* Vulnerability Zone ~ this is not about getting in touch with your inner self – It is as a geographic area whose population lives within range of a worst-case toxic gas release. The Center for American Progress, in a report “Chemical Security 101: What You Don’t Have Can’t Leak, or Be Blown Up by Terrorists." notes that this danger is not limited to remote locations. There are currently 303 facilities in 41 states using chemicals that potentially endanger 110 million Americans. They are facilities subject to terrorist attacks (or accidents) that could release toxic chemicals and gasses. The bad news is that the Department of Homeland Security has done little to improve securing these facilities or encouraging facility change. The good news is that there are viable alternatives that would substantially reduce the danger that these facilities present by converting to alternative chemicals or processes. One example involves the production of bleach. “Thirty bleach plants could remove danger to some 50 million Americans by generating chlorine on-site without rail shipment and bulk storage. This includes the Clorox Company in Los Angeles, which puts over 5.5 million people in danger.” The linked article is a fascinating and educational read and includes an interactive map that identifies 101 of the most dangerous chemical facilities in America. What is in your backyard?
* Never say never ~ The Bush administration did something it said it would never do – set a time line for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. I found the following evaluation of particular interest:
An Iraq expert and former ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, issued a statement on the status of forces agreement (SOFA) recently signed by the U.S. and Iraq. His remarks included: “The agreement represents a stunning and humiliating reversal of course by the Bush administration, which had vehemently opposed any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq… For the last two years, President Bush has pretended that Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is a democrat and an American ally. In fact, Maliki is a sectarian Shiite politician who heads a government dominated by pro-Iranian religious parties. The U.S. presence now no longer serves the interests of Iraq’s ruling Shiite religious parties or their Iranian allies, so we are now being asked to leave.” The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation offers an in-depth analysis of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement.
Truth be told, the Bush administration never understood Iraqi political and religious dynamics and rarely made an attempt to become better informed. The same can be said of the Bush administration as a whole (hole). Bob Woodward noted in his most recent book that Bush is not intellectually inquisitive and does not like open debate. We can only hope Barack Obama does not govern from a bubble that is heavily tinted with ideology.
* Sharing the holiday spirit – A reader sent this suggestion that merits consideration and action. When doing your Christmas/Chanukah cards, take one card and send it to this address:
A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20307-5001
* Keeping the auto industry on target – In the December 8, 2008 issue of Newsweek Fareed Zakaria interviews Al Gore on a variety of subjects. One of the questions asked, “Would you bail out the carmakers?” Gore responded, “Whatever assistance might be forthcoming should be focused on speeding the changes that are absolutely essential to ensure that our companies are competitive in the global marketplace. When I was vice president, I initiated a program called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The federal government invested over a billion dollars in partnership with the Big Three to focus on the accelerated development of advanced high-efficiency vehicles. But as soon as they felt they were off the hook at the end of 2000 (Bush was about to take office), they pulled the plug and walked away.”
In many respects the trouble burdening the American auto industry is a result of myopic and greedy management. Gore comments that GM allowed Toyota a seven-year head start in developing the hybrid drive train in the Prius automobile. However, in spite of questionable management the U.S. cannot afford to allow the auto and related industries to be flushed away. It is not in the interest of the American people. However, if large loans to the auto industry from the federal government are to be forthcoming they should be embedded with guidelines and requirements that are in the financial and environmental interests of America. It seems to me totally appropriate that accompanying any loans to the Big Three automakers should be the requirement that some of the existing members of the Board of Directors of the corporations be replaced with individuals responsible to the American government and the American people. This should be followed by an evaluation of the top management of GM, Ford and Chrysler. Chrysler is currently owned by a private equity firm but that should not preclude them from oversight if they want public loans. If America is to make major investments in these companies America should have some input as to who is managing the federal investments. The current management of the Big Three automakers does not elicit confidence.
* Are the French frank? - The latest hit to our national ego, at least the male members of the equation, comes from a study done by the Institute of Condom Consultancy. The study asked 10,500 men in 25 countries to measure their penis and enter the number into a database. The results show Frenchmen on average claim to need 15.48-cm (6.09-inch) long condoms, larger than any other group in the study. I personally am not upset by the study. I believe that size does not matter. Those damn Frenchmen! How does one say “liar, liar – pants on fire” in French?
