Friday, August 29, 2008

Welcome to Lake George


Photo: Pollutants swirl in waters that have flooded New Orleans.

[Note: This diary is being re-published in honor of the pending anniversary of Katina as a new hurricane heads into the Gulf of Mexico. Also fixed links that had gone stale, and added some comments at the end about some of the "fixes" provided by corrupt republican contractors, who all seem to somehow be friends of Jeb Bush - the President's brother.]

My Aunt & Uncle live in Florida, so every time there's a report of a hurricane heading toward them, I start paying extra attention to the weather reports.

When Hurricane Katrina first reached hurricane proportions, I did the usual.

Friday


When Katrina passed over the southern edge of Florida, killing 3, and seemed ready to head up the coast, I kept paying attention. It was getting bigger, stronger, and scarier.

Then it looked like it might head toward New Orleans, a city built in the ideal shipping location back in the 1700's, when shipping was the primary transport mechanism for the world.

As time went by, New Orleans became a prime shipping hub - taking exports from the US and bringing imports to the US. That region of the Gulf of Mexico also turned into the source of roughly 1/3 of the oil-based energy supplies for the United States, home to wells, refineries, and pipelines to supply a continent.

Saturday


The cone of probability for landfall had narrowed, projecting Katrina to land very near New Orleans, if not right on top of the city. A major threat loomed. Hurricane Katrina, force of nature, bore down on the Gulf coast. And still she grew.

Sunday


When Sunday rolled around, Katrina had become a monster as large as the worst storms ever to make landfall in the US.


I instant-messaged a friend who has been involved in the past with a disaster relief team, comprising military and civilian organizations, to see if there was anything I could do to help. The team hadn't started anything related to the predicted landfall area. Note, this is the same day the following advisory was provided by the New Orleans branch of the National Weather Service:

URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA 1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005

...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...

.HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BEKILLED.

AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.

ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE!


Monday


On Monday, that storm hit land. One of the levees that protected New Orleans failed, turning the city into a lake. The Americans who could not evacuate without help had been herded into last-ditch shelters, hastily arranged by Mayor Nagin when he realized that the President would not give the order that would allow the military to help get them out of the city.

The President remained on vacation, ignoring his responsibilities in a time of national crisis:


Though, to be fair, he did manage to squeeze in a couple minutes for a teleconference about Katrina, on his way to a pair of staged photo ops designed to sell ANOTHER Medicare prescription drug option - where our grandparents will pay only $20/month, on top of a $250 deductible (up to $2,500 for the year), for their drugs. A bargain!


Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan and Dr. Mark McClellan
Aboard Air Force One

En Route Glendale, Arizona

10:43 A.M. CDT

...

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, from the plane. We have video conferencing capability on the plane.

Q Is the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if he'll be participating, but I'll try -- I'll keep you posted if he does. I think there is a little bit more of a staff participation in this call. This is something the White House has been doing both from D.C. as well as from Crawford over the last few days. We've been participating in these video conference calls with the federal authorities and with state emergency management operation centers.


...


The President also managed to find some time for a "Let me eat cake" moment in Arizona:


After all, joking with old folks about how you plan to rip them off, and talking on the phone for a few minutes is hard work! Much harder than gutting every program that could have reduced the magnitude of this disaster, systematically, for years.

Tuesday



On Tuesday, a second levee gave way. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were prepared to provide supplies to tens of thousands of people trapped in the lake of sewage, bodies, and pollutants that had once been a beautiful city. They were ordered by National Guard to stay out.
The state Homeland Security Department requests--and continues to request--the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city.

If supplies came to the people, the people wouldn't leave. Think about how ludicrous that statement is:

A bottle of clean water would make the victims choose to hang out in a putrid pool of urine, feces, poisonous chemicals, and dead bodies instead of seeking clean dry shelter someplace else.

They seemed to believe it best for a mother to hold her starving, dehydrating baby until its cries, and then its breathing, stopped. That it would be best for the elderly and disabled to die for lack of medications. That thousands should die waiting for the rescue that would never come, in a city that had been put under martial law, so they couldn't leave on their own.

They doomed thousands of Americans - entire families - to suffer and die needlessly, in direct contradiction of federal regulations, as described in the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan section on Implementation Mechanisms for Proactive Federal Response to Catastrophic Events [PDF - see page 43], signed by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense; Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy; and Marsha Evans, Director of the Red Cross; among others :
Implementation of Proactive Federal Response Protocols

Protocols for proactive Federal response are most likely to be implemented for catastrophic events involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive weapons of mass destruction, or large magnitude earthquakes or other natural or technological disasters in or near heavily populated areas.

Guiding principles for proactive Federal response include the following:
  • The primary mission is to save lives; protect critical infrastructure, property, and the environment; contain the event; and preserve national security.
  • Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the immediate aftermath of an event of
    catastrophic magnitude.

  • Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.
  • Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment and use of critical resources.
  • States are urged to notify and coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal response.
  • State and local governments are encouraged to conduct collaborative planning with the Federal Government as a part of "steady-state" preparedness for catastrophic incidents.



Meanwhile, the President's day was full of Important Government Business, like this photo op, which shut down Coronado Naval Hospital at the North Island naval Base in California, forcing all civilian patients, including chemotherapy patients, to reschedule their appointments for a later date.

But, heck, at least he got to play his new guitar after all that hard work.

Also on Tuesday, firefighters with oil infrastructure expertise arrived, and were turned away:
Bill is a member of a volunteer firefighter team in the Houston area. He and his team have a lot of experience helping after hurricanes. And they also have special expertise -- a lot of them work for a living on oil infrastructure and repairs. Bill is a professional logistics expert whose assignments have included getting a client's tsunami-flattened distribution facility back operating within a couple of weeks, and pre-invasion logistics work in Kuwait.

On Monday night, his group assembled their rescue equipment and tools, and packed them into their boats along with all the emergency supplies they could carry. By Tuesday morning, they were almost to New Orleans. "We were stopped at gunpoint by FEMA and told to turn back," he told me. When I asked, he clarified that they did not point the guns at them, but they were carrying and displaying their weapons.

FEMA told him that no one was allowed to enter the city to help "until it was secured by the National Guard." The Houston team asked if they could wait. The FEMA staff told them yes, but that they shouldn't expect anything to change.

So they set up camp in the parking area where they had been stopped, and they waited. By Thursday night, when they were still waiting in the same place, some of the team returned to Houston. The rest decided to wait longer. And still nothing changed, so the remaining team members returned to Houston on Saturday night.

Needless to say, Bill is livid about this. I asked him why they had not been sent to some of the other communities in the hurricane-stricken area where security was not as much of an issue.

