actually be processed. But we tried our hardest to get those sorts of permaculture initiatives in. And permaculture is written as the main part of the rehabilitation assessment consultancy for the UNEP. So that work goes on. There’s a gentleman called Steve Cran working for the Bali… well, the Indonesian permaculture group IDEP who are based in Bali. Steve Cran is teaching courses there in Aceh. And there are people working on the ground with reconstruction. So hopefully that goes on as research that will go further into helping any future tidal wave, tsunami-type disasters. It’s obvious that tree belts, appropriately dense tree belts on the foreshore mitigate the power of the tsunamis and definitely filter out destructive debris. Then we have New Orleans. It was only a year ago when we were there in August the year before Katrina and we were teaching a course there and we were evacuated when Hurricane Ivan nearly hit New Orleans. A million people were evacuated, and we were part of that. And we were half way through a Permaculture Design Course which we had to shift up country a few hundred miles. And now the scenario that’s been painted for a long time, the drowning of New Orleans – there was even a book, The Drowning of New Orleans that described exactly the scenario that’s happened. And the reality is there. What has become really obvious is the knock-on scenario that when you have a disaster in a first world country, you have this enormous amount of ongoing residual damage because of the amount of possessions and property and equipment ownership of first world people. And the knock-on event that happened with the oil refineries and the oil rigs where 12% of America’s oil got knocked out of production and out of circulation. And that doesn’t sound like much, but because America consumes so much oil, that’s a very large amount of oil out of the world circulation. And it’s had world repercussions, and that’s just one little storm, really. It’s knocked out one city, really, or one area with one major city. So I think what’s happened from that and is still happening is there’s a real serious look now at the global situation of global warming, weather patterns, what’s causing it, why the northern hemisphere is hotter than the southern hemisphere - which is obviously because there are more industrialised human settlements in the northern hemisphere and the separation of the weather systems around the Hadley cell at the equator. And I think it’s crunch time and Bill Mollison’s been saying this for over 20 years; and he’s actually been naming the time frame – “within 50 years,” he said in 1983 when I took my course [Permaculture Design Certificate Course] “you’re going to see major changes.” And here we are just 25 years later, we’re only half way into it and you’ve got it, you’ve got it happening fast. DJEB: The other day you mentioned the first south Atlantic hurricane in history. Geoff Lawton: Yeah. Well it hasn’t really been much spoken about in the general press because it didn’t cause a lot of damage. But Catarina was the name of the hurricane in the southern Atlantic below the equator and there they’ve never been recorded. That’s the first ever and meteorologists are really worried about that because that indicates something that’s a first and a new phenomenon. In quite cool water with quite cool weather patterns we got a very large hurricane forming in the south Atlantic for the first time. So that’s a spillover, I think, of the northern hemisphere weather that’s now pushing over into the southern hemisphere. That’s a spill out really. I think that’s how it’s being seen. And a scenario that’s happening right now is the release of CO2, particularly the release of CO2 in the ocean, which is speeding up with the arctic meltdown. There’s always a knock on scenario. The lack of reflected light from the polar icecap now is speeding up the warming of the northern oceans, and you’re getting a release of CO2 in the oceans at a much faster rate than was expected. And that is becoming carbonic acid, and the pH of the ocean is dropping dramatically. So, you’re acidifying the oceans. And they’re now talking about a possible doubling of the acidity in the oceans in the next year. And that’s dramatic change. That’s whole life systems getting knocked out. There are lots of sea creatures – sea life – that just won’t take that. And that’s more release of CO2 when that death rate comes on. So, the inquiry for solution-based systems now is, I think, going to exponentially increase. And when you’re sitting in the position that we are as designers and consultants, it’s actually a bit of a worry that you’re going to just get overloaded with inquiry and if it’s possible to get the resources to get the job done – which is really training people up as quick as possible. DJEB: You have classes coming up, of course. Any aid work coming up for you? Geoff Lawton: Well, I have aid work coming up in Vietnam and in Thailand next year, and I’m on consultancy, at a distance, with a lot of different aid work scenarios. And right now, there’s a group of us seriously looking at the possibility of formulating a permaculture aid organisation which can establish NGOs in many places. All of that has to be speeded up, I think. To catch another Geoff Lawton interview, please go to EveryoneIsDoomed.

