30 October 2004
Oh, Qa Qaa!
The more we find out about the Al Qa Qaa explosives, the worse it is for the Bush administration. The consistently excellent Global Security site has the scoop on the Bush administration claim that Iraq had moved much of the HMX explosives.
DoD released on Oct. 28, 2004, imagery showing two trucks parked outside one of the 56 bunkers of the Al Qa Qaa Explosive Storage Complex approximately 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, on March 17, 2003. According to the release: "It is not believed that all 56 bunkers contained High Melting Explosive also known as HMX. A large, tractor-trailer (yellow arrow) is loaded with white containers with a smaller truck parked behind it. The International Atomic Energy Association inspectors identified bunkers in this complex as containing High Melting Explosive."
However, a comparison of features in the DoD-released imagery with available commercial satellite imagery, combined with the use of an IAEA map showing the location of bunkers used to store the HMX explosives, reveals that the trucks pictured on the DoD image are not at any of the nine bunkers indentified by the IAEA as containing the missing explosive stockpiles.
Recall that the Bush administration has tried to claim:
- That the explosives were looted before the war started. But there is videotape proving otherwise.
- That the explosives were moved to Syria, with the help of the Russians.
- That the explosives were far less important than other munitions destroyed.
- Finally, that at least some of the explosives were destroyed along with munitions at Al Qa Qaa.
The third assertion is at least debatable, and the fourth might be technically true. But the truth is that the troops in the field had no idea what the IAEA had always known to be true about Al Qa Qaa, that some of the bunkers had explosives with a wide variety of uses, from the frightening (making shaped charges for triggering nuclear weapons) to the dangerous (making first-rate plastic explosives) to the mundane (blowing up rocks in quarries and mines). A rational war plan would have ensured that what the IAEA had always ensured would stay out of the wrong hands would still stay out of the wriong hands. Bush and Rumsfeld simply blew it.
And it gets worse. Knight-Ridder reports that the missing explosives are hardly an aberration. Not only arms and munitions used against American troops, but also equipment useful for unconventional weapons programs, went missing in the early weeks of the war.
Huge amounts of arms and ammunition were stolen from military sites, and there's "ample evidence" that Iraqi insurgents are firing looted weapons at U.S. troops and using some of them in car bombs and improvised explosive devices, said a senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.N. officials also are concerned about the disappearance of sensitive equipment and controlled materials that could be used to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
Why would we have left all these goodies unguarded? It seems that the brainiacs in charge of war planning in Washington were wicked gullible.
Al Qaqaa was on a classified list of Iraqi weapons facilities that the CIA provided to Pentagon and military officials before the invasion, said the U.S. intelligence official.
But when the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command produced their own list of sites that a limited number of U.S. "exploitation teams" should search, priority was given to those identified by exiled Iraqi opposition groups, he said. Al Qaqaa wasn't one of them.
"The top of the list was dominated by nuclear facilities and places where we expected to find chemical and biological weapons," he said. "Iraqi exiles had a very heavy hand in determining which places got looked at first."
I always find it amusing when my four-year-old claims that Dick Cheney is hiding in a parking garage not far from our house, or that he's in a hospital, or even a baseball field high up in the air. What makes him different from the Iraqi exiles, and me different from Bush and his flunkies, is that I know that he's making stuff up.
Remember when George Bush proved he was the true Governor Moonbeam by proposing a manned trip to Mars? One of the NASA scientists whose job it is to interpret photographs of features of other planets and moons has looked at photographs of George Bush from the first presidential debate. His unequivocal professional opinion is that Bush had some sort of device under his suit jacket, not a wrinkled shirt, or a tailoring job done by the tinker, soldier, or spy.
George W. Bush tried to laugh off the bulge. "I don't know what that is," he said on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, referring to the infamous protrusion beneath his jacket during the presidential debates. "I'm embarrassed to say it's a poorly tailored shirt."
Dr. Robert M. Nelson, however, was not laughing. He knew the president was not telling the truth. And Nelson is neither conspiracy theorist nor midnight blogger. He's a senior research scientist for NASA and for Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and an international authority on image analysis.
Midnight blogger? I resemble that remark!
Not a Puppet After All
Apparently Ayad Allawi is not the puppet that the Bush administration wanted and the administration's opponents feared. Puppets don't accuse their controlling hands of committing gross negligence.
Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, said today that "negligence" by US-led forces brought about the massacre of 49 Iraqi soldiers and warned of further "terrorist acts".
"There was great negligence on the part of some coalition forces, " Mr Allawi told Iraq's national assembly. "It was a heinous crime where a group of national guards were targeted."
25 October 2004
The Most Miserable of Failures
Brad deLong asks this question time and again, but it's worth repeating. Back in March 2003, Daniel Davies asked the following tripartite question (edited for warranted obscenity), and has yet to find a satisfactory answer:
[C]an anyone, particularly the rather more Bush-friendly recent arrivals to the board, give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:
- It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
- It was significant enough in scale that I'd have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
- It wasn't in some important way completely f----d up during the execution.
I, for one, am hardly surprised. We have a presidential administration that couldn't properly set up a children's relief fund, used the proceeds on religiously offensive candy, and couldn't prevent thieves from looting it.
Regardless of one's opinion about the Iraq war, once American troops were in that country, perhaps it might have been prudent to keep 380 tons of high explosives out of circulation? The New York Times has taken the story that Joshua Micah Marshall wrote about yertserday and has advanced it far, far, down the field. The Bush administration is very, very worried about this, becuase it highlights their two overarching weaknesses—incompetence and mendacity. The first two paragraphs of the Times story is powerful and accurate.
The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives—used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons—are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.
The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.
Mershall has devoted a lot of bytes to the various sordid aspects of this story. It's hard to figure what is worst. Is it that the Iraqi Oil Ministry got protected against looting but that 760,000 pounds of explosives did not? Is it that every week the explosives that our leaders deemed unimportant are being used to kill our young men and women? Is it that the supposedly craven United Nations had kept these materials safe for some time but that our crack leaders could not? Or is it that our representatives leaned on the Iraqi government to cover up the fact that the explosives were missing?
The insurgents in Iraq and elsewhere who now have a lifetime supply of first-rate explosives know full well what they have. Bush and his henchmen wanted to keep their incompetence from the public, from our putative allies, and from the men and women whose lives are more in danger than they ought to be.
I suppose that it is good that the Bush administration has such an inept dissembler as Scott McClellan to tell the press what his bosses think. Of course, it is good only if the American press can stomach the idea of calling Bush and his administration out as lying, miserable failures.
24 October 2004
Not the October Surprise that Bush Wanted
At Talking Points Memo, Joshua Micah Marshall finds that the subscription-only Nelson Report has the real surprise of October, and it's not a good one for the incumbent.
This has been rumored in Washington for several days....
Some 350 tons of high explosives (RDX and HMX), which were under IAEA seal while Saddam was in power, were looted during the early days of the US occupation. Like so much else, it was just left unguarded.
Not only are these super-high-yield explosives probably being used in many, if not most, of the various suicide and car bombings in Iraq, but these particular explosives are ones used in the triggering process for nuclear weapons.
In other words, it's bad stuff.
What also emerges in the Nelson Report is that the Defense Department has been trying to keep this secret for some time. The DOD even went so far as to order the Iraqis not to inform the IAEA that the materials had gone missing. Informing the IAEA, of course, would lead to it becoming public knowledge in the United States.