"We asked," he told me, "but they said that our expertise was more needed in the New Orleans area." The fucking catch-22 -- they were needed in New Orleans, so they weren't allowed to go elsewhere, but they weren't allowed to go into New Orleans, so the upshot was that they did nothing except sit and wait, and then go home in frustration.

In a similar vein, WalMart sent tractor trailer loads of bottled water. They were turned back.

One man, the head of emergency management for Jefferson Parish, kept receiving calls from his mother in her nursing home, asking when the rescuers would arrive. Each time, he told her she would be rescued the next day.

Wednesday


On Wednesday, the President was still on vacation, but he had decided that maybe he could "cut it short", starting on Thursday.

Not much new going on - stranded people dying, the city under lockdown. People reaching unbelievable levels of desperation stealing water, food, and diapers. Others losing it altogether, looting whatever they can get their hands on.

One man, enraged over being left behind by a rescue helicopter, shoots at it.
Suspending the helicopter rescues at the Superdome, a spokesman for the Louisiana ambulance service told the BBC the crowd had grown unruly and he was concerned for the safety of his staff.


Gangs take over the city at night.

The man's mother was still in her nursing home, calling and being told "tomorrow."

Thursday


On Thursday, the President decided that he was finally ready to play "Rescue President." He gave the orders for the military to provide aid and worked with his handlers to prepare for the next day's photo op.

The looting and mayhem among the abandoned had reached phenomenal proportions. A shoot-to-kill order was given:
A large cloud of acrid, black smoke is drifting over New Orleans following Friday's blast along the Mississippi riverfront.

The incident in the already crippled city came after Louisiana's governor said 300 "battle-tested" National Guardsmen were being sent to quell the unrest.

"They have M-16s and are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will," Kathleen Blanco said.


The man's mother was still in her nursing home, calling, and being told, "tomorrow."

Friday


On Friday, the President got gussied up, went over to a levee-repair stage set, and said some pretty words to the camera about how help was on the way. Then the camera crews cleared out - and so did the repair crew. The levee was left to continue flooding the city:
"But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old - deserve far better from their national government.

"Mr. President, I'm imploring you once again to get a cabinet-level official stood up as soon as possible to get this entire operation moving forward regionwide with all the resources - military and otherwise - necessary to relieve the unmitigated suffering and economic damage that is unfolding."


The Red Cross and Salvation Army still were not allowed in.

The firefighters still were not allowed in.

Clean water was still being turned away.

The mother, who had called her son over and over, asking when help would arrive, drowned in her nursing home (video: WMV, QT. it was one "tomorrow" too late.
[from Think Progress]Andre Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, put it most clearly in the following exchange on Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: You just heard the director of homeland security's explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?

BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. … Whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chainsawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership. It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.

...

Three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA, we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. When we got there with our trucks, FEMA says don't give you the fuel. Yesterday - yesterday - FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards and said no one is getting near these lines"…

...

I want to give you one last story and I’ll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, Emergency Management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" and he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you." Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday"… and she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night! [Sobbing] Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The Secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For god's sakes, just shut up and send us somebody.


Saturday


On Saturday, the Red Cross and Salvation Army still were not allowed into the city. Nursing homes had still not been evacuated.

The First Lady attended a staged photo-op in the relatively pristine shelter at the Cajun Dome, in Lafayette - well outside the city.

As part of the event, the Secret Service commandeered the shelter's communications room, stopping a group that was building a web site that would have provided directions to all Red Cross shelters in the area. This room was the only means the people in the shelter had of contacting the outside world. The Secret Service event shut down the kitchen. For 8 hours. In the middle of that time, the First Lady handed some bread to a few people who would have been fed actual meals had she not caused the kitchen to be shut down. Others would have been fed, too, but the image of handing out the loaves for the cameras was more important. It was sort of an anti-parable: where Christ fed 4,000 with a few loaves, the First Lady made thousands hunger so she could get a few photos.

On Sunday, the Red Cross and Salvation Army still were not allowed into the city.

The firefighters had gone home in disgust. Nursing homes had still not been evacuated.

People continued to die.

Monday


The Convention Center and Superdome have finally been evacuated. It took the federal emergency response apparatus a week to clear 2 buildings. Too bad we don't have any newfangled equipment and communications capabilities to make the job easier, like they did in 1906.

The rest of the city is being evacuated. They're collecting the living, one at a time. Once they call it quits on rescue, they'll start recovery of the dead. As Lt. Gen. Honore puts it:
"Every house that's flooded right now we have to go in and see if there's anybody in it and God forbid take those who didn't make it. Every building, every room."


The President and his administration have the gall to blame those who had to fight against the incompetent lackeys he put in place at FEMA and Homeland Security for the inexcusable, even criminal lack of response:
Senator Mary Landrieu, the Democrat of Louisiana (whose father was a mayor of New Orleans), appears to have finally found her voice after offering only cautious criticism of the federal relief effort in the hurriance catastrophe earlier in the week. Today she promised to literally "punch" anyone, "including the president," who contnued to question the local response to the tragedy, considering the gross federal misconduct.

Appearing on ABC's "The Week" TV program this morning, Senator Landrieu still appeared to be smarting from President Bush's comments, during his national radio address, that state and local bore a fair share of blame for the slow response. On a copter tour of the area, Landrieu said that if she heard any more criticism from federal officials, particularly about the evacuation of New Orleans, she might lose control.

"If one person criticizes them or says one more thing - including the president of the United States - he will hear from me," she said on the ABC program. "One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely have to punch him. Literally."


The President who didn't give the orders. The President whose inaction brought pain, death, and disease to thousands who had given him their trust. The President who treated the agencies that should have been ready to help on a moments notice like personal patronage clubs. The President who allowed the energy infrastructure of our country to be left unprotected by cutting the funding for the water control systems that could have left New Orleans standing. The President who sent one of every 3 Louisiana National Guardsmen to fight an illegal, unjst war against innocent civilians, in the desert - with all of the amphibious vehicles. The President, who lowered the flag to half mast when Judge Rhenquist died, but could not summon enough respect for the dead of Katrina to lower the flag for them.

The Rescue President, a new role brought to you by the War President - a man who could get neither right.

Update August 30, 2008

Bad pumps to pump water out of the canal system:
From Reading Eagle Press 8/28: Levees protecting eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish are in many stretches 10 feet lower than what the corps would like them to be, Turner said.

Another concern is a new system of pumps and floodgates on three drainage canals. Floodwalls on two of the canals collapsed during Katrina, causing widespread flooding in central New Orleans.

The corps installed the new system to prevent storm surge from entering the canals, but some of the pumps have been plagued with problems. They were defective when they were installed in 2006 and doubts persist about the corps' overall engineering solution.