    Katrina's missing

    From Democracy Now!:

    USA Today is reporting over 6,600 people are still reported missing following Hurricane Katrina. Nearly 1,000 of the unaccounted are children. The head of the National Center for Missing Adults says many people are listed as missing because government record-keeping efforts haven't caught up with them in their new locations. But fears are growing that the final death toll could increase significantly from the current toll of 1,300.

    Iraq as bad as Saddam days

    This just in from Terrorism News:

    LONDON: Abuse of human rights in Iraq is as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein, if not worse, former prime minister Iyad Allawi said in an interview published yesterday.

    "People are doing the same as (in) Saddam Hussein's time and worse. It is an appropriate comparison," Dr Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and former Baathist who is standing in elections scheduled for December 15, told British newspaper The Observer.

    "People are remembering the days of Saddam," he said.

    "These are the precise reasons why we fought Saddam Hussein and now we are seeing the same things.

    "We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where people are being interrogated," Dr Allawi said in an apparent reference to the discovery of a bunker at the Shi'ite-run Interior Ministry where 170 men were held prisoner, beaten, half-starved and in some cases tortured.

    "A lot of Iraqis are being tortured or killed in the course of interrogations."

    Reuters

    Yet another broken treaty

    From the AP via Common Dreams:

    Other nations watch as the United States keeps permitting wide use of methyl bromide for tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, Christmas trees and other crops, even though the U.S. signed an international treaty banning all but the most critical uses by 2005.

    The chemical depletes the earth's protective ozone layer and can harm the human neurological system, an increasing concern as people settle further into what was once just farm country.

    Methyl bromide's survival demonstrates the difficulty of banishing a powerful pesticide that helps deliver what both farmers and consumers want: abundant, pest-free and affordable produce.

    The Bush administration, at the urging of agriculture and manufacturing interests, is making plans to ensure that methyl bromide remains available at least through 2008 by seeking and winning treaty exemptions. Also, the administration will not commit to an end date.

    ...

    The U.S. signed the Montreal Protocol treaty, committing to phase out methyl bromide by 2005 as part of the effort to protect the earth's ozone layer.

    A provision allows for exemptions to prevent "market disruption." The U.S. has used it to persuade treaty signers to allow U.S. farmers to continue using the chemical.

    That exemption process leaves the U.S. 37 percent shy of the phaseout required by 2005, with at least 10,450 tons of methyl bromide exempted this year. While that compares with about 28,080 tons used in 1991, this year's total is higher than it was two years ago.

    U.S. officials are heading to a Montreal Protocol meeting in Senegal on Dec. 7 to begin negotiations on exemptions for 2007 and are preparing requests for 2008.

    Mercs Shooting Up Iraqi Drivers

    From the Telegraph via Common Dreams:

    A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

    The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

    The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

    The road has acquired the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous in the world because of the number of suicide attacks and ambushes carried out by insurgents against coalition troops. In one four-month period earlier this year it was the scene of 150 attacks.

    In one of the videoed attacks, a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi. In the last clip, a white civilian car is raked with machine gun fire as it approaches an unidentified security company vehicle. Bullets can be seen hitting the vehicle before it comes to a slow stop.

    There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley's Mystery Train, the music which accompanies the video.

    Last night a spokesman for defence firm Aegis Defence Services - set up in 2002 by Lt Col Tim Spicer, a former Scots Guards officer - confirmed that the company was carrying out an internal investigation to see if any of their employees were involved. The Foreign Office has also confirmed that it is investigating the contents of the video in conjunction with Aegis, one of the biggest security companies operating in Iraq. The company was recently awarded a £220 million security contract in Iraq by the United States government. Aegis conducts a number of security duties and helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country's recent referendum.

    Lt Col Spicer, 53, rose to public prominence in 1998 when his private military company Sandlines International was accused of breaking United Nations sanctions by selling arms to Sierra Leone.