Do we need any more eveidence that George Bush and his fellow-travelers need to start earning their keep on the rightist lecture circuit?
23 October 2004
What Is Tucker Carlson Smoking?
Tucker Carlson is telling millions of Americans, those who voted for Bush in 2000 but now have regrets, that all of the problems of the Bush administration are their fault. And, better yet, that their only recourse is not to vote for John Kerry. (Actually, he's telling a lot fewer than that because his show is on PBS, that longstanding bastion of the So-Called Liberal Media, including longtime fan of civil rights William Buckley and noted moral stalwart William Bennett.)
Deciding not to vote is not the same as not bothering to. It's a conscious choice, made for a reason. And the reason is this: A vote is an endorsement. When you punch the circle next to a candidate's name, you're backing that candidate's program. It's like signing a petition, or writing a letter of recommendation. You've just vouched for someone. You're now implicated in the decisions he's made, and in the ones he will make.
But what if you don't agree with those decisions? Then don't do it. Refuse to sign the petition. Decline to send the recommendation. Don't vote. Just because one of the candidates is going to win, doesn't mean you have to help.
Yes, by this logic, everything my candidate does is my fault. And if I decide that it's time for her or him to go, then I can't vote for his opponent. This is a bizarre enough of a political doctrine that it makes the weirdest rantings of the Spartacists look completely coherent.
21 October 2004
The Bush campaign yesterday caled attention to an open letter in support of his re-election signed by 24 Olympic and professional athletes. What's surprising is not that 24 athletes signed that letter, but that only 24 athletes signed that letter.
Bush could not even get one of the most obvious candidates to sign. One of the signatories is Steve Largent, also known as a former conservative Republican representative from Oklahoma. One of the non-signatories is Jim Bunning, also known as a current conservative Republican senator from Kentucky. (Alas, this may say much about Bunning's declining political fortune and health.)
Six of the signatories are Olympic medalists. Six is hardly a whopping number, given the wide variety of sports that have featured American winners over the years.
And eighteen professional athletes hardly represents a huge number of Bush supporters. Baseball alone has 750 players on the active rosters of the thirty major league teams. The median salary for football, baseball, and basketball players (never mind the endorsement income) is several million dollars. The top of the economic spectrum is Bush's natural constituency—and out of a few thousand potential supporters, only eighteen are willing to support him in the open.
By contrast, stock car drivers, long known for inartfully dropping the names of their sponsors into any sort of conversation, put the rest of the sporting world to shame. According to the Bush-Cheney campaign, twenty-three current NASCAR drivers have endorsed Bush.
And I have a newfound respect for Jeff Gordon, whose name is conspicuously absent from the list of toadies.
Religion, that great Schedule C substance of the masses, makes for a strange trip through the polity. New Donkey points out that a Catholic official at the Vatican has proclaimed that John Kerry is not a heretic. However, by his public utterances and deeds, it is abundantly clear that George Bush has, at best, major doctrinal issues.
I don't want to prejudge any official proceedings here, but a quick examination of the president's professed beliefs create a strong suspicion that he is guilty of a number of heresies condemned by ecumenical councils and leading Catholic theologians over the last two millenia.
Although he does not appear to belong to any specific religious congregation, Mr. Bush has publicly identified himself as a "born-again Christian" of the Methodist denomination. He is thus presumptively an adherent of the Protestant Heresy, condemned most notably and definitively by the sixteenth-century Council of Trent. If so, Bush has implicitly embraced an array of subordinate heresies....
In addition, as a Methodist, Bush must be suspected of additional grave errors associated with the heresiarch and patron saint of that denomination, John Wesley...
Yes, it's far from clear that right-thinking Catholics ought to be voting for the right-winger this year.
20 October 2004
A radio ad is playing in the Boston market, and presumable else where, warning consumers that some nonprescription pain relievers are not as safe as one might think. The ad, "brought to you by Pfizer" directs interested souls to safepainrelief.com. Certainly, there is truth in this—myriad are those who use more than the recommended dose of ibuprofen tablets without a thought to the side effects. At the site, a helpful box directs one to "[f]ill this form out, and you'll also receive a FREE 7-day trial voucher for an effective 24-hour pain reliever. Talk to your doctor about the #1 prescribed brand of arthritis medicine."
And the "#1 brand" (that is, excluding those pesky generic products) is Pfizer's own Celebrex, a Cox-2 inhibitor that Pfizer wants you to think is safer than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like acetominophen or ibuprofen.
If Pfizer were simply alerting those with a particular risk of ulcers or a propensity for liver problems to consider taking their equally effective but markedly more expensive drug, then there would be no evil here. What is evil is that there is a real question about whether Celebrex itself is safe.
Earlier this month, Merck recalled its Cox-2 inhibitor drug, Vioxx, because of links between taking Vioxx and severe cardiovascular problems. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Pfizer, the company begind the safepainrelief.com site will test Celebrex in 4,000 patients to determine if it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In a related development, a top U.S. Food and Drug Administration official said new pain relievers in the same class as Vioxx and Celebrex face increased scrutiny because scientists do not have a full comprehension of how exactly they work in the body.
Acting FDA deputy commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock also said the agency would hold an advisory committee meeting early next year to discuss safety of the drugs known as cox-2 inhibitors.
And last friday, Pfizer announced a similar impending trial to see if another Cox-2 inhibitor that is sells, Bextra, was linked to heart attacks and strokes. Pfizer admitted almost two years ago that Bextra could cause severe allergic reactions in patients allergic to a class of drugs called sulfonamides.
Is there anyone in the Pfizer marketing department with an iota of conscience, or at least shame? Certainly no one in charge is keeping the company from doing evil.
18 October 2004
The Market Failure Everyone Knows About
One of the worst-kept secrets of American capitalism has been the utter failure of the airline industry to thrive after deregulation. Yes, fares have gone down on average, but very few airlines make profits, and jobs at most major airlines have only tenuous links to the future.
Starting an airline requires a substantial investment in equipment, the personnel infrastructure to fly and maintain planes, and access to gates at enough airports to make a schedule work. In short, the barriers to entry, as classical economists would put it, are substantially high. And one would expect that the major airlines would face more competition under deregulation, but not stifling competition.
The New York Times this week pointed out just how badly the industry is doing:
The Business Travel Coalition said in a statement that the country must be prepared for a "catastrophic failure" of the industry and urged lawmakers to authorize the National Academy of Sciences to develop policies that could be put in place should the industry reach such a crisis point....
[H]alf of the traditional airlines could be operating under bankruptcy protection within a month, and the level could increase to 70 percent by the end of 2005.
US Airways and UAL Corporation's United Airlines are already bankrupt, and Delta Air Lines could file for Chapter 11 as soon as this month....
"There is increasing probability that the U.S. airline industry, a critical infrastructure for our country, will experience a catastrophic failure in the next 12 months" should two or three airlines liquidate, Mr. Mitchell said.
While he thought the market place would adjust to a loss of airlines, he said others had much to lose, including local communities, employees, pension funds and other industries like rental cars and hotels.
"The larger danger," he said, "is that the federal government would be caught off guard without well conceived and vetted contingency plans and policy options in such a crisis."
These are valid concerns. But it is more than a bit silly to expect that the current administration would have a "well-conceived and vetted contingency plan" about anything.
17 October 2004
This Won't Hurt a Bit
Today's New York Times helpfully outlines the unmitigated public health crisis in vaccine distribution in the United States.