From CBS News: The drainage canal pumps were custom-designed and built under a $26.6 million contract awarded after competitive bidding to Moving Water Industries Corp. of Florida. The company was founded in 1926 and supplies flood control and irrigation pumps all over the world.

MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

MWI has run into trouble before. The Justice Department sued the company in 2002, accusing it of fraudulently helping Nigeria obtain $74 million in taxpayer-backed loans for overpriced and unnecessary water pump equipment. The case has yet to be resolved.


And there's no telling how many of the levees themselves were properly constructed. It's certain that at least one wasn't going to be - until the contractor was caught. They had filled the joints between cement barriers with paper instead of the rubber foam sealant that should be there:
From World Net Daily:
New Orleans CBS affiliate WWL-TV visited a section of floodwall in St. Bernard Parish with a resident who asked not to be identified and who showed the news crew a section of floodwall where he had observed the contractor filling the openings between the walls with newspaper during repairs in 2006.

"The whole length of the wall was stuffed with newspaper," the resident said.

...

"It's like putting a Band-Aid on the hole of a gas tank of an airplane," the resident said.




Click for more...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Broken Template Fixed

I finally got a bit of time to figure out what happened to the blog template. It's now fixed. The "click for more" is working again, so the site should be MUCH more readable. Yay!

Plus I messed around with the style sheet to create magically self-resizing images, so they should no longer run over the right nav, even if they're big. Though the experiment to turn the DemocracyFest banner into a button for the right nav is less than spectacular... I'll have to get a real button, but not this week.

Click for more...

Monday, February 12, 2007

First I screamed, Then I Swore

Then I screamed at my daughter to get out of the house...

... and leapt toward the fire extinguisher. The tiny bits of flaming foam insulation that had landed on me had gone out without any damage, but the fireball had also ignited the foam along the crack I had just filled, and the masking tape around it.

Thus our experiment in low-carbon living has taken a short hiatus.

We live a very strange life. As an example, on the first multi-day car-less bike trip my husband and I took, we had to buy a lawn mower. It's a long story...

So people who know us in real life, would not be surprised to hear me say that we've moved in with Dad for a short time because our refrigerator became a blow-torch. They'd just wait for the story, and try very hard (well, maybe not) to not double over laughing.



As my daughter shivered in the 14 degree air, short-sleeved and sock-footed, I sprayed the fire extinguisher at the flames, then raced to the main gas shutoff for the house. I have no memory of covering the territory between the refrigerator and the gas shut-off, but I remember brushing the snow off the protective cover so I could open it and get to the knob.

So what happened? It was actually much less dramatic than it sounds.

The weather report indicated the next day would be below zero. We had a couple of spots with discernible air leaks, which had resulted in frozen pipes the week before, so I grabbed some spray foam insulation and started filling those gaps. Alas, it turns out that the air from the last gap on the list just happened to flow directly to the pilot light on the refrigerator, several feet away. It also turns out that the propellant in the spray foam was butane.

"Wait," you ask "a pilot light on the refrigerator?" Yep. We're off the grid, so our now former refrigerator was propane-fired.

Butane is flammable - very flammable, which is why it's used in cigarette lighters. As a result, when enough of the stuff reached the pilot light, the refrigerator morphed from an ordinary appliance into the "Killer Refrigerator of Doom (Dun, Dun, Duuuun...)."

The actual experience was one of those surreal compressed-time moments: The was a "FOOOF!", a blast of heat and light, a spattering of flaming foam bits, then the soft hiss of flame. The little bits of foam went out pretty much instantly as they landed. The big snakes of fresh foam, however stayed lit, as well as the stuff that was still coming out of the can, and a small blow-torch style flame - about 6" tall - continued to burn just above the pilot light.

Luckily, our insurance company insists that anyone with a woodstove have a big honking 20 lb fire extinguisher installed in an easily-accessible location. So as soon my brain registered the thought "it's not going out," I was able to grab the fire extinguisher and blast the flames.

It was a definite "two-steps-backward" moment.

We were in this situation because we had decided to try an experiment: reduce our carbon footprint to as near-zero as possible. It's a huge challenge. We probably would not have tried the experiment if we hadn't been enjoying "Fun with Dual-Unemployment and Huge COBRA Payments." We weren't interested in homelessness, and had hoped not to have to do the cliched "move in with the parents" thing (heh). So we started planning, sold the house, bought some land, and began the odyssey to build a straw-bale active- and passive-solar house.

We got the foundation footers in. There's a story to go with these, but it'll have to wait to another day... then ran out of time before the cold set in. We were close to running out of money, so we decided to build what we call the "emergency backup cabin."



It's supposed to be a pottery studio, but for now, it's home sweet home.

It literally comprises 2 garden sheds (for Monty Python fans, we can now use the "Arthur 'Two-Sheds' Jackson" joke in real life). The small part on the left was delivered whole, and the rest was built from plans.

It's super-insulated. In order to reduce the cost and the energy impact of a new building, it uses low-e windows, and most were gathered from building material recycling centers, some are from the "bargain barn" at the local builder's supply - customer returns.

So anyway, we made the best of it, building sleeping lofts in the bigger shed, putting a composting toilet and sink in the small one. We have a gas range, a woodstove, a recently-added instant-on water heater (water heating was done on the woodstove in cold weather), and, until now, a refrigerator. It's powered by a combination of 2 solar panels, 4 batteries, and a backup generator (there's a story there, too). We squeezed in a sofa, a recliner, a dining table, some storage, clothes, bedding, 4 people, and 4 cats. We have 320 square feet (not including the lofts). All in all, it's been very "Little House on the Prairie."

There have been many moments of frustration, and many moments of joy. The location is beautiful, the neighbors are typical no-nonsense, get things done, independent souls with a real sense of community (some day I'll have to write about the snow plow incident).

We'll be elsewhere until we can afford to replace the refrigerator. I do NOT want a propane one again. So we have to get not only an electric refrigerator, but the solar panels, batteries, and charger needed to power it. Ugh.

Interestingly, we have learned that the best Energy Star refrigerators use less electricity than the most common "off-grid" refrigerator used by our friends. So we can buy a conventional refrigerator and associated solar panels for about $1000 less than a refrigerator designed for off-grid living and the associated panels and batteries. I guess it pays to do your research...

And our biggest lesson-learned in the latest adventure? If you have any gas appliances in your home, and you plan to use spray foam insulation: Turn off the gas first.

Click for more...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of the Union - a 2007 Parody

STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS


As Prepared For a Parody


TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:


Thank you very much. Tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own — as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker. Except that I didn't actually begin the speech with those words, I began it with "Thank you very much".


In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Congratulations.


