Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bush White House Balked at Plan That Could Protect U.S. Against Hurricanes


We all knew it was coming. Officials have been sounding the alarm for years about how vulnerable Louisiana is to the threat of a hurricane.

Not only did we know it was coming, but we've known for a long time exactly what is needed to protect New Orleans from a hurricane. In a word: wetlands.

Wetlands have long served as a natural shield to protect New Orleans from the wrath of hurricanes. Wetlands are vital to protect a city that has 80 percent of its area located below sea level. And America's wetlands, under the Bush administration, have been deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The loss of wetlands in Louisiana in recent years has been staggering: the state has lost around 25 square miles of wetlands each year (or around one acre every 30 minutes).

In recent years, alarmed officials put together a plan to protect Louisiana's wetlands, called the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) project. But, predictably, the Bush White House balked at the projected price tag of $14 billion over the next 30 years.

Indeed, that sum appears to be a lot of money. That is, until you consider that the Bush White House has already squandered a staggering $200 billion in embroiling our nation in the current bloody quagmire in Iraq.

But fiddling while our nation's wetlands disappear is only one way in which the Bush team let America down before Katrina hit.

A growing number of scientists are pointing the finger at global warming as a main culprit behind the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina. After all, warm oceans are a key component in the formation of hurricanes.

In early August, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Kerry Emanuel published a study that showed that hurricanes have vastly increased in intensity over the past 30 years---a trend, he said, that appears to be directly linked to rising ocean surface temperatures.

And, of course, on global warming, the Bush White House has let America down. Refusing to even accept the science behind global warming, Bush declined to sign the Kyoto Protocol (thus telling the other 180 nations who signed to go screw themselves).

Bush has long argued that the costs of complying with international climate protection goals would harm the U.S. economy. But it's clear that the costs of dealing with disasters like Katrina will dwarf what the U.S. would have needed to spend to get on-board with Kyoto.

What is certain is that America's reckless use of fossil fuels is unsustainable. Americans make up only 4 percent of the world's population and yet we're responsible for one quarter of the planet's emissions.

I find it rich how neocons buy Bush's argument that Kyoto would "harm" America's economy. Since when has Bush ever understood anything about economics or finances?

The U.S. is already facing unprecedented and soaring fiscal deficits and is on the verge of bankruptcy. The dollar is posed for meltdown. And New Orleans has turned into an uninhabitable toxic cesspool that's going to cost us all billions of dollars---all because of a disaster that could have been avoided.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is "Conservatism" a New Kind Of Mental Illness?

By Manifesto Joe

When I heard the title of Michael Savage's latest screed -- Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions -- the irony wasn't lost on me. This is from a man who:

  • Was fired from MSNBC for telling a caller to "get AIDS and die" among other things.
  • Has referred to Iraqi prisoners as "subhumans" and called for them to be summarily executed by the thousands.
  • Said the tsunami that struck East Asian countries was not a tragedy but rather a message from God.
  • Says women should be denied the vote because they are too emotional -- their hormones rage.

But Savage isn't the only "conservative" who's been waxing psychopathic lately. The vilification of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan has shown a zany viciousness once heard only from the most demented elements of the right. The typically milder-mannered Fred Barnes called her a "crackpot." Rush Limbaugh said Sheehan's story is "nothing more than forged documents." (Two days later Limbaugh denied saying anything like this, whatever it was that he meant.) One-time Trotskyite turned right-wing straitjacket candidate David Horowitz described Sheehan's protest as "hateful" and said she is dishonoring the memory of her fallen son. A political consultant and blogger named Erick Erickson said Sheehan is "a whore in the form of a grieving mother."

Savage is right about one thing: There is a strain of mental illness spreading in America. Problem is, he's pointing in the wrong direction, as usual. Many of those who call themselves "conservatives" are not merely dangerous radicals. They could use a dose of anti-psychotic drugs.

I've been wondering about the sanity of "conservatives" since the days of Lee Atwater, when it became apparent that these self-styled paragons of virtue would say and do just about anything to win an election. Atwater later died, reportedly of a brain tumor; but I'm convinced that the tumor was benign. It's the brain that was malignant.

It's gotten worse since then. Consider a political landscape in which:

  • A Republican congressman, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, suggests that if terrorists attack the United States with a nuke, we could "take out their holy sites." (Presumably he would hold all Muslims responsible.)
  • The Rev. Pat Robertson, one of our best-known "Christian" broadcasters, suggests that we assassinate a legally elected foreign head of state because we don't like his policies or the company he keeps. (But hey, keep that oil coming.)
  • Bestselling commentator Ann Coulter says, quite seriously, about Islamic nations that we should "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." (Millions buy this shrill woman's books. I suppose these are the readers who cut class the day the professor lectured on The Crusades.)