The shortage [of flu vaccine] caught many Americans by surprise, but it followed decades of warnings from health experts who said the nation's system for vaccine supply and distribution was growing increasingly fragile.
"We're in the middle of a crisis that could have been averted," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, associate dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and director of its national center for disaster preparedness.
In particular, public health experts have long cautioned against the country's dependence on a few vaccine makers, and yet this has become standard practice. There are now only two major manufacturers for the nation's supply of flu vaccine, and at least a half-dozen other vaccines are made by single suppliers. Britain, by contrast, has spread its order for flu vaccines among five suppliers, precisely to avoid the kind of predicament America now faces.
In recent years there have been many significant disruptions of vaccine supplies. Between November 2000 and May 2003, there were shortages of 8 of the 11 vaccines for childhood diseases in the United States, including those for tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, mumps and chicken pox. There have been flu vaccine shortages or miscues for four consecutive years....
The government did little to stop companies from quitting the business, and in some cases may have created policies that made matters worse. A report last year by the Institute of Medicine, a unit of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that 30 years ago, 25 companies made vaccines for the United States, whereas today there are 5....
The heart of the problem, experts say, may be that no one person or agency is in charge of making sure the United States has an adequate vaccine supply. The production, sale and distribution of vaccines, particularly those for flu, are handled almost entirely by pharmaceutical companies....
Influenza can be dangerous. It kills 36,000 people a year in the United States and puts about 200,000 in the hospital. The very old, the very young and people with chronic illnesses are particularly likely to become severely ill from the flu, and in recent years health officials have recommended wider use of the vaccine. The message seems to be reaching the public: demand for the vaccine has grown greatly in the past decade, to more than 85 million doses a year in 2003 from around 20 million in the early 90's.Just as people had begun to appreciate the value of flu shots, the worst vaccine shortage yet struck. It was announced on Oct. 5, when bacterial contamination led British regulators to suspend the license of a vaccine plant in Liverpool on which the United States was depending for 46 million to 48 million doses, nearly half of America's supply. The plant is owned by Chiron, an American company.
Yes, decisions by previous administrations to tighten standards for vaccine manufacturers have led to many firms exiting the business. But the problem reached critical levels during this adminsitration. And what was its response? Essentially, that fear trumped science.
Dr. [Anthony] Fauci [director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases] said the Bush administration had increased financing for research and other efforts to fight flu to $283 million this year, from $47 million in fiscal year 2002. Among the initiatives is a $60 million effort to develop new ways to manufacture flu vaccines, which are currently made in a laborious process that requires the use of hundreds of thousands of eggs.
But those sums are small compared with what the nation plans to spend on vaccines against diseases that the government fears terrorists might use. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, noted that the Bush administration last year promised to spend $5.6 billion to help develop vaccines for anthrax and other biological agents.
"They're creating a very expensive program against diseases that don't exist anywhere in the world," Dr. Schaffner said. "What we need is an adult immunization program for diseases that kill tens of thousands every year."
So, if you or someone you know can't get a flu shot this year because the United States government gambled that a duopoly would work perfectly, relax. Your government is working hard to get those anthrax vaccinations ready: forget everything you heard about anthrax being treatable with ordinary antibiotics.
16 October 2004
Kevin Drum had been trying to figure out what was that bulge on the back of George Bush during the three presidential debates. I've written previously that I think it was a back brace of some sort, but I have no good idea what it really is.
What I do know is that there was something there, not a wrinkle in the fabric of his custom-made suit jacket, not a trick of the lights, not a shoulder blade.
I make such assertions because there are ample pictures of George Bush, taken before the debates, that show no such bulge.
The official White House website conveniently groups pictures of the president and his activities day by day. (It does not include pictures from the debate because Bush and Kerry agreed not to use images or recordings from the debates in their campaigns.) The archives include some, but not many, pictures of Bush taken from behind—the relatively small number is unsurprising because for Bush, and for most people, the back is not the most flattering side.
- 26 January 2002: at Camp David, Bush is in a dress shirt; there is a horizontal outward pucker that seems to be the effect of having his shirts folded, not hung.
- 19 March 2002: Bush meets with female entrepreneurs. While part of his back is in shadow, there does not seem to be a bulge in his back.
- 27 March 2002: Bush is leaning forward, resting his forearms on a lectern as he talks about funding first responders. No bulge.
- 9 August 2002: Bush is driving his pickup truck at his ranch in Texas. There is definitely something under his shirt.
- 16 September 2002: at a manufacturing plant in Davenport, Iowa, no bulge is visible.
- 2 June 2004: Bush is speaking at the Air Force Academy. There is no bulge visible (and we have a close-up look).
- 6 July 2004: Bush meets with Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson in the Oval Office. No bulge is visible.
- 7 July 2004: Bush talks to the press in Waterford, Michigan. There is an odd crease from the middle of his back down to his right hip, but I cannot discern what causes it.
- 13 July 2004: Bush shakes hands in Washington after a signing ceremony. Three bumps are visible in the back of the suit jacket, two where the shoulder blades would be, plus a third, between them.
- 17 August 2004: Bush is in Philadelphia, and a picture of the upper two-thirds of Bush's back shows nothing out of the ordinary.
- 31 August 2004: Bush is in Nashville shaking hands with members of the tennessee Air National Guard. I think that Bush has something under his jacket here (perhaps a Kevlar vest), but it might just be awkward posture or bony shoulder blades.
- 19 September 2004: Bush, in shirtsleeves, is consoling hurricane victims in Alabama. Bush is a fairly thin fellow, so his full-cut shirts are a bit baggy. But I think someone would have noticed if the fellow on his left noticed something when he put his arm around Bush's back.
- 30 September 2004: Bush, in shirt sleeves, is at a Florida Red Cross office to thank volunteers. A woman has her hand right in the middle of Bush's back. Reporters would have noticed if she felt anything strange there.
Whatever was under Bush's suit jackets during the debates is not always there, although it seems that something has been there before (in 2002 at the ranch; in July 2004 in Michigan and at the ceremony in Washington; and in August 2004 in Tennessee). If Bush has a medical condition that requires some sort of brace or pump (or whatever), it is fairly recent, or intermittent, or perhaps serious enough that 90 minutes without the device is too long for comfort. If Bush is wearing a bulletproof vest to a presidential debate, then I wonder about his tailor, his advisers, and his sanity.
There are other appropriate words for the men and women responsible for what happened to prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but I'll stick with monsters. And responsibility rests not only with those who perpetrated the acts, but also with those whose policies encouraged the acts, and with those who tried to hide that these acts were happening with regularity.
The New York Times, in tomorrow's editions, pries open the cover of Camp Delta enough for us to see how sordid things were:
Many detainees at Guantánamo Bay were regularly subjected to harsh and coercive treatment, several people who worked in the prison said in recent interviews, despite longstanding assertions by military officials that such treatment had not occurred except in some isolated cases.
The people, military guards, intelligence agents and others, described in interviews with The New York Times a range of procedures that included treatment they said was highly abusive occurring over a long period of time, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators.
One regular procedure that was described by people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility at the naval base in Cuba, was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels, said one military official who witnessed the procedure. The official said that was intended to make the detainees uncomfortable, as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells.
Such sessions could last up to 14 hours with breaks, said the official, who described the treatment after being contacted by The Times.