Two members of the House and Senate are not with us tonight — and we pray for the recovery and speedy return of Senator Tim Johnson and Congressman Charlie Norwood. Except for Johnson, because he's a Democrat, but go ahead and pray for Norwood.


Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:


This rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour — when decisions are hard and courage is tested, unlike before when I got a free ride from a rubber stamp House and Senate. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin, because I never quite got around to them. In all of this, much is asked of us. And as long as we're defining things, every time I say "us" or "we," I really mean "you." We [you] must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies — and the wisdom to face them together.



Some in this Chamber are new to the House and Senate — and I congratulate the Democratic majority. Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not, only now we might be held responsible, which kinda stinks. Each of us is guided by our own convictions, or will be convicted, or something like that — and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we are all held to the same standards, at least once we get caught, and are called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this Nation’s prosperity to those who already prosper… to spend the people’s money wisely, which means to hand it over to those who already have it … to solve problems, unless they're difficult, like health care or New Orleans, or how to stop getting our kids killed in an immoral war; not leave them to future generations, like when I said that getting out of Iraq would be the next President's problem, and when I excluded the Iraq war spending from the budget, so the bill can be handed to the children of the future; … to guard America against all evil, unless that evil is the wholesale destruction of the constitutional rights and freedoms that made America great, and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us, but not to bother taking care of them when they're injured, or to not pretend that an offensive war against innocent civilians is defense.


We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air, but we are certainly the most divisive. Like many before us, we can work through our differences and achieve big things for the American people, but we'd prefer the other side just roll over, because the other stuff would be hard. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on — as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. Heh. Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, as long as "fellow Americans" is defined as my personal friends, family, and campaign contributors, and help them to build a future of hope and opportunity — and this is the business before us tonight.


A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy — and that is what we have: growing unemployment, growing debt, growing bankruptcy, growing health care costs, growing gas prices, and more. We are now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth — in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs … so far below the number needed to meet the increase in population that it's scary. Unemployment is low, because we don't count the people who no longer qualify for unemployment. Inflation is low, because we leave out a bunch of the increased costs when we figure out the inflation numbers, and wages are rising for CEOs. This economy is on the move, to China, India, Indonesia and other countries — and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government but with more enterprise.


Next week, I will deliver a full report on the state of our economy, at a time when you're not watching and when the news media won't report on it. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.


First, we must balance the Federal budget, though remember by "we," I mean "you." We can do so without raising taxes, but since that will destroy the economy, I'll let you do it, and then blame you for raising taxes, even though I, and my wild-spending Republican cronies created those mountains of debt. What we need to do is impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009 — and met that goal 3 years ahead of schedule, because we have hidden the ridiculous waste from my pet war "off budget," otherwise we'd be about 100 years behind. Now let us take the next step off the cliff. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the Federal deficit within the next 5 years. I ask you to make the same commitment to destroying the economy. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the Federal Government, and balance the Federal budget, unless you count me and my tax give-aways to friends as well as that war thingy in the Middle East, as part of the Federal Government. Otherwise, all bets are off.


Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour, like that Republican bridge to nowhere in Alaska, and purchasing all these weapons and planes and things that no one wants — when not even C-SPAN is watching. In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate — they are dropped into Committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You did not vote them into law. I did not sign them into law. Yet they are treated as if they have the force of law - it's the Republican way. The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process … expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress … and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session - not because all earmarks are bad, but because only Republicans should be allowed to make their campaign contributors, uh, I mean constituents, yeah, that's it, happy on the tax-payer's dime.


Finally, to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience — and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound. Yet we are failing in that
duty, because we've been raiding Social Security to hide the deficit, and the Republicans handed all your Medicaid money to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries last year — and this failure will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits. Well, really, the deficit's already there. You don't have to thank me, just be sure to mark the bill "Love George" when it arrives. Everyone in this Chamber knows this to be true, because you've seen me and my crew working hard to make it true for the last 6 years — yet somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act for the public good, it's probably that power-drunk greed thing.


So let us work together and do it now, we're already working on the talking points that will make it look like this mess is all the Democrats' fault. You might as well clean it up, since you're going to get the blame anyway. With enough good sense and good will, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid — and save Social Security. What I'm trying to say is, basically, if you add all your good sense and good will together, it should just about be able to counter my stupidity and greed, and then you might be able to make a positive difference, but don't bet on it.


Spreading opportunity (Mmmm, don't you just love the smell of a fresh load of opportunity?) and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act — preserving local control of nothing, raising standards for filling in little circles on test sheets in public schools, and holding those schools accountable for results, by causing them to wipe out those programs that make for well-informed and thoughtful citizens, and replace them with test-taking strategy classes. And because we acted, students are performing better in filling in circles on reading and math tests, and minority students are closing the achievement gap, because the quality of education in the rest of our schools is slipping to meet the lower quality of the underfunded schools in segregated inner-city neighborhoods.


Now the task is to build on this successful destruction, without watering down standards in a way that the public will recognize… without taking control from local communities any more than the complete wresting of control we've already managed … and without backsliding toward quality and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, removing the last vestiges of vital sports, art, music, and other extra-curricular activities … and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose something better, and since it's only the rich who will be able to afford that right, why not pay them to do what they already planned to do anyway? We must increase funds for students who struggle — and make sure these children get the special help they need, then again, we might not. And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future - low wage, non-union service jobs- and our country is more competitive with third world nations, by strengthening math and science skills, so our children will be able to measure how badly they've been screwed. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for the dumbing down of America’s children — and I ask Congress to reauthorize this not even remotely good law.


A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care, but we don't want a future of hope and opportunity. When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. We will meet those responsibilities for those who have the strength to fight tooth and nail for the care they deserve. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs, at least if you're a private health insurance company - especially if you're the CEO of one of those companies. But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy, or can't get the insurance companies to honor the policies they do pay for.


Tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income - adding up to a savings of like, one month's insurance premium. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. With this reform, more than 100 million men, women, and children who are now covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills.


At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who do not get health insurance through their job. For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, my proposal would mean a substantial tax savings — $4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach, so they can just touch it with their fingertips, but not really grab hold. It'll be like a giant game of "keep away," but with people's health instead of a toy. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans, but I wouldn't want it changed in a way that just gives people health care without making them struggle and suffer first.


My second proposal is to help the States that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive Federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick, but not to actually provide care. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing Federal funds and use them to create “Affordable Choices” grants. These grants would give our Nation’s Governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need. Those states that actually try to provide care without inserting an expensive, private, for-profit, business between the patient and doctor, however, could not take advantage of these funds.