    The video first appeared on the website www.aegisIraq.co.uk. The website states: "This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company." The clips have been removed.

    The website also contains a message from Lt Col Spicer, which reads: "I am concerned about media interest in this site and I remind everyone of their contractual obligation not to speak to or assist the media without clearing it with the project management or Aegis London.

    "Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody."

    ...

    Capt Adnan Tawfiq of the Iraqi Interior Ministry which deals with compensation issues, has told the Sunday Telegraph that he has received numerous claims from families who allege that their relatives have been shot by private security contractors travelling in road convoys. He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes we ring the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don't get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."

    Katrina taught... Nothing

    From American Progress:

    "About 10,000 delegates - from 189 governments, environmental lobby groups and businesses - will attend the November 28-December 9 talks" on climate change in Montreal. "We do have a little time, but not much. ... If we don't get a serious program in place for the long term in this second post-Kyoto phase, we will simply not make it and we will be crossing limits which will basically produce impacts that are unacceptable," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said. Despite the urgency from around the globe, the Bush administration has shunned the conference. Regardless of the White House's view, politicians, corporate representatives and others from the U.S. will be attending the conference. "Most people are ready to take the dialogue forward," Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change said. "The only place where that is not the case is the administration."

    Friday, November 25, 2005

    With God on their side...

    From Mother Jones:

    The Jimmy Swaggart Award for God Abuse

    Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) appeared at a prayer breakfast just after the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 240,000 people. DeLay read a passage from Matthew about a nonbeliever: "…a fool who built his house on sand: The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, and buffeted the house, and it collapsed and was completely ruined." Then, without comment, he righteously sat down.

    Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) sponsored the Constitution Restoration Act of 2005, which mandates the "acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government"—i.e, the Bible could trump even the Supreme Court, which according to some observers, could allow judges to impose biblical sentences such as the stoning of homosexuals instead of common-law sentences.

    Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), who attended the infamous coronation, in the Senate building, of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon involving a weird ceremony of robes and pillows and pompous language declaring Moon the world's messiah. Other pols scrambled to say they had been tricked into attending, but not Bartlett. "What was so strange?" he groused. "If I was there and asked to do something that was benign, handing a robe to an old person and honoring him for his contribution to world peace and fundamental morality, now why wouldn't I do that if I was asked to?"

    Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) reminded the president that back in 1978, as a congressional candidate, he had warned that Social Security would soon collapse if it wasn't privatized. "I lost" that race, Bush observed, whereupon Rangel deadpanned: "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

    Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) was overheard by the Wall Street Journal explaining to lobbyists right after Hurricane Katrina had destroyed New Orleans that "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

    WINNER! Richard Baker, who will receive a granite tablet carved with the words of Mark 12: 40, where Jesus Christ warned that those who "devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation."

    Proof positive you have too much money when...

    If you have thousands of dollars (or pounds) to blow on property that does not really exist, then you simplely have far too much money. See Virtual property market booming from the BBC.

    In peak oil news

    From Common Dreams:

    Even if nothing disrupts the projected flow of Middle East petroleum, Energy Department consultants warned earlier this year that "the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking" of global oil production -- a problem "unlike any faced by modern industrial society."

    They wrote that the United States and other nations are in a race with the clock to find alternative sources for oil, "the lifeblood of modern civilization," and avoid potential economic disaster.

    After years -- or even decades -- of sitting on the fringe of the world oil debate, the issue of what to do when production dwindles is starting to get attention in Congress. Last week, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators, including Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, proposed legislation to accelerate the nation's shift to new energy sources in the nation's transportation sector, which guzzles 14 million barrels of oil each day.

    Warning of a potential crisis, they proposed billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur development of vehicles powered by electric batteries, diesel, Minnesota-manufactured ethanol and exhaust-free hydrogen fuel cells. In the House, Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., and 15 co-sponsors want all U.S. gasoline to contain a 10 percent blend of renewable fuel, as only Minnesota requires now.

    ...