"It fried them," the official said, who said that anger over the treatment the prisoners endured was the reason for speaking with a reporter. Another person familiar with the procedure who was contacted by The Times said: "They were very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it."
The new information comes from a number of people, some of whom witnessed or participated in the techniques and others who were in a position to know the details of the operation and corroborate their accounts.
Those who spoke of the interrogation practices at the naval base did so under the condition that their identities not be revealed. While some said it was because they remained on active duty, they all said that being publicly identified would endanger their futures. Although some former prisoners have said they saw and experienced mistreatment at Guantánamo, this is the first time that people who worked there have provided detailed accounts of some interrogation procedures....
In August, a report commissioned by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld found that tough techniques approved by the government were rarely used, but the sources described a broader pattern that went beyond even the aggressive techniques that were permissible.
It used to be that this kind of torture was the province of dictatorships. That Donald Rumsfeld remains Secretary of Defense is an affront to the ideals that were supposed to suffuse the American polity. Or perhaps "9/11 changed everything," including American lip service to human rights.
The astounding combination of incompetence and inhumanity in the American executive branch has engenered a set of distressingly poor outcomes. Prisoners who leave Abu Ghraib or Camp Delta can tell their families and acquaintances of the horrors perpetrated by the Americans. Those suffering around the world, left to rot there by a government that enlists our putative allies as mercenary torturers, know full well who is responsible for their inhuman treatment. Iraqis suffering under occupation by American troops and a motley crew of mercenary "contractors" now have no reason to trust anything an American government would do.
George Bush hopes either that Americans do not read the Times report, or that Americans will believe that the torture is justified. I know that millions of voters would rather be ignorant than be informed, but I fear that they would rather be powerful than be moral.
Among all of the bad news for the Bush campaign in the last two weeks was word that one of the two main suppliers of influenza vaccine had to destroy all of its current stock due to bacterial contamination. The Bush administration faces two problems, one superficial, and one deep.
First, the Bush administration had serratia-contaminated egg on its face because the Food and Drug Administration had inspected the vaccine factory in June 2003, found contamination, but had failed to follow up.
Second, some distributors—but not, take note, the competing manufacturer, Aventis—have charged pharmacies up to 10 times to normal price for vials of the vaccine. Patients are right to feel that they are being ripped off. Not long ago, when contractors tried to gouge Floridians affected by hurricanes, a certain conservative columnist claimed that price-gouging was a good thing: "[i]t's how goods and services get allocated in a free society—without the chronic shortages and corruption that are the usual result of price controls and rationing."
Don't expect conservatives to trumpet that argument here. Alas, price-gouging is most effective when the market is inelastic. (Because home repair isn't biotechnology, the price-gougers in Florida weren't going to get away with it for very long.) The market for flu vaccines is very inelastic. The barriers to entry are very high in terms of both money and time: it takes millions of eggs and a few months of waiting and a lot of biotech equipment to make millions of doses of vaccine. Plus, the vaccine for the winter of 2004-2005 is going to need to be reformulated for 2005-2006 or some other winter. Finally, no one needs two flu vaccines; if someone beats you to market, your vaccines go begging for patients.
We get price-gouging in the flu vaccine market because the conservatives who currently run the government are too hidebound to realize that this market has utterly failed. A duopoly in an industry as important and as fraught with difficulty as vaccine manufacturing is a dangerous thing for public health. Subsidizing a third (or fourth) manufacturer to better ensure that high-risk patients have their innoculations would be both cheap and expedient. Doctors have complained for years that too few companies make most vaccines. Finally, politicians might start noticing as well.
Uniting, Not Dividing
It really does seem that George Bush is a uniter, not a divider. But not at home, just abroad. It often takes a lot to get scientists to think politically, but george Bush has done it. The excellent British scientific magazine, New Scientist, aimed at the curious layperson, has published a special report on science and the upcoming presidential election.
While the report makes good reading, ultimately, the choice in America is fairly stark. The Republicans have nominated someone who has acted contrary to scientific facts and findings, from evolution to global warming to stem cell research to the Clean Air Act. The Democrats have nominated someone who believes that science yields truths about the universe.
12 October 2004
The Experts Agree About Iraq
In the world of political science, it is difficult to get everybody to agree about anything, and that's not surprising. Real political events are so complicated that concocting merely comprehensible, let alone simple, explanations, is quite difficult. (For example, there is still a frenzied debate among scholars about what exactly caused the Japanese surrender in World War Two—atomic bombs, Soviet declaration of war against Japan, or something else.)
My heart therefore jumps when several hundred—698 as of this afternoon—academic specialists in international security agree that the United States needs to reverse the foreign policy of the Bush administration. I am certainly glad that a few acquiantances of mine are members of this august group, but I am gladder to see such diversity, diversity of all sorts. Indeed, a cause that gets Bruce Russett and Kenneth Waltz both to sign up is not representing just one side of the poltiical spectrum or even just one methodological perspective.
The signatories represent over 100 academic institutions in 40 states, both "red" and "blue." Some of them are among the most respected scholars in their fields, including Alexander George, Robert Keohane, and Theda Skocpol. Six of the last seven presidents of the American Political Science Association have signed. If you took International Relations in college, or plan to, you are sure to find some of the signatories on your required reading list.
In September 2002, thirty-three scholars took out an advertisement in the op-ed section of the New York Times that presciently called for caution in Iraq. (At least 20 of those scholars have signed onto the new letter.) One of the main points was that "[e]ven if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state." How right they were— and how little they were heard. Certainly, the mainstream media weren't listening. But the 2002 scholars paid for the ad, but did little to promote it: for example, there was no website at all behind the effort.
Today's effort is more widespread and more up-to-date. The question is whether Americans will learn that academics were right before about our misadventures in Iraq and rate to be right again. Who will give the organizers of this effort any sort of prime television time? Are there any producers out there willing to talk to scholars who are interested in the truth?
Do note, however, that the arguments in the open letter are hardly leftist sentiments. (They were carefully written to appeal to a broad spectrum of opinion.) I assume that a good chunk, though hardly a majority, of the signers were unhappy with the invasion of Afghanistan—there has always been a strong argument for a police action against the murderers of al-Qaeda that would fall well short of a full-fledged invasion of Afghanistan. Remember that the scholars who signed this letter are trying to unite deep-thinking Americans of all political stripes against George Bush. It may be right to claim that the United States did wrong when it invaded Afghanistan, but it is probably truer to say that it went wrong when it invaded Iraq. From a practical standpoint, if the Bush White House kept to its knitting in Afghanistan, it would have more allies and fewer combat casualties. And it would have a lot more votes next month.
The Worst and the Wormiest
Right-thinking Americans now have even another reason to fire the Bush administration for its grievous wart in Iraq. It is bad enough that the country is hated worldwide, and bad enough that thousands have been maimed or killed. Worse yet is the fact that at least one of our so-called representatives is in it for the money—lots of it. Naomi Klein, who writes for The Nation and The Guardian has a blockbuster of a scoop about James Baker, the former Secretary of State, spokesman for the Bush campaign in 2000, and most recently negotiator for the current Bush campaign with respect to the presidential debates. Suffice it to say that James Baker is very, very close to President Bush.
When President Bush appointed former Secretary of State James Baker III as his envoy on Iraq's debt on December 5, 2003, he called Baker's job "a noble mission." At the time, there was widespread concern about whether Baker's extensive business dealings in the Middle East would compromise that mission, which is to meet with heads of state and persuade them to forgive the debts owed to them by Iraq. Of particular concern was his relationship with merchant bank and defense contractor the Carlyle Group, where Baker is senior counselor and an equity partner with an estimated $180 million stake.