There are many other ways that Congress can help, and I'll be sure to put up as many roadblocks as possible. We need to expand Health Savings Accounts, which won't cover even minor surgeries … help small businesses through Association Health Plans with ridiculous rules that make it pointless for the small businesses to participate … reduce costs and medical errors with better information technology, like embedding id tags in every American citizen … encourage price transparency for providers, but not for the insurance company markups … and protect good doctors from junk lawsuits by passing medical liability reform, even though the courts already have the power to throw out junk lawsuits, so we'd really only be helping insurance companies avoid expensive malpractice suits against bad doctors. And in all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors, but the best profits are made by insurance companies, and profits come first.


Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America — with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we are doubling the size of the Border Patrol — and funding new infrastructure and technology. It won't really solve the problem of companies using poorly-paid illegal immigrants so they can make bigger profits than if they paid fair wages to American citizens, but we get to pretend we're doing something, while increasing the profits of major campaign contributors.


Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border — and that requires a temporary worker program. We already have one, but it's not creating large enough profits, so we should establish an even more profitable legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. Plus it'll help us with the Cuban vote in Florida. As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in — and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers, except for the rich kids whose families have property in drug-source countries, like Paraguay and Columbia; and small-time criminals who are not helping Republicans with corrupt campaign financing schemes, and terrorists, except the white guys who kill doctors or send Anthrax laced mail to Democrats, we like those terrorists. We will enforce our immigration laws at the work site, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers — so there is no excuse left for violating the law. We generally won't enforce the law, except on occasion, when we need some good PR. We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals, while ignoring the part about welcoming the tired, the hungry, and those yearning to be free. And did you notice how I added "assimilates" - that's because I always loved those Borg guys in Star Trek - where everyone's an unthinking drone, and and everyone does exactly as they’re told, roaming around the universe, killing everyone who refuses to become just like them… That would be so awesome, as long as I'm the dictator. And we need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country — without animosity and without amnesty. Maybe we could give them all gift certificates, or even better, we could stick them in concentration camps, like the parents and children currently enjoying the lovely, state-of-the-art prison cells at the T.Don Hutto "residential center," in Taylor Texas. Some of them are even US citizens or legal aliens, many are minor children, born in the US, and thus US citizens according to the Constitution, but hey, it's not our fault they picked wrong parents! And stop calling it a concentration camp, just because it's where we're interning people of an inconvenient race at a time of war.


Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration, and we don't even give them trials or the right to an attorney. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate — so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law with my fingers crossed behind my back, and then I can write a signing statement thingy that says what I wanted the law to say, and then I can just pretend that is the law, and everyone goes home a winner! Except the immigrants, they all lose.


Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America’s economy running and America’s environment clean. For too long our Nation has been dependent on foreign oil, and everything I've done in office has ensured that would remain the case. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists — who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments … raise the price of oil … and do great harm to our economy. But with the incredible profits my friends are making, why complain?


It is in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply — and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power — by even greater use of clean coal technology, which isn't really clean, but I love saying that … solar and wind energy, which we won't fund in any meaningful way … and clean, safe nuclear power, just like the kind in sci-fi movies, like Back to the Future and Back to the Future II, where you can put banana peels in your car. We need to press on, just as slowly, with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol, which isn't nearly as efficient a fuel as just about anything else, but Arthur Daniels Midland is one of the BEST campaign contributors and they want us to pay them for their hard work — using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes.


We have made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies in Washington, even though I've tried my best to prevent them, and the strong response of the market to short-term excessive profits for agribusiness at the expense of small farms and long-term sustainability. Now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years — thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of 3/4 of all the oil we now import from the Middle East. But not if it means asking US manufacturers to improve the gas mileage of cars, because that would cut into their ever-shrinking profits, even though those profits are shrinking because the competition (even China) is making much more efficient cars.


To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 — this is nearly 5 times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks — and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017. For example, we can make a new kind of class for cars that is exempt from fuel economy standards, while making the rest of the cars meet those standards, then let the market decide whether they want an underpowered put-put mobile or a sleek gas-guzzler. And then we can blame the consumer when the consumption goals aren't met.


Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but will not eliminate it, which is good, because that's where all my money comes from. So as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must also step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. I mean places. And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that we totally drained because it made it look like gas prices weren't rising as fast as they really were, so people would keep buying high-profit SUVs instead of sane cars with lower profit margins.


America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment — and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. I'll do my best, in my remaining time in office to block any meaningful steps to address this challenge.


A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. That's why my administration has done its best to pack the courts at every level with right-wing extremists. It's also why we snuck language into a huge bill that no one read, which allows me to appoint extremist prosecutors to the Justice Department without any review or approval by Congress, then we started firing prosecutors who disagreed with the extremists, and used the new law to replace them with even more extremists! The lives of citizens across our Nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our Federal courts, and we want them all to be affected in my favor. And we have a shared obligation to ensure that the Federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings, but only if those rulings are the rulings I want. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the Federal bench, but I think that's silly, so I nominate only people who agree with me. And the United States Senate has a duty as well — to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. OK, the up-or-down vote isn't really a duty, but I want them to do it, because it annoys me when people don't agree with me, and I hate having an annoying Senate. The Senate's job may be to determine whether a candidate is appropriate for the position, but I want them to approve the inappropriate ones, too.


For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. OK, that's not really what the Constitution says, it says that the highest responsibility is to preserve and protect the Constitution. But five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that terrorists can cause, and in that time we've created more than a thousand times as much sorrow in a country that posed no threat to us, and had nothing to do with the terrorists. We have had time to take stock of our situation, seen that I dug a really big hole for us all, and I've decided I should keep digging, because to do otherwise would be to admit what you already know - that I screwed up in the biggest possible way. We have added many critical protections to guard the homeland, like making you put your toothpaste in a ziplock bag and take off your shoes in airports. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us — unless we stop them.
With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled — that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. Of course, I let the enemy get away, and he keeps sending these annoying videos from whatever cave he's living in. And I started an unnecessary war unrelated to the terrorists, and killed a whole lot of innocent people, and created a whole civil war, and made a bunch of our allies hate us, and made a bunch of our enemies join together against us, but that's not what I want you to think.


From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense, kind of the way you protect your own home by going to the neighbor's house and killing his whole family while he's at work. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free-flowing communications are long over for us, and they're just waiting until we're weak enough to be defenseless when they strike back. But since I've tapped your phones, hijacked your email, and started reading your letters, I have all the information I need to find you, so I can start rounding you up if you start saying bad things about me, or better yet, I can make stuff you've said, written, or received look incriminating, so other people won't come to your defense when I round you up. And as a bonus, I can make you fear your own right to free speech - I can make you watch what you say out of fear of being "detained" and maybe even "stressed." For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same. Really! They've been having a good laugh at our expense, since I've destroyed every freedom that they supposedly hate, destroyed the economy, and made our once-proud nation a pariah on the world stage.


Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, though we do know how many more attacks there have been worldwide than before, including one in Europe that happened after we blew the cover on the operation that was in the process of tracking down a whole cell of terrorists. And of course, we don't even know if there would have been any attacks at all, except for those ones that were stopped by good old fashioned police work. But we like to act like having no attacks in 5 years is due to our special powers, even though there had been 10 years between attempts before that. But here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast, the one whose name I didn't know, and that wasn't really under any imminent threat. We broke up a Southeast Asian terrorist cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America, but let that guy who actually had anthrax and actually used it to attack US Senators run free. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. And every single one of those successes happened without information gathered by our illegal spying on you. Plus, they would still have happened even if we hadn't removed a single one of the rights we've removed from you in the last 5 years.


Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world, because Osamabin Laden is still free - my bad. And so long as that is the case, America is still a Nation at war. So it's best to get me out of office quickly, so someone competent can go get bin Laden and stop spending your children's future on an unnecessary war.


In the minds of the terrorists, this war began well before September 11, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past 5 years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology, kind of like the right wing extremists who support me. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats - like "you're either with us, or with the terrorists" …. instruct with bullets and bombs - like "shock and awe" … and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.


Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty, or at least to stop us from continuing the wanton slaughter of their people. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology, the very ideology they chose in the elections we like to keep bringing up. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: “We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse.” He may be dead, but he means it! And Osama bin Laden declared: “Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us.” Please ignore the fact that Osama bin Laden is still free to make such declarations 5 years after he masterminded 9/11, because we made an immensely stupid and unnecessary detour into Iraq instead of sticking on his trail.


These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. It's just like the dominionist Christian movement in the US, but they call God "Allah," pray more often, and dress funny. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. The Shia majority in Iraq oddly decided that freedom from the tyranny of the secular Sadam Hussein should mean they can start, you know, having power in their own country. The problem with that is that the Iranians are majority Shia, too, and the Saudis are majority Sunni, and the Saudis - who are our friends - are kinda mad that we made it so that there are two countries right next to each other with empowered Shia populations. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah — a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken, though of course both groups combined come nowhere near the number of lives Americans have taken in their countries, but let's not quibble. I'll make it simple: it's bad if they kill us, but good if we kill them, regardless of the reason.


The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat, even though they utterly hate each other and are about as likely to band together as the US and Cuba. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes. Whereas when we slaughter the innocent, it's for oil. They want to kill Americans … kill democracy in the Middle East … and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale. Or maybe they just want to control their own oil and are sick of "civilized" nations bombing and shooting them "for their own good."


In the 6th year since our Nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended. They have not, because I'm completely incompetent. And so it remains the policy of this Government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people. And when we can get away with it, we'll use unlawful ones, too (unlawful is a weasel word for "illegal"), and we might go a little light on the whole diplomacy thing, because it's annoying when people don't agree with me.


This war is more than a clash of arms — it is a decisive ideological struggle between the right-wing ideology of a US empire seeking control of all the world and those who don't want us to take over their countries. The security of our Nation is in the balance, and I'm about to drop a huge rock on the other end of the see-saw by barging into Iran when we can't even control Iraq. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred - like me and my merry band of ideologues - and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and come to kill us, which we could have stopped if I'd interrupted that very important vacation.


What every terrorist fears most is human freedom, or oppression I know it's one of those. Societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments are not the kind of societies I like. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies — and most will choose a better way when they are given a chance, which is why we're doing so much to take away your freedoms and your choices. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers, and brave voices for democracy in other countries, as long as those countries are our allies, otherwise, forget it, we want puppets. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security … we must, but for the sake of profits, we won't.


In the last 2 years, we have seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East, and quashed it — and we have been sobered by the enemy’s fierce reaction when we bombed the crap out of them and they didn't like it. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution … drove out the Syrian occupiers … and chose new leaders in free elections, with a little "encouragement" from Israel in the form of fighter planes, bombs, and missiles. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature, which has no power and rules an ever-decreasing area, while the Taliban makes a resurgence and while we remove our marginal stabilizing force to reassign them to the Iraq meat grinder. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections — choosing a transitional government … adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world … and then electing a government under that constitution. But we didn't like the result of allowing all those Shias to vote for Shias, so we're still there. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity we should never forget, and will never support, because they voted for the wrong guys.


A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Our example of refusing to allow the duly elected government in Iraq to have sovereignty was such an inspiration, that Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon’s legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces, and have largely succeeded in taking over much of the country. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The rest of the death squads are formed by the US trained Iraqi security forces. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.


This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, it's the one we started. It is the fight we are in up to our necks. Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won, or even that it had never started. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk, unless our war profiteers had already made all the war profits they wanted. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory, and remove me from office.


We are carrying out a new strategy in Iraq — a plan that demands more from Iraq’s elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission - the same one that was accomplished years ago, so they can come home now. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror, though your mileage may vary.


In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital, which they cannot do with us there. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we are deploying "reinforcements" of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units, just like in Vietnam, when we called the troops "advisers," except back then, we called a "surge" an "escalation," so this time it's completely different. With Iraqis in the lead, acting as human shields, which is almost as good as body armor, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down terrorists, insurgents, and roaming death squads. Sounds good, doesn't it? Just kidding! And in Anbar province — where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them — we are sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear wipe them out. We did not drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq. Luckily there's no free Iraq, and al Qaeda's safe haven is in Pakistan.


The people of Iraq want to live in peace, which is why they keep shooting at the guys who keep shootng and bombing them - our troops. And now is the time for their government to act exactly the way we tell them to. Iraq’s leaders know that our commitment is not open ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad — and they must do so. They have pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party. They need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and Coalition forces torturing and maiming wantonly, so these troops can achieve the mission they already accomplished, of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad, or death, either works.


Iraq’s leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks to achieve reconciliation — to share nonexistent oil revenues among all of Iraq’s citizens … to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, that is, if there were any wealth after 10 years of embargoes followed by 5 years of total devastation … to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s civic life as long as they're not Shia … to hold local elections, again and again, until they come out with the answer we're looking for … and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secured - isn't it amazing, 5 years, more than 100,000 troops, untold billions of dollars, several hundred thousand dead civilians, millions of refugees, and thousands of dead and wounded Americans, and we haven't even secured the one city in which our headquarters is located. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments. [Smirk]


My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options, but I had my thumb on the scale. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success in my addled brain. None of the commanders agree, but I'm the big cheese, so I win. Many in this Chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, but the smart ones know we failed before we even went there. Because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching, you are deeply angry that I have stranded our nation on the edge of this cliff.