    [ Former CIA Director James ] Woolsey said in an interview that the administration is no longer "just asleep on these issues," but that the government still isn't moving swiftly enough to bring new technologies to full-scale production.

    "We have done very little really, as a country, to promote the development and marketing of energy alternatives," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., a former state energy and economic development commissioner. "We've given lip service to them."

    By "renewable fuel" they are unfortunately talking about biodiesel and ethanol, both of which require more energy in their production than they provide. Sorry, biofuels are not going to do it.

    U.S. troops fighting in Syria?

    Terrorism News is reporting via Debkafile that U.S. marines have commited an act of war against Syria.

    Both sides have suffered casualties. US soldiers crossed over after Damascus was given an ultimatum Thursday, Nov. 24, to hand over a group of senior commanders belonging to Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda force. According to US intelligence, the group had fled to Syria to escape an American attack in Mosul. Syrian border guards opened fire on the American force.

    As Terrorism News reports, time will tell if this is accurate.

    Only reality can be this bent

    After proving himself truly incompetent at disaster management, Mike Brown is going into the private contracting business as... a disaster preparedness consultor. Anyone stupid enough to high him deserves what they get. From AP News:

    Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, heavily criticized for his agency's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

    "If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses - because that goes straight to the bottom line - then I hope I can help the country in some way," Brown told the Rocky Mountain News for its Thursday editions.

    Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is. In the aftermath of the hurricane, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and e-mails that later surfaced showed him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Back in league with the criminals

    From Democracy Now!:

    The Bush administration has announced it will lift a six-year arms embargo and resume full relations with the Indonesian military. The State Department said it will provide aid to "help modernise the Indonesian military, provide further incentives for reform of the Indonesian military, and support US and Indonesian security objectives, including counterterrorism, maritime security and disaster relief." Military ties with Indonesia were scaled back following a massacre of civilians in East Timor in 1991. Indonesia occupied East Timor for over 25 years, where it was accused of killing over 200,000 people. It has also killed thousands in the embattled Aceh province over the last decade. In a statement, the East Timor Action Network said : "US support for an unreformed military which remains above the law is not in the interest of the United States or Indonesia. This is a profoundly disappointing and sad day for human rights protections everywhere but especially in Indonesia, East Timor, and the US."

    Freedom of speech in Britain. Yeah, right.

    From Democracy Now!:

    The British government has threatened to sue newspapers that publish contents of a leaked memo in which President Bush allegedly discusses bombing the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeerah. The government says it would take action under the Official Secrets Act*, which makes it illegal come into the possession of government information without lawful authority. The British newspaper Daily Mirror disclosed the memo Tuesday. The paper based its a report on a confidential Downing Street memo that claimed Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 that he wanted to attack Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar. Blair allegedly talked Bush out of the strike, fearing revenge attacks. The Daily Mirror says it will comply with the government's threat against publication. But Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace said : "We made [the government] fully aware of the intention to publish and were given 'no comment' officially or unofficially. Suddenly 24 hours later we are threatened under section 5 [of the secrets act]." Two British civil servants have been charged in connection with the leak.

    * The Official Secrets Act is otherwise known that the "You Caught Us With Our Pants Down Act."

    Padilla finally charged... with something

    Not bad for being held illegally for over 3 years. [/sarcasm] From Democracy Now!:

    The Justice Department announced Tuesday criminal charges have been filed against Jose Padilla -- the U.S. citizen who had been held for over three years in solitary confinement on a military brig in South Carolina. Padilla was first detained in 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare Airport after returning from a trip to Pakistan. At the time Attorney General John Ashcroft warned the government had "disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive "dirty bomb." On Tuesday Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced Padilla is being removed from military custody and charged with a series of crimes. The charges do not include the "dirty bomb" claim made at the time of Padilla's arrest.