Until now, there has been no concrete evidence that Baker's loyalties are split, or that his power as Special Presidential Envoy—an unpaid position—has been used to benefit any of his corporate clients or employers. But according to documents obtained by The Nation, that is precisely what has happened. Carlyle has sought to secure an extraordinary $1 billion investment from the Kuwaiti government, with Baker's influence as debt envoy being used as a crucial lever.
The secret deal involves a complex transaction to transfer ownership of as much as $57 billion in unpaid Iraqi debts. The debts, now owed to the government of Kuwait, would be assigned to a foundation created and controlled by a consortium in which the key players are the Carlyle Group, the Albright Group (headed by another former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright) and several other well-connected firms. Under the deal, the government of Kuwait would also give the consortium $2 billion up front to invest in a private equity fund devised by the consortium, with half of it going to Carlyle.
In a more rational time in American politics, we called this sort of thing graft. The only good news for Republicans is that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is also involved in this sordid mess. The link to The Nation's website has lots, lots more.
Oh what brave new polity to have such leaders in it!
11 October 2004
A few dozen enterprising vistors found this site since last Friday's debate by entering "Lone Star Trust" and "timber" into Google, perhaps in the hope of finding more about how George Bush's interest in a timber enterprise makes him one of those myriad "small-business owners" paying the top income tax rate. (In reality, his definition includes lots of souls who have insignificant amounts of Schedule C income.)
I indeed wrote about the Lone Star Trust in April 2004, when I discussed George Bush's tax returns, but the timber reference was fluky—K Marx the Spot links to Crooked Timber, so "Lone Star Trust" and "Timber" focused some searches on us. Not-quite-so-enterprising souls who forgot to put "Lone Star Trust" into quotation marks surely got even less information.
Anyway, the April post concentrated on two issues. First, the Bushes are richer than Croesus. We know this because interest along from the Lone Star Trust in both 2002 and 2003 totalled over $400,000, so their corpus is at least in the range of $20 million or so. Second, the Bushes are really richer than Croesus, because in 2003 Jenna and Barbara Bush were no longer dependents on George and Laura Bush's tax return, even though they were full-time students under age 24. the only legal way for the Bush twins not to be dependents would be for their parents not to pay at least half of their support—and both Jenna and Barbara had tuition payments due for fairly expensive colleges. I speculated that the Bush twins became full owners in 2003 of trusts that were large enough to make them self-sufficient.
For the 2003 tax return, check out the excellent resources of the Tax History Project. (Alas, the K-1s and other goodies from the Lone Star Trust and GWB Rangers Corp. are not included. The source of the $84 timber company distribution comes from George Bush's 2003 financial disclosure statement, preserved at opensecrets.org, via this article at factcheck.org.
Battle of the Bulge
The Internet is awash in speculation about the bulge visible in the back of George Bush's suit jacket in the first presidential debate.
Over the weekend, Georges de Paris, the tailor to the president, told reporters that the bulge was, as paraphrased in a Knight-Ridder report,
nothing more than a pucker along the jacket's back seam, accentuated when the president crossed his arms and leaned forward.
Perhaps it was just that. But Georges de Paris was the subject of a profile in the 27 September 2004 issue of The New Yorker a profile that described in detail how de Paris meticulously measures his clients, assembles his suits, and strives for perfection to earn his $2,500 to $5,000 per outfit.
A "pucker along the jacket's back seam"? I doubt that a self-respecting bespoke tailor would need to admit to such a flaw in his work— because his work wouldn't have that flaw.
My bet is that George Bush was wearing a back brace.
08 October 2004
Neo-Confederacy of Dunces
Fair elections depend on the fair administration of election laws and regulations. Americans in most states have come to rely on their secretaries of states as being, foremost, loyal public servants who put fairness first and politics second. Perhaps patronage comes first, but fairness generally outranks politics. (In some dysfunctional states—hello, Florida—this generalization proves false, of course).
And certainly political parties have a necessary role in checking the elections shenangans of their opponents.
Yet it is clear that the Michigan Republican Party has some truly skewed priorities. Earlier this week, the party issued a press release that complained that Michael Moore was bribing young, impressionable, Michgan residents to vote. His bribes of choice? The scourge of fair elections everywhere: clean underwear and ramen noodles!
In the eyes of the Michigan Republicans, these items constitute a "blatant violation of the Michigan Election Code." Alas, satire is wasted on the ridigly literal.
The Man Who Would Be King
Definitely worth a gander is this excellent profile of Dick Cheney, thanks to our septrional friends at the CBC.
07 October 2004
The Liberal Media
Did anyone watch MSNBC after the vice presidential debate?
Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell could not contain their glee at Dick Cheney's performance and their belief that Senator Edwards was put in his place.
Mitchell: "I think Dick Cheney did awfully well at, first of all, putting John Edwards in his place, saying that I have been presiding over the Senate and I didn't meet you until tonight. Talking about his not having been on the job was pretty devastating."
Matthews went so far as to call Cheney's slam of Edwards' Senate attendence a moment that would go down in debate history. Chis was right about Cheney making history but 180 degrees wrong about why it would be remembered.
Well before the average bloke was out of bed the next morning in London Cheney was exposed as either having an Admiral Stockdale moment at best or just reverting to his M.O., telling a bald-faced lie.
What's the chance that Chris or Andrea will offer up a mea culpa?
Who Are You? The New Number Two.
Brad DeLong reminds us of just who is in power in the Bush White House. Recall the strange decision-making on 11 September 2001, the actions overshadowed by the creepiness of staying in an elementary school while two major cities are under attack. He cites a piece in Salon on how the 9/11 Commission did its best to criticize the adminsitration and to point out tht it belived that Dick Cheney, not George Bush, gave the (ineffectual) order to shoot down aircraft. Bush, of course, is the only person who could give that order.
I'm not upset that Cheney exceeded his constitutional authority [by ordering the shootdowns): inter arma silent leges, after all, and we can always impeach people who exceed their constitutional authority.
I'm upset that they are lying about it today.
I'm also upset at the lie that Cheney told on 9/11 to try to keep Bush away from Washington as long as he could: that there was intelligence of a direct threat to Air Force One.
Bush and Cheney have made ample political hay from the fact that 9/11 happened on their watch. Not only did their lack of attention to al-Qaeda show how incompetent their administration was on strategy, but their inchoate responses to the threats of that day illustrated just how incompetent their administration could be on operations.
Weapons of Mass Distraction
Now even the CIA's own report has confirmed what most sane analysts already knew. By the time that George Bush took office, Iraq had no nuclear weapons program, no chemical weapons program, and no biological weapons program.
This means, of course, that the Power Point presentation that Colin Powell presented to the United Nations in February 2003 was a fetid concoction of lies, prevarications, and hyperbole. And the claims in the 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq was "build[ing] and keep[ing] weapons of mass destruction" were either outright falsehoods or woeful misjudgements.
What no one in power in the United States was able to utter in public was the very real chance that Iraq never had the military capabilities that it claimed, that its weapons programs were more Potemkin village than Battleship Potemkin. Today's New York Times reveals that the CIA report fiannly takes this notion seriously.