Barry Goldwater, after leaving politics, lamented that the Republican Party had been taken over by "a bunch of kooks." This was ironic when one recalls LBJ supporters in 1964 saying about rival candidate Goldwater, "In your guts you know he's nuts." If Goldwater scared people back then, what does that say about some of the loonies who hold high office now?

I suggest something further: That pretty much describes the whole contemporary "conservative" movement. It's not just some of the top politicos, pundits and preachers who are spouting rubber-room rhetoric. It's become like a bizarre cult of millions. The only positive aspect about how many of these fanatical weirdos there are is that they could never have all fit into the compound at Mount Carmel.

The Texas Republican Party, in its delusional 2004 platform, for example, urges that the IRS be eliminated, along with "income tax, inheritance tax, gift tax, capital gains, corporate income tax, payroll tax and property tax." The state GOP would also kill "the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms, the position of Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Commerce and Labor." (I guess when you believe that The Rapture is coming soon, who needs a government?)

The comparably deranged 2000 platform calls for America to return to the gold standard and supports "individual teachers' right to teach creation science in Texas public schools." It also calls for the United States to quit the United Nations and re-establish control of the Panama Canal. (It stops short of unleashing Chiang Kai-shek's skeletal remains on mainland China.)

Consider that this is the political party that is governing Texas, virtually unchallenged.

Then there are the assorted lunatics who blog, argue in chat rooms, etc. A "Christian conservative" who identified himself (herself?) as "frogribs" posted a reply to an earlier article of mine on this blog in which he wrote:

"Yes, it is better `to have the London subway system be a battleground than to have al Qaeda blowing up folks over here.' The duty of the president is to place the lives and well being of Americans above all others." (I'm glad Bush was thinking that when he misled the country into a needless war in Iraq. And I'm certain the British will be thrilled to know we're willing to use them, and other allied civilians, as human shields.)

"Iraqi civilian casualties have occurred, but at a rate lower than anyone expected." (Was this person here, on this planet, in March 2003? We were hearing that this would be a cakewalk, and that Iraqis would be tossing rose petals at our soldiers' feet. Since then, dozens of suicide bombings later, the cake's been decorated with entrails, and the petals look curiously like toenails.)

"The U.S. still faces an insurgency, but they must remain to complete the mission in order to avoid the disastrous result learned in Vietnam. Napoleon said it best, 'If you decide to take Paris, take Paris.' Finish the job. ..." (This person evidently never heard about Waterloo. Or Nixon's hapless "Vietnamization" policy. What should we call this now -- "Iraqification"?)

"Does anyone remember how we got this country? We got it by force. We decimated the Indians ... We invaded the Spanish and the Mexicans and we took the spoils. We exploited slaves until the error was purged with the blood of 500,000 of our countrymen ... Manifest Destiny still runs in my veins and the veins of the free and the brave ..."

(Gosh, so America really was largely built on genocide, slavery and military aggression? Since it worked so well in the past, why don't we do all that stuff again? And when they bring back the slave auctions, I wonder -- how much would Jesus bid?)

If this person is a sincere, believing, born-again Christian, then someone must have slipped a couple of books by Nietzsche and Machiavelli into his Bible. I can envision The Prince, and Beyond Good and Evil, bound in there somewhere between Galatians and Revelation, no doubt by Godless nihilistic conspirators.

But seriously, crazy people don't perceive even such basic ideological contradictions. I've seen this firsthand in paranoid schizophrenics. They feel quite free to just make it up as they go along.

I think we've identified a unique personality disorder. It isn't hard to diagnose, because most of the patients call themselves "conservatives."

Charge nurse, call the orderlies, and break out the Thorazine. This is no problem that a little heavy sedation won't fix.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Bush's Failures Vindicate Policies, According to Bizarre Logic of "Wall Street Journal"


The Aug. 22 edition of The Wall Street Journal features an article that is so breathtakingly stupid and devoid of logic that it's likely even causing this right-wing rag's own readers to scratch their heads in puzzlement.

In the article, "How Oil Dependence Fuels U.S. Policies," author Gerald Seib starts off with a fairly reasonable, sober assessment of America's voracious appetite for foreign oil.

So far, so good.

However, midway through the piece, Seib lets loose with a stunning lapse of logic that has to be one of the stupidest comments made in the right-wing media this year (and that's going up against some formidable competition).

After apparently checking his brain at the door, Seib makes the following observation:

"Cynics, of course, thought President Bush decided to invade Iraq to acquire its oil cheaply, but it turns out they were exactly wrong. Whatever the president's motivations in Iraq, one can hardly claim now that inexpensive oil was one of them."

You don't have to be a Bush-hating "cynic" to realize that this has got to be one of the stupidest justifications for Bush's Iraq policy to come down the pike in years.