    White House knew no Iraq - al Qaeda links in Sept. 2001

    From Democracy Now!:

    A new article by investigative journalist Murray Waas in the National Journal says President Bush was notified ten days after the 9/11 attacks U.S. intelligence had no evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda or the attacks. According to several current and former government officials, little evidence has emerged to contradict the assessment. One former high-level official said : "What the President was told on September 21 [2001], was consistent with everything he has been told since -- the evidence was just not there." The Bush administration has so far refused to release the briefing, not even as a redacted document. Administration officials subsequently ignored the intelligence assessments in favor of those that alleged Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons and ties to Al Qaeda. One of the key proponents of this theory was then-undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. In the margin of one of Feith's reports, Vice President Dick Cheney wrote: "This is very good indeed ... Encouraging ... Not like the crap we are all so used to getting out of CIA."

    Rewriting History

    From PR Watch:

    “It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how (the Iraq) war began,” Bush scolded his critics in his Veterans Day speech on November 11. But as Robert Parry observes, Bush is the one doing the rewriting. "Bush’s argument is that he didn’t lie the nation into war; he and his top aides were just misled by the same faulty intelligence that Congress saw," he writes. In reality, however, "the White House sees far more detailed intelligence than what is shared with Congress." Parry adds that "perhaps the strongest evidence of Bush’s proclivity to lie about Iraq came after the invasion, when he began falsifying the record – rewriting history – with claims that Saddam Hussein had barred U.N. weapons inspectors from entering Iraq. ... The significance of this provable lie to the other Iraq War falsehoods is that it demonstrates Bush’s intent to deceive."

    This brings to mind something I heard almost a year ago:

    I had a kind of an amusing moment during the inauguration. I was taking a break on a bench with a couple of people who were protesting, one of whom had a sign that read, “Bush lied, thousands died.” Guy comes by and says, well, what did he lie about?

    So, I -- you know, I sit there and you say -- you remember the 2003 State of the Union address? Well, what about it? Well, in the State of the Union address in 2003, Mr. Bush said that there were -- what was it? -- 26,000 liters of anthrax; 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin; 500 tons, which is one million pounds, of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent; 30,000 munitions capable of delivering the stuff; mobile biological weapons labs; and uranium from Niger for use in nuclear bombs. By the way, the page describing all of this is still up on the White House website today. It's called “Disarm Saddam Hussein.” You can go find it yourself. I said that's a pretty big lie. His response: "That was the democrats lied about that." Miracles of nature, some of these people.

    Feeling ill? Could be DuPont's fault.

    From PR Watch:

    "DuPont Co. hid studies showing the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and hundreds of other food containers," according to a former employee and leaked company documents. The chemical, Zonyl, degrades into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the safety of which is debated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The leaked documents describe "laboratory tests showing [Zonyl] came off paper coating and leached into foods at levels three times higher than the FDA limit set in 1967." Another test showed rats and dogs fed Zonyl for three months "had anemia and damage to their kidneys and livers." The EPA has accused DuPont of repeatedly failing "over a 20-year period to submit required data about PFOA," and will hold a hearing on the issue this month. DuPont settled one PFOA contamination class-action lawsuit for $107.6 million but faces another.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    The Evil Nation of Venezuela

    From Democracy Now!:

    The Boston Globe is reporting 45,000 low income families in Massachusetts will soon start getting discounted home-heating oil from a subsidiary of the Venezuelan national oil company. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered to ship 285,000 barrels of oil to Massachusetts and sell it at a 40 percent discount. The deal was arranged by U.S. Congressman William Delahunt, the Venezuelan gas company Citgo and a Massachusetts nonprofit called Citizens Energy. Nationwide home heating oil prices are expected to increase by as much as 50 percent this winter because of rising oil prices.

    Integrity alert

    Fom Democracy Now!:

    A former aide to Tom Delay pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff to bribe government officials, including a congressman, and bilk millions of dollars from Native American tribes. The aide - Michael Scanlon - agreed to pay back more than $19 million and to work with government investigators. He faces up to five years in jail. The Washington Post reports the Abramoff probe could expand greatly. Investigators are looking at half a dozen members of Congress, current and former senior Hill aides, a former deputy secretary of the interior, and Abramoff's former lobbying colleagues.