The report found that Mr. Hussein purposely communicated an ambiguous impression about whether Iraq possessed these weapons mainly as a deterrent to Iran, Baghdad's longstanding adversary, which fought a brutal war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988.
The report, based on interrogations of Mr. Hussein, who was captured late last year, and his subordinates, said the confusion also helped Mr. Hussein disguise his underlying desire to maintain the intellectual and industrial foundation needed to quickly rebuild a weapons program in the event Iraq succeeded in lifting international economic sanctions, another top priority for the former Iraqi leader.
Beyond that, Mr. Hussein maintained an almost mystical faith in the power of unconventional weapons, whose stocks, the inspector said, were largely destroyed by Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf war under pressure from the United Nations. The report found that Mr. Hussein believed that these weapons, particularly chemical arms, had preserved his rule through repeated military crises.
Earlier this year, the report said, Mr. Hussein was asked by an American interrogator why he had not used such weapons during the 1991 gulf war. Mr. Hussein replied, according to the report: "Do you think we are mad? What would the world have thought of us? We would have completely discredited those who had supported us."
That quote is hardly the thinking of a madman, by the way. Was it worthwhile to be worried about Saddam Hussein having unconventional weapons? Yes, but international sanctions and a string inspections regime had hamstrung any efforts to rebuild those programs.
And what has the most hapless of administrations shown its enemies? That merely bluffing about having unconventional weapons is not nearly enough. To deter the United States, you will really need to have the weapons that you claim you have.
06 October 2004
You Say Grenada, I Say You're Lying
The "Fact of the Day" at the whitehouse.gov web site for 1 October 2004 looks so uplifting and straightforward that no one could find fault with it: "Grenada Hurricane Victims Continue Their Education in U.S..
College students from Grenada are continuing their studies in the United States after Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc on their country. About 225 students from St. George's University in Grenada will be spending their fall semester at schools such as the New York Institute of Technology, Barry University, Purdue University, and North Carolina State University, while the extensive damages(sic) to their own school are repaired. St George's hopes to reopen in the spring, but in the meantime its students are able to continue their educations (sic) without interruption.
If only it were that simple. St. George's University comprises a medical school, a veterinary school, and a school of arts and sciences. The medical school had, as of late 2003, some 1254 students in Grenada and St. Vincent. The other schools within the university are newer: the first graduating class from the verterinary school had some 30 students. The school's web site does not appear to have enrollment figures for the school of arts and sciences. Yet it is clear that the university had far more than "about 225" students in Grenada.
Indeed, a message from the chancellor explains that only some students got to finish their education on the mainland. The rest are stuck where they are:
I am pleased to announce that classes have resumed for Terms One and Two of the MD program with SGU faculty in facilities at New York College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYCOM) in Old Westbury, New York. Lectures and laboratories began today, books have been distributed, and students are settling into temporary dormitory arrangements at the State University of New York at Old West[b]ury. The administration and staff of both NYCOM and SUNY/Old Westbury have been most kind and helpful during this transition.
Classes for the fourth term of the MD program are beginning tomorrow, Wednesday, September 29, at facilities in Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida....
Classes for all three years of the School of Veterinary Medicine who were displaced by [H]urricane Ivan will start the first week of October at three of our affiliated colleges of veterinary medicine: North Carolina State University, Purdue University, and Kansas State University. Our colleagues at these affiliated schools have been just wonderful in this very tough transition period, helping us to relocate with as little trouble as possible.
The University's Arts and Sciences programs, Master of Public Health program, and the premedical and preveterinary programs are proceeding in Grenada on the True Blue campus. Over 200 students checked in today for the resumption of classes. The campus is swiftly being restored, since there was no major structural damage to the buildings. There is water, albeit intermittent, electricity from the campus generators, and one of the food stores close by is open for business. There is security on campus which is augmented by 200 of the Trinidadian Army using SGU's campus as a basis of operations for the island...
I am grateful for everyone's patience and understanding during this time of turmoil and transition as we sought to ensure that SGU's high academic standards would be maintained at temporary locations which could also provide housing for over 1,200 students.
And remember that just over 75 percent of the students who are furthering their medical education at St. George's are from the United States. Another 7 percent are permanent residents of the United States, and another 8 percent are from Canada or Great Britain. About 3 percent of the medical students actually hail from Grenada.
What have we learned about this warm and fuzzy fact of the day? First, that the university didn't close, but it sent some of its (primarily American) medical students and all of its veterinary students to the United States. Second, that the primary government involvement at the school is the billeting of the Trinidadian Army; the American government (and the White House) had nothing to do with the transfer of the students. Third, that the "college students from Grenada" aren't generally from Grenada. Fourth, the the White House press office managed to confuse "New York College of Osteopathic Medicine" with "New York Institute of Technology."
Meanwhile, students in Grenada who actually are from Grenada are actually suffering. The White House is busy issuing misleading statements about well-off American medical students while poor grammar schoolchildren go completely without.
Hurricane Ivan has left 32,000 children in Grenada facing the prospect of learning their lessons under tents or tarp-patched roofs until the country can rebuild and repair.
Fewer than 10 percent of Grenada's schools remain operational. Of the 58 primary schools, four roofs are intact. Only two of the 19 secondary schools are sound. Many families live in shelters, parents can't work and children are trying to stay busy....
At a recent Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) summit, leaders of neighboring nations proposed taking in at least the country's secondary students who need to prepare for standardized Caribbean exams used to advance children to the next grade or get them into college. But the idea didn't sit well with Grenada officials.
"The government does not agree with Caricom's proposal. It is too disruptive," said Grenada's Education Minister Claris Charles. "Hopefully we will open school by Oct. 11. We want to put up tarps and tents."
By the mid-October date, however, students will have missed five weeks of classes, and there is no guarantee the schools will be up and running by then....
Meanwhile, Grenadian officials don't know when the country's schools will be fully operational. Some say it could take up to a year, depending on the amount of international aid the country receives.
No child left behind, indeed.
Banality and Evil
The gargantuan 9/11 Implementation act, scheduled to go to "debate" on the House floor has enough provisions in it to require 13 separate committees to report on it. But there is a set of provisions in it that makes the ordinary skulduggery of Washington politics resemble raiding of the penny jar at the corner store.
Sections 3006, 3008, 3009, 3032, and 3033 of the latest version of the Act would allow not just "expedited removal" of suspected terrorists, but also allow the forwarding of those suspects to countries that would surely torture them. (See Pages 242 through 258 of the committee print.) The evil here is that the Republican Party is willing to amend regulations that implement the United Nations Convention Against Torture so that the United States can have its proxies torture men and women that its leaders deem dangerous. (Katherine R at the Obsidian Wings weblog has much, much more on this story.) Fortunately, a few representatives, like Edward Markey, my representative, realize the enormity of enacting this sort of abomination into law.
The banality here is that the latest version of this bill, dated 4 October, will exist for barely 48 hours before the House of Representatives is supposed to debate it. Six hundred nine pages and enough provisions for 13 committees to get involved, and debate will involve 435 representatives who almost certainly will have not read the entire bill. It is not clear that Markey will even get a chance to offer an amendment to strip the offending sections from the bill. What a wonderful government to have such leaders in it!
04 October 2004
X Marks the Spot
Merck has voluntarily recalled Vioxx, its prescription anti-arthritis drug, because studies have linked long-term use to increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. Vioxx made scads of money for its maker, which spent millions of dollars on marketing to consumers and doctors. (The similar drug Celebrex, manufactured by a rival company, is still available. What boons to society big pharmaceutical companies are!)