* Get your own house in order – The word “catholic” may mean universal or all-embracing but the Catholic Church does not speak for everyone in the world. I defend any religion to believe what they want but I vehemently oppose one body of religion imposing its beliefs on non-members. A case in point: Every single country in the European Union has signed a resolution to be submitted to the United Nations calling on governments worldwide to de-criminalize homosexuality. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, told a French Catholic news service that the Vatican opposes such a U.N. resolution. Migliore claimed that the resolution “would create new and implacable discriminations” against opponents of same-sex marriage.” If anyone can tell me exactly what the Archbishop’s words mean, please send me an email. It sounds like an incoherent Bush statement using bigger words.
It is beyond me how so many religious leaders are blind to their own inhumanity while so subservient to their dogma. Perhaps if Catholic Church leaders spent more time being shepherds to their own flock, untold numbers of Catholics would not have been victimized by Catholic priest pedophiles. If the Catholic Church had expended as much effort removing these pedophiles from the church as they did covering up these criminal and morally bankrupt acts, the world would indeed be a better place. In the mean time, the Catholic Church should cease pontificating to the world about morality.
* Proposition 8 ~ The Musical – A reader sent a somewhat entertaining short video that stars some well-known entertainers. It satirizes the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 that overturned gay marriage. Unfortunately, where was this effort BEFORE the vote on Prop 8? Prop 8 was successful because those against gay marriage were better organized as well as better-funded, primarily by the resources of the Mormon Church (that has a “great” history of "traditional" marriage). At a time when progressive thinking helped bring Obama and many senators and representatives to office, proponents for gay union fell far short on the proposition that overturned the rights of gay marriage. I think that the courts will ultimately invalidate Prop 8 but it was a setback to the civil rights of the gay community. The social conservatives continue to teach us lessons on organization and framing the questions on social issues. We should begin paying more attention as to how the "professional" communicators do it.
* Aborting social conservative malarkey – Contrary to the propaganda disseminated by the religious-right, no high-quality study done to date can document that having an abortion causes psychological distress, or a "post-abortion syndrome." A team at John Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed 21 studies involving more than 150,000 women and found that there are "no significant differences in long-term mental health between women who choose to abort a pregnancy and others." This has not stopped social conservatives from making the claim or even the Supreme Court from citing this unsubstantiated side effect of abortion in a recent deliberation. Those who believe in a women’s reproductive right to choice will have to do a better job informing the public than opponents are doing with misinformation.
* Derriere Orifice of the week ~ the entire U.S. Senate – One of the reasons that little gets accomplished in Washington is the arcane and convoluted rules under which the Senate (mis)functions. An excellent example of such rules is the one that allows blocking the confirmation of Neil Barofsky, nominated to oversee the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. The Senate rules allow any senator to anonymously put a hold on any nomination for any reason. Until Thursday, a Republican Senator was blocking this nomination. No one could argue the critical need for someone in authority to oversee how this humongous sum of money is spent. If Mr. Barofsky is not the right person for the job the Senate should determine that and move on to another nominee. To leave this important post unfilled is about as egregious as the lack of oversight of the financial industry that Congress permitted in the first place. One of the challenges confronting the well-being of our nation is to convince our elected representatives to change rules that paralyze government.
* Speaking of Derrieres ~ the star of Fox News is really the black hole of Faux News – Almost 2 years ago, January 2, 2007, an FBI report revealed details of Guantanamo torture tactics that included: "Captives at Guantánamo Bay were chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, urinating and defecating on themselves.” Other unsavory details can be read at the above link – a must read for those macho warriors/saviors of the political right that took America down this morally bankrupt path. On December 1, 2008 – this week! - Bill O’Reilly said on his radio show, “There are accusations of mistreatment at Guantanamo, but there's certainly no proof that ever happened." Wishful thinking and incompetence dragged America into the Iraq and Guantanamo quagmires. The fantasies of the O’Reilly crowd preclude veracity, solution and resolution. Like the neocons and Bush ideologues, the right-wing media personalities deservedly are waving goodbye to any credibility they may have had at one time.
It is also interesting to note that a recent study by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that the more one watches FOX News the more likely it is that one’s perceptions about the Iraq war are wrong. A free society must accept neo-Nazis marching, the KKK parading and FOX News being Bush and Cheney’s political propagandists and the voice of hate and divisiveness. We do have the option of ignoring such air(wave) pollution.
* “Suppose you were an idiot.
And suppose you were a member of Congress....
But then I repeat myself.”