    Bush Wanted to Bomb Al Jazeera Last Year

    From Democracy Now!:

    The British newspaper the Daily Mirror is reporting that President Bush considered bombing the Arabic tv station Al Jazeera last year. The paper based its report on a top secret Downing Street Memo that reveals Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004 that he wanted to attack Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Blair allegedly feared such a strike would spark revenge attacks. The Mirror quoted one source saying "The memo is explosive and hugely damaging to Bush. There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do -- and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Another British source said Bush's threat was humorous and not serious (Yeah, right.). In 2001 the U.S. bombed Al Jazeera's office in Kabul Afghanistan but claimed it was done by accident.

    Orwell at work.

    It's a chemcial weapon. No, we didn't use it. Yes, we did use it, but not against people. Yes, we used it against people, but it's not a chemical weapon. From Democracy Now!:

    New evidence has emerged that the U.S. military used chemical weapons during the assault on Fallujah a year ago. Last week the Pentagon confirmed for the first time that it used white phosphorous as a weapon to attack Iraqi fighters. But the Pentagon rejected claims that white phosphorous is a chemical weapon. White Phosphorous is often compared to napalm because it combusts spontaneously when exposed to oxygen and can burn right through skin to the bone. While the Pentagon is denying white phosphorous is a chemical weapon, a newly uncovered Defense Department document, reveals that is just how the military described it when Saddam Hussein allegedly used it a decade ago. A declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document reads QUOTE "Iraqi forces loyal to president Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels." Meanwhile a British commander has admitted that he trained his troops in using white phosphorus as a weapon. Until now the British government has maintained it used white phosphorous but only for tactical purposes.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Fun

    Knuckles is back!

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Fish Numbers Plummet in Warming Pacific

    From the Independent via Common Dreams:

    A catastrophic collapse in sea and bird life numbers along America's Northwest Pacific seaboard is raising fears that global warming is beginning to irreparably damage the health of the oceans.

    Scientists say a dramatic rise in the ocean temperature led to unprecedented deaths of birds and fish this summer all along the coast from central California to British Columbia in Canada.

    The population of seabirds, such as cormorants, auklets and murres, and fish, including salmon and rockfish, fell to record lows.

    This ecological meltdown mirrors a similar development taking place thousands of miles away in the North Sea, which The Independent on Sunday first reported two years ago. Also caused by warming of the water, the increase in temperatures there has driven the plankton that form the base of the marine food chain hundreds of miles north, triggering a collapse in the number of sand eels on which many birds and large fish feed and causing a rapid decline in puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and other birds.

    The collapses in the Pacific are also down to the disappearance of plankton, though the immediate cause for this is different. Normally, winds blow south along the coast in spring and summer, pushing warmer surface waters away from the shore and allowing colder water that is rich in nutrients to well up from the sea bottom, feeding the microscopic plants called phytoplankton. These are eaten by zooplankton, tiny animals that in turn feed fish, seabirds and marine mammals.

    But this year the winds were extraordinarily weak and the cold water did not well up in spring as usual. Water temperatures soared to 7C above normal, which delighted bathers but caused the whole delicate system to collapse. The amount of phytoplankton crashed to a quarter of its usual level.

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    U.S. 'Used Chemical Weapons' on Fallujah

    From the Independent via Common Dreams:

    Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.

    Ever since the assault, which went unreported by any Western journalists, rumors have swirled that the Americans used chemical weapons on the city.

    ...

    In December the US government formally denied the reports, describing them as "widespread myths". "Some news accounts have claimed that US forces have used 'outlawed' phosphorus shells in Fallujah," the USinfo website said. "Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. US forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes.

    "They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."

    But now new information has surfaced, including hideous photographs and videos and interviews with American soldiers who took part in the Fallujah attack, which provides graphic proof that phosphorus shells were widely deployed in the city as a weapon.

    ...[A] former American soldier who fought at Fallujah says: "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military jargon it's known as Willy Pete.

    "Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone ... I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."