But what was the big deal about Vioxx? Was it remarkably effective? Well, no.
Doctors say older drugs, such as ibuprofen, available over the counter or by prescription, can be effective, especially when taken with stomach-protecting medicines.
I do not mean to belittle anyone who though that taking one pill for arthritis pain instead of Motrin and another pill. But where was a voice of authority reminding consumers, and perhaps doctors, that this pill was hardly a panacea?
To make matters worse, Vioxx is hardly the only arthritis drug that proved to be a lousy bet for patients. In 1982, Lilly removed Oraflex from the market because its use overseas had led to increased risk of death and illness. One would think that the FDA would have learned by now. Alas, the main accomplishment of the past decade at the FDA has been the newfound ability of prescription drug companies to advertise on television. (Before change4s in 1995 and 1997, companies would have had to present, in readable form, all of the text found in print ads for these drugs. And that dog would not have hunted.)
Tantum Religio Potuit Suadere Socordiarum
Amy Sullivan, asks, in a guest post at the Washington Monthly weblog, and in a full-blown article in the New Republic, why such a religious man as George Bush does not go to church. Atrios asks the same question as well.
Going to church, or not going to church, should hardly be the sole factor for determining if one is religious, let alone moral or ethical. I submit that the problem is not whether George Bush goes to church, but rather whether he gets anything out of it when he goes. (Sullivan touches upon this subject in her article, but she does not get into the following details.)
When George Bush was campaigning for the Republican nomination in the last election, he participated in a debate in Iowa City on 13 December 1999. One of the questions asked by John Bachman, an anchorman at a local television station, is of particular interest:
[BACHMAN:] I'd like to run the table quickly with one individual question. What political philosopher or thinker, Mr. Forbes, do you most identify with and why? Which gives the remaining five time to think—I’m sorry.
FORBES: Well, I won't say I'm reading a book by a philosopher, and I'm not reading a book on Dean Acheson. But seriously—sorry—but seriously, the philosopher that I think has had the most impact or profound impact on this country is John Locke. Even though there are some flaws, I think he set the stage for what became a revolution. And then, after that, Thomas Jefferson with what he wrote in the Declaration of Independence. James...
BACHMAN: We just (inaudible) for one.
FORBES: OK. OK —Got Locke and then Jefferson is B.
Forbes have a serious answer to a serious question. Lots of conservatives would say that Locke's philosophy was vital to the particular form of government of the United States. Let's go back to the transcript.
BACHMAN: Thank you. Mr. Keyes?
KEYES: Well, I think overall the most influential thinker, and there are many in my mind, but particularly on the issues we face as Americans right now would be the founders of this country, who not only had interesting thoughts, they actually translated them capably into functioning instruments of government that have preserved our liberty now for over 200 years. And I think we ought to get back to their thinking and not fiddle with this income tax system, but return to the original Constitution they gave us—abolish the income tax, fund the federal government with tariffs, duties, and excise taxes so the people of this country get back control of every dollar that they earn, instead of having to depend on nice politicians like Mr. Bush, or bad politicians like Bill Clinton to decide how much of their own money they should keep.
That would have been an excellent answer had he just said "Alexander Hamilton." Still, it was clearly a serious answer, even if he could not pick just one member of the Constitutional Convention.
BUSH: At least he called me "nice."
BACHMAN: Governor Bush—a philosopher-thinker and why.
BUSH: Christ, because he changed my heart.
BACHMAN: I think the viewer would like to know more on how he's changed your heart.
BUSH: Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life. And that's what happened to me.
It is unclear to me what aspect of Christian philosophy or thinking that Bush is espousing, but let me give him the benefit of the doubt. Certainly, the intellectual content of the succeeding answers took a beating. After Bush's mention of Christ as philsopher-thinker, Hatch echoed that sentiment and then named Abraham Lincoln ("who fought for equality and freedom for everybody") and Ronald Reagan. John McCain bucked the trend and passed over Christ to mention Theodore Roosevelt for his efforts at reform, for his activist foreign policy, for the national parks system, and for ensuring government's role in society. Finally, Gary Bauer saw George Bush's bet and raised it by quoting scripture and citing Christ as the most important philosopher and thinker.
In November 2001, Newsweek published a glowing portrait of George and Laura Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks; it paid particular attention to their routine at Camp David. The article is not archived at the Newsweek site, but the miracle of the Google cache keeps it alive.
Bush's view of religion, not surprisingly, is personal. Everyone joins hands for pre-meal prayers at the Camp David dinner table. The preacher in the church there is a graduate of the seminary at Southern Methodist University, Laura's alma mater. A small congregation comprising locals from the Catoctin foothills, it has become the Bush family's spiritual home. Asked if any particular sermon there had inspired him, the president struggled to recall the preacher's words. "He's just down to earth and doesn't try to get too fancy," Bush finally said.
It was Laura who remembered the service from the first, bleak weekend. The prescribed reading for the week turned out to be Psalm 27—eerily appropriate. "Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear," it says. "Though war shall rise against me, in this I will be confident." Mrs. Bush had the White House Christmas cards refashioned to include the psalm.
Imagine that you get to go to a weekly seminar taught by an teacher who is a certified expert on your favorite philosopher or thinker, one who altered every aspect of your life because he changed your heart. I would expect that you might remember something, anything about the seminar besides the feeling that the teacher was plainspoken? After all, your spouse, who never claimed to have the life-changing relationship with this philosopher or thinker, thought enough of one lecture to inspire her Christmas cards that year.
Indeed, the religion that supposedly pervades the being of George Bush does not seem to go very deep at all.
01 October 2004
The More You Know Bush, the Less You Like Him
The Program on International Policy Attitudes, a joint venture of two programs at the University of Maryland, recently conducted a fascinating poll of American voters. Bush supporters were much more likely than Kerry voters to have little to no clue of the actual positions that their preferred candidate actually held.
Majorities of Bush supporters incorrectly assumed that Bush favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (84%), and the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Criminal Court (66%), the treaty banning land mines (72%), and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming (51%). They were divided between those who knew that Bush favors building a new missile defense system now (44%) and those who incorrectly believe he wishes to do more research until its capabilities are proven (41%). However, majorities were correct that Bush favors increased defense spending (57%) and wants the US, not the UN, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq’s new government (70%).
Kerry supporters were much more accurate in assessing their candidate’s positions on all these issues. Majorities knew that Kerry favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements (90%); the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (77%); the International Criminal Court (59%); the land mines treaty (79%); and the Kyoto Treaty on climate change (74%). They also knew that he favors continuing research on missile defense without deploying a system now (68%), and wants the UN, not the US, to take the stronger role in developing Iraq’s new government (80%). A plurality of 43% was correct that Kerry favors keeping defense spending the same, with 35% assuming he wants to cut it and 18% to expand it.
The same program, you might recall, found in late 2003 that Americans who had misperceptions about Iraq were more likely to support the war. Also, viewers of Fox News were more likely both to have such misperceptions and to support the war than were viewers of PBS or listeners of NPR.
As in many instances of correlation, the relationship between cause and effect is not always clear. Does knowledge of Bush's actual policy positions make a voter less likely to vote for him? Or does a dislike for him make a voter stand up and notice those positions?