If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure or without significant and serious regional diplomacy, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. Since we cannot secure Baghdad by force, and I refuse to even admit that diplomacy is a viable options, the Iraqi government will be overrun by extremists. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime, and the Saudis, who I won't name, even though they are the primary funding source for al Qaeda. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country — and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict. You could call it a "domino effect," just like in that other not war conflict, in Southeast Asia, back when I was AWOL from my cushy post in the National Guard.


For America, this is a nightmare scenario, which is why I repeat it. If I sow fear, then I can manipulate that fear to get you to do what I want. For the both me and the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is our greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they are already, and increasingly Afghanistan … new recruits, like the ones that are joining each day we kill innocents … new resources, like money from the Saudis, … and an even greater determination to harm America, because we've devastated their countries, killed their families, and brewed within them a terrible hatred and desire for retribution. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11 and invite tragedy, so please, stop me NOW. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East … to succeed in Iraq … and to spare the American people from this danger. Have you considered impeachment?


This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you have made, unless you disagree with me, then, as the Vice President has so eloquently stated, you can go expletive yourself. We went into this largely united — in our assumptions, and in our convictions, except for the millions worldwide who protested from before we even went in. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure, though, if you voted for me, you clearly have voted for a failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, if by "new" you mean "more of the same" — and I ask you to give it a chance to work, because that'll give me time to finish my term, collect my pension, and head down to my new digs in Paraguay before the expletive hits the fan. And I ask you to support our troops in the field — and those on their way - you know, the ones I illegally sent without Congressional approval, using funds that had been appropriated for another purpose, before I bothered mentioning it to you, the American people, otherwise known as The Boss.


The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others, because I made it into one. That is why it is important to work together so our Nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. And this is why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties, but only the ones who agree with me. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us, then I will ignore the ones that don't match what I already had planned. And we will show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory, even if the goal has no goal posts and we aren't even on the right field.


One of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military — so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next 5 years. I'm not going to call it a draft, just an authorization, sort of like the authorization to use force that was supposed to be just a big stick to hang onto during the negotiations with Iraq, but that actually turned into an unjustified war.


A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them, like the National Guard is doing now, because the Guard is having a heck of a time with recruitment these days. And it would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time, in a foreign country, with people trying to kill them, but it won't be anything like the Guard, because there's no uniform. It'll be more like contractors, but without the paychecks, and we might even be able to avoid Veteran's benefits, since they'll be civilians. We could even call it something catchier, to help the recruiting effort, perhaps something like the Free Corps, or for those into history, the Freikorps.


Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle — because we are not in this struggle alone, well, not entirely alone. There are countries who we’ve blackmailed into staying on, and there's always Tony, we can't forget Prime Minister Blair, who's got a cushy job lined up with Dad's company as soon as England has finished kicking him out of office. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism, especially our extremism. In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations — and we are working with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq’s government, or at least to decrease support for the Shia majority. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons, in the ten or so years it would have taken them to do so if they tried really, really hard and stopped complying with the IAEA rules. With the other members of the Quartet — the U.N., the European Union, and Russia - don't forget Poland! Oh, never mind, forget Poland. — we are pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land. Once diplomacy has been apprehended and properly renditioned to an out of the way rent-a-gulag, we will start pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda offensive, since we don't have any intention of doing so — the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area, courtesy of our incompetence.


Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we are pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. Well, ignore that part about "together." They're together, we’re just kind of hanging out on the sidelines heckling. And we will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma — and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur, though we won't take action, because that could prevent genocide.


American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger, poverty, and disease — and ignoring those please is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa, but not effectively, because those people aren't white — and because you funded our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the number of people receiving life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in 3 short years, though it could have grown a thousand times faster if we actually cared. Of course, if we hadn't banned the most effective family planning funding due to insane right-wing ideology, there wouldn't be so many people infected with AIDS, but who's counting? I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, but not too much. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over 5 years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries, but not to combat the global climate change that is increasing the malaria risk. I ask that you fund the Millennium Challenge Account, so that American aid reaches the people who need it, in nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat. I ask you to let the poor in all other nations die, because we don't like their governments. And let us continue to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope for lifting lives and eliminating poverty, while continuing to prevent regulation of corporations to ensure living wages, eliminate pollution, end child labor and sweat shops, and to improve workplace safety, which could alleviate suffering and poverty worldwide.


When America serves others in this way, we show that the strength and generosity of our country are hypocritical at best. These deeds reflect the character of our people, or at least of our elected officials and corporate leaders. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, courage, and self-sacrifice of the American people, it is a strength we will continue to reserve for another day. You see this spirit often if you know where to look — and tonight we need only look above to the gallery.


Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine — but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth — or the duty to share his blessings with others. He has built a brand new hospital in his hometown. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: “Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things.” And we are proud to call this son of the Congo our fellow American, because he's rich.


After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children’s videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born — and in just 5 years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others — producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: “I believe it’s the most important thing that I’ve ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe.” We are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur — Julie Aigner-Clark, another rich person.


Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks … pulled the man into a space between the rails … and held him as the train passed right above their heads. He insists he’s not a hero. Wesley says: “We got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms. We got to show each other some love.” There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey. If only the guys and girls overseas had been used for our defense, instead of misused for an offense against the wrong people. Mr. Autrey isn't rich, but he says what I want to hear about my war, so I like him.


Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the United States Army. In December 2003, he was on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. From his Humvee, Sergeant Rieman returned fire — and used his body as a shield to protect his gunner. He was shot in the chest and arm, and received shrapnel wounds to his legs — yet he refused medical attention, and stayed in the fight. He helped to repel a second attack, firing grenades at the enemy’s position. For his exceptional courage, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star. And like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and gratitude of our whole country. Too bad about the lack of protective armor, and the offensive fight in the wrong country, but thanks for letting me use you as my human pawn, Tommy!


In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America — and these qualities are not in short supply, so I don't mind exploiting them. This is a decent and honorable country — and resilient, too. We have been through a lot together, and the country will eventually recover from the damage I have inflicted. We have met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence — because the State of our Union is strong … our cause in the world is right-wing … and tonight that cause goes on, unless you stop me.


Thank you.


Click for more...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Freedom 06

Click the Play Button:



Video showing why Nov 7, 2006 was only Day 1.

Choreographed to the music of George Michael's "Freedom 90."

Click for more...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dubie's Dubious Daybook

Oops!