    Possible suicide link with industry

    From EurekAlert!:

    CHAPEL HILL -- Sustained elevation of the suicide rate in a North Carolina county may be linked to releases of hydrogen sulfide and other airborne chemicals from a nearby paper mill and possibly other industrial sites, a new study led by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychiatrist indicates. The findings are being presented today (Nov. 7) to the 18th Annual U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress in Las Vegas.

    This is the second study to propose a possible link between increased suicide rates in a North Carolina community and chemical exposures from nearby industry. Many of the same authors of the new research previously presented a study suggesting a possible link between an increased suicide rate in a community in Salisbury and chronic low-level exposure to hydrogen sulfide and other potential neurotoxins released from nearby asphalt plants and petroleum remediation sites.

    ...

    In animal studies, hydrogen sulfide has been shown to be a neurotoxin, altering levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, aspartate, GABA and glutamate, the authors reported. "We speculate that hydrogen sulfide may serve as a marker for other potentially neurotoxic compounds being released in this mountain valley," [Dr. Richard H.] Weisler said.

    Other chemical releases reported by the paper mill include carbon disulfide, dimethyl disulfide, dimethyl sulfide and methyl mercaptan.

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    Brownie was doing a heck of a job, you say?

    From USA Today:

    WASHINGTON — E-mails sent as Hurricane Katrina raged reveal that FEMA's then-director, Michael Brown, discussed his clothing and his need for a dog sitter but left unanswered urgent messages.

    A House committee investigating the response to Katrina released about 1,000 e-mails as members complained that the Bush administration had failed to provide copies of communications among high-level officials, including White House chief of staff Andy Card and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

    ...

    The newly released e-mails depict an official who "made few decisions and seemed out of touch," said Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La.

    Last month at a Senate hearing, Marty Bahamonde, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's only employee in New Orleans when Katrina struck Aug. 29, said he e-mailed Brown on Aug. 31, "Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical ... many will die." Brown replied, "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?"

    An e-mail offering critical medical equipment got no response for four days.

    Brown resigned two weeks after Katrina hit. E-mail excerpts:

    • Aug. 29, 7:19 a.m., Cindy Taylor, FEMA deputy director of public affairs to Brown, about his shirt as he appeared on NBC's Today: "My eyes must certainly be deceiving me. You look fabulous — and I'm not talking the makeup." Brown, 7:52 a.m.: "I got it at Nordsstroms ... Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?"
    • Aug. 30, 10:52 p.m. Brown to assistant Tillie James: "Do you know of anyone who dog-sits?"
    • Sept. 2, 8:37 a.m. Brown to acquaintance Betty Guhman, on his pre-Katrina plans to leave FEMA: "Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day. I'm trapped now, please rescue me."
    I'm having trouble here understanding how Brown's incompetence is the fault of the mayor of New Orleans or the governor of Louisiana, but I have faith that either Karl Rove or Faux News will explain it to us.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Is a Crisis Coming in U.S. Agriculture?

    From the Texas Farm Bureau:

    Agriculture today is facing a major catastrophe not experienced since the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. Based on expert economic projections, for the first time in decades, many U.S. farmers cannot possibly "cash flow" a crop or crops for the year 2006. Bankers are saying "No." Many of us will not be able to farm this year or the next. The doubling and tripling of fuel and petrochemical prices are the last link in a chain of bad economic events.

    ...

    For farmers, a Katrina-like disaster is building. It will soon swamp many family farming operations. Astronomical fuel prices, fertilizer and chemical costs have reached the point that even a modest profit is impossible.

    Farmers are receiving the lowest price for commodities that myself or most farmers can remember. Farmers are a proud group, usually not willing to protest. This time, I hope someone is listening. We are literally at the end of the turn row. That's a metaphor for desperation. Agriculture is in serious trouble.

    A friend of mine and long-time Central Texas farmer sums up the current crisis in a unique way: "It's a lot easier to do nothin' for nothin' than somethin' for nothin'." Why invest huge amounts, work from daylight to dark and struggle for a profit when you know you have no chance?

    What if, one by one, many farmers are forced into the painful decision that they can't afford to plant this year and the next? How many such decisions will it take to produce, nation-wide, the bare grocery shelves brought about by Katrina and Rita?