Rocky Mountain Green
This can't be good news for Republicans. Now even ranchers in the Rocky Mountain states are getting fed up with natural gas companies that literally despoil their land. Eyal Press write in The Nation that some heretofore lockstep conservatives are finding common ground with environmentalists.
At the heart of the controversy lies a drilling method known as coal-bed methane extraction, a technique pioneered in the late 1980s that enables companies to suck natural gas out of the coal seams that lie buried beneath the San Juan Basin and other formations. Beginning under the Clinton Administration, the federal government pushed to expand production of this comparatively clean-burning fossil fuel, although Clinton also protected millions of acres of public land from drilling. The Bush Administration, by contrast, has called for removing all "restrictions and impediments" on domestic development, code language for opening dozens of pristine natural habitats to unfettered leasing.
It's a policy that has pleased industry but antagonized a growing chorus of ranchers, hunters and property owners, people who tend to be politically conservative yet find themselves making alliances with strange bedfellows--Native American groups, environmental organizations--in a common effort to protect their livelihoods and land. Natural gas may be relatively clean to burn, these critics note, but getting it out of the ground wreaks havoc on the environment in other ways. For one thing, accessing the gas trapped in coal seams requires companies to pump millions of gallons of water out of the ground, depleting aquifers and bringing to the surface huge amounts of sodium-laden waste water that can destroy vegetation. Drilling on the scale now taking place in the West, moreover, can cause erosion and surface disturbances that will permanently scar the landscape of one of the nation's most spectacular regions and poses a long-term threat to livestock and wildlife....
The rising frustration among ranchers and farmers, who increasingly view the Bush Administration as the handmaiden of oil and gas interests, presents an opportunity for John Kerry: to outline an energy policy that will balance oil and gas development with their interests. Calling for limits on the density of wells and the scale of development, for a halt to leasing in sensitive habitats and for companies to be held accountable to higher standards--in Wyoming, for example, industry could be required to re-inject all the waste water back into the ground—would hardly leave Americans suddenly starved of natural gas. As David Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society notes, the BLM itself has acknowledged that fully 88 percent of the natural gas on federal land is already available for development under current land-use prescriptions. The recent push by industry, aided and abetted by an Administration only too happy to smooth the path, is simply a product of greed, Alberswerth contends.
Will Kerry win in Wyoming and Montana in 2004? Almost assuredly no. But will calls for limits on oil and gas production, or at least on the most pernicious practices of that production, help environmentalist candidates in the years to come? Almost assuredly yes.
Please understand that I would have jumped for joy had John Kerry not voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq back in late 2002. His vote was certainly unfortunate. But it is not just prevaricating, but lying, to suggest that voting to authorize force in 2002 was approval of the war. As tgirsch of Lean Left so helpfully noted, George Bush himself squashed that notion back on 7 October 2002, in a speech in Cincinnati
Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something. Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq: that his only chance—his only choice is full compliance, and the time remaining for that choice is limited. [emphasis added]
If voting for the resolution was not going to be tantamount at the time to approving imminent military action, how could such a vote be that way now? Remember that Bush certainly wanted this speech to be noticed. It's the one with the infamous reference to the vaunted Iraqi nuclear program: "we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
Crumbs from the Table
On 15 September, I asked when the White House would mention the awful devastation in Grenada caused by Hurricane Ivan. Perhaps, I surmised, a rumor that Cuban construction workers were preparing to travel there to help in the clean-up and rebuilding would make George Bush take notice.
We almost have results. On 27 September, the White House made its first mention of "Grenada" in any sort of public forum: an unsigned release noted that a $7.1 billion supplemental budget release would include a whopping $50 million for "international disaster and famine assistance funds to mitigate damage in Grenada, Jamaica, Haiti, and other nations affected by recent hurricanes."
George Bush, we are often told, is a deeply religious man who feels that God has chosen him to lead his nation. I wonder if he realy knows his New Testament teachings, specifically the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores
and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.
In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
Recall, that Grenada will share $50 million in aid with Haiti, which suffered mightily from torrential rainfall from Hurricane Jeanne, and other nations. Indeed, it is the very crumbs of our table that our government sends to the suffering nations of the Caribbean. Yesterday, the New York Times described the enormity of conditions on Grenada, conditions that our self-styled Christian leader has determined are worth a fraction of a pittance.
Now it is an island where the houses have no roofs and the streets are lined with debris. The winds ripped the tops off of most buildings, destroyed churches and schools, knocked down most of the island's power lines and left corrugated steel roofing littered along the streets like used tissue paper.
Looting broke out on the island, twice the size of Washington, D.C., after the storm hit on Sept. 7, damaging at least 90 percent of the buildings and leaving several thousand of the 100,000 residents homeless.
To complicate security, the warden of the island's only prison let all the inmates out during the storm. About 200 troops from neighboring countries were shipped in to help the local police quell the looters and track down convicts who did not return voluntarily to prison. Only about a dozen convicts are still at large, said a police spokesman, Troy Garvey. But a dusk-to-dawn curfew remains in place, and troops with automatic weapons still guard banks in St. George's downtown.
Government officials and aid workers said clean drinking water and food were still scarce on much of the island, despite deliveries of aid coordinated by the National Emergency Relief Organization. Most residents still lack electricity and telephone lines, they said....
Prime Minister Keith C. Mitchell estimated the damage at more than $1 billion. The island's two main crops, cocoa and nutmeg, have been wiped out, and it will take at least a decade to regrow the nutmeg groves. Most of the major tourist hotels were badly damaged as well. Several large airlines, among them Virgin Atlantic, have suspended flights to the island indefinitely.
It has been a devastating psychological blow for the residents of this country, where a United States-led invasion in 1983 toppled a military-installed Marxist government. Grenada has seen an average 7 percent growth in its economy for the last nine years and has not been through a major hurricane in more than four decades, Mr. Mitchell said.
"The devastation caused by Ivan was almost total, and as I have indicated to people, the devastation is even worse from a psychological standpoint," he said in an interview on Tuesday. "People have never gone through anything like this, and I think most people had certain plans for their own lives, certain calculations about when they want to retire, when they want to do certain things, what additional things they want to do, the education of their children. And all of a sudden, they see everything that they have just thrown in pieces on the ground."
Again, I ask, where is the compassion that these conservatives so readily claim for themselves?
Iyad Allawi—Arabic for "Marionette"
Joshua Micah Marshall can't believe it, but I can. Just how much of a puppet is Iraqi interim president Iyad Allwai? Enough of one that not only did the White House help him write his recent speech to Congress, but so did a member of the Bush-Cheney campaign team. Dana Milbank and Mike Allen of the Washington Post have the full, truly sordid, story. Fortunately for the Left, truly artistic puppeteers allow the audience to suspend the disbelied that the puppets are actually puppets. Our dear leader and his minions are not nearly that talented.
Department of Self-Promotion
My colleague and collaborator Paul Corrigan helped paint yesterday's peach pages of the Financial Times a little bit redder.
Sir, Alas, I will not be on the panel with an opportunity to ask president George W. Bush questions at tonight's first presidential election debate.
Here are the questions I would ask: President Bush, you dismissed CIA reports that a war in Iraq would be a quagmire. Recently, you referred to these CIA reports as "just guessing". Upon being given a CIA briefing that Osama bin Laden planned to attack inside the US, you took no action.
Did you believe the CIA was "just guessing" in the daily briefing on Osama bin Laden?
How do you respond to Americans who believe that you, sir, are the one who is "just guessing"?