To be fair to Seib, though, it's important to note that variations of this argument have been floating around the right-wing blogosphere and media for several months now. And it only shows how desperate the neocons are in their efforts to defend their leader as Bush's approval ratings hit new lows every month and as an increasingly skeptical America takes a cold, hard look at the Iraq fiasco.

Why, exactly, is oil not gushing from Iraq these days? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that it's hard to pump oil from a country that is in the midst of chaos and looming civil war. (In fact, oil production in Iraq is lower than it was before the U.S. invasion).

Which brings us to the question: why is Iraq in chaos in the first place? Could it have something to do with the fact that the Bush team rushed into war in Iraq without doing the slightest bit of homework in planning for America's post-invasion occupation of the country? The fact is, the current mess in Iraq is totally the result of the Bush team's ineptness and lack of foresight.

The Bush team waved off all warnings from America's intelligence and military experts who warned of the looming catastrophe in post-invasion Iraq. But it shouldn't really be surprising: this is the same administration that promised America that the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk" that would result in zero casualties.

So, to recap: the Bush team rushes into the Iraq war on false pretenses and then proceeds to thoroughly screw up the post-invasion administration of the country. Oil production in Iraq then tumbles as the country descends into chaos.

And then the likes of The Wall Street Journal come along and make the bizarre argument that Iraq's falling oil production amidst anarchy must somehow mean that Bush's rationale for rushing into war couldn't have had anything to do with oil.

Over the past five years, the Bush team and its lackeys in the right-wing media have resorted to all sorts of tricks to defend the White House's policies. From paying money to right-wing columnists to fabricating "news" stories to bringing in non-journalists to lob softball questions at press conferences, there is no depth to which the right-wing goons haven't sunk.

Gerald Seib's The Wall Street Journal piece shows a right-wing media that is increasingly out of touch with reality in its desperate scramble to defend Bush at any cost.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Remembering a Real American Hero: Smedley D. Butler


In an age of faux heroism, illustrated by the swagger and tough talk of our "president," we should perhaps take time to remember a real American hero.

July 30 was the birthday of Smedley D. Butler, born in 1881. Few Americans have heard of this two-time Medal of Honor winner, who rose to the rank of major general in the Marine Corps. But history teachers ought to note that Butler probably thwarted the first serious conspiracy toward a coup in the United States.

In 1933, soon after he retired from active duty, Butler alleged that he was approached by a representative of a group of super-rich business interests, led by the Du Pont and J.P. Morgan industrial empires, with a proposition. The representative, a top Wall Street bond salesman named Gerald MacGuire, was said to have tried to recruit Butler to lead a move to strip recently inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt of his political power.

Butler testified before a congressional committee that he was promised a militia of 500,000 men for a coup, after which Butler would assume near-absolute power as "secretary of general affairs," with Roosevelt retained as a figurehead. The men behind MacGuire feared a major redistribution of wealth by an FDR administration, and they were prepared to bankroll the force needed to prevent it.

The outcome of Butler's testimony was predictable. The press, at the time mostly owned by business-friendly conservatives, generally played the story way down. The tiny "reports" that did run ridiculed Butler and said he lacked evidence. Those whom he accused of the conspiracy, including former Democratic presidential nominees Al Smith and John W. Davis, professed innocence and did not come under public scrutiny. MacGuire -- known through his correspondence to have been an admirer of Mussolini's fascist rule in Italy -- was the panel's only open-session witness besides Butler. Of course, he told the lawmakers he never made such a proposition. The allegations are now a footnote in history.

But in 1967, journalist John Spivak vindicated Butler (who died in 1940) when he uncovered the House committee's internal, secret report. It clearly confirmed the story. The panel's public report was a whitewash and even omitted the names of the powerful men whom Butler accused.

This was not the only time Butler tangled with the early U.S. military-industrial complex. He had seen its operations firsthand many times, and blew the whistle on it. In a speech delivered in 1933, the same year he went public about the conspiracy, Butler told his audience:

"War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the few at the expense of the masses. ...

"I wouldn't go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

"There isn't a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its 'finger men' to point out enemies, its 'muscle men' to destroy enemies, its 'brain men' to plan war preparations, and a 'Big Boss' Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.

"It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

"I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

"I helped make Mexico ... safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. ... I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. ... I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

"During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

Today we have other names -- Iraq, Halliburton, Diebold, Rove. We've had two Bush administrations; the first was at best legally questionable, the second possibly elected through voting irregularities in the deciding state and high-tech rigging in others. The stench of war for profit, and of crypto-fascism, is in the air.

Those who discuss this odor are being either ridiculed or ignored by the mainstream media. Perhaps they will be vindicated one day, as Butler was.

Meanwhile, let's honor a real hero, a man who blew the whistle on nascent American fascism.

HISTORICAL SOURCES: Wikipedia; excerpts from an online transcript of a 1933 speech by Smedley D. Butler