Vermont's Republican Leuitenant Governor Douglas Dubie has been under pressure lately for doing part-time work for full-time pay during his term. The claim is that he has worked less than 30% of the time he has been in office. In reponse to the pressure, he finally this week released a "schedule" that tries to make him appear to have been busy while outside the office, soaking up taxpayer's money while soaking up the sun. (Boy and get a gander at all those unspecified "private meetings" in there).

I find it truly ironic that he's been endorsed for his "honesty," by the Times Argus/Rutland Herald just in time for the news to break that after working for 3 weeks with a team of lawyers, he managed to conjure up a falsified schedule that made him look like he was working when he wasn't (turns out, he was in Hawaii on vacation for at least one of the weeks that his schedule shows him to have been a Very Busy Man). Among the Very Busy Activities he claims to have done while in Hawaii: paying his respects at a Julius Canns' memorial service - not once, but twice!

I can only imagine Julius Canns' family might be a bit disappointed to find that Mr. No-Show covered up one of his weeks of Amazing Absenteeism by pretending to be paying his respects to a man who actually worked hard serving Vermont for many years.

For lying about something so easy to verify, I nominate Lt. Gov. Doug Dubie to receive the award for Lamest Coverup Attempt by a 2006 Republican candidate.

And for not covering the story, I nominate the local media for the Foot-Dragging award. This story is of direct relevance to the voters of Vermont, who might be willing to support a nice-enough guy who works for them, even if it's not as often as they'd like and even if he's not always on their side, but who might take exception to paying an incumbent to lie to them about how many hours he put in for the $61,000 he drained from their pockets.

Update: Want to do something about the media blackout on Dubie's foray into fiction? Drop a line to the following VT political reporters - BE POLITE - some of them may not have heard, yet, and being nasty is ineffective at best, and counterproductive at worst:

- Peter Freyne: pfreyne@aol.com pfreyne@aol.com (7 Days)
- Darren Allen: Darren.Allen@timesargus.com (Times Argus)
- Louis Porter: Louis.Porter@timesargus.com (Times Argus)
- Stewart Ledbetter: sledbetter@hearst.com (WPTZ, Channel 5, Burlington)
- Terri Hallenbeck: bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com (Burlington Free Press)
- Sam Hemmingway: shemingway@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com (Burlington Free Press)

Click for more...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Republicans are not Brave Enough to Preserve the Constitution

The Torture Bill passed the House today, in the shiny wrapping paper of an immigrant-hate bill, literally adding insult to injury. Tomorrow it will likely be voted on in the Senate. Friday it will probably become law.

Other administrations protected our basic constitutional rights in the face of whole nations, armed to the teeth with massive numbers of extraordinary weapons that threatened to wipe us all out in a few hours. Other administrations faced dangers so grave that the entire world literally hung the balance, and they did so with the Geneva Conventions intact. Other administrations faced unprecedented dangers without fearing every person's right to a day in court, to face their accuser and see the evidence against them - a guarantee that has been in place for nearly 800 years.

But this cowardly crew is so frightened by a rag-tag band of thugs they're cutting and running from the very basis of democratic society.

Retreating from democracy is the realm of cowards.



Washington DC Subway Ad, 2003
Any legislator, in any party, who votes for this bill, no matter what other bill it may have been cloaked in for the day, is not worthy of the trust bestowed by the voters and should be run out of office.

Click for more...

Friday, September 22, 2006

What Did They Fight For?

Produce the Body
While we focus on the immoral "torture" part of the new torture bill, we're missing a more insidious little tid-bit: removing the right to a trial.

In England, way back in 1679, it was made illegal to stuff people in prison without charges and leave them there to rot. This was done because imprisonment had become the government's favorite means of suppression. Parliament thought this was a really bad idea, mostly because the peasantry had become so fed up with being silenced in this way, that the Lords who ran Parliament were in fear for their lives. So Parliament wised-up and passed a law to stop the practice.


Note: In the following excerpt, I'm removing the long lists of people to whom one can appleal, the lists of who can make appeals, who can be served a writ, and shortening other lists, such as "warrant or warrants" and removing some adjectival expressions to shorten the text and make it easier to understand. The full text is available here: http://www.constitution.org/eng/habcorpa.htm

Note 2: "Habeus Corpus" below means "show me the defendant" (or literally, "produce the body")


... it shall and may be lawful to and for the person or persons so committed or detained ... or any one on his or their behalf, to appeal or complain to ... any one of his Majesty's justices ... (4) and the said ... justices... are hereby authorized and required ... to award and grant an habeas corpus..., (5) to be directed to the officer or officers in whose custody the party so committed or detained shall be, returnable immediate before the said ... justice; (6) and upon service thereof ... the officer shall ... bring such prisoner or prisoners before the said ... justice ... true causes of the commitment ... (7) and thereupon within two days after the party shall be brought before them, the ... justice ... shall discharge the said prisoner from his imprisonment, taking his or their recognizance, with one or more surety or sureties, in any sum according to their discretions, having regard to the quality of the prisoner and nature of the offense, for his or their appearance in the court of the ... city or place where ... the offense was committed, or in such other court where the said offense is properly cognizable ... (8) unless it shall appear ... that the party so committed is detained upon a legal ... warrant ... for such matters or offenses for the which by the law the prisoner is not bailable.


Or, in short: Every prisoner must have his or her day in court. Every prisoner should be able to defend themselves against accusations - just in case those accusations turn out to be nothing more than the spite of someone who doesn't like you.

Prior to that, the Magna Carta, in 1225, had granted the same:

To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these.


This concept has been recognized as a basic element of civilized societies for 781 Years.

In dictatorships, the "Writ of Habeus Corpus" does not exist - prisoners have no right to trial, no right to defend themselves. Heck, they don't even have to be accused of any crime. They can simply be tossed into some dingy hell-hole because they pissed off the wrong person. In such countries, the government gets in the habit of "disappearing" people it doesn't like.

Until now, we in the United States have firmly believed in freedom. Until now, we have believed the fact that people shouldn't be thrown in prison unless they had done something wrong. Until now, we have believed that everyone has the right to defend themselves in a court of law. Until now, we have believed that people who didn't commit any crime should be allowed to live free.

Until Now.

For hundreds of years, people have given up their lives, their limbs, their youth to defend those rights.



But those who, upon taking office, swear to protect those rights against ALL threats have decided to turn their backs on freedom:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.


Those we trusted to care for the most precious element of our democracy - our freedom - are ready to sign it away. Cowadice pushes them to want to appear "tough." They are not brave enough to keep our democracy alive.

The fertile field of democracy, first planted 230 years ago, has been abandoned to a harvest of fear.

Click for more...

Progressive Women's Blog Ring

Join | List | Prev | Next | Random | Prev 5 | Next 5 | Skip Prev | Skip Next

Powered by RingSurf