2006 - %3, August

Castro Latest from Havana

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 3:38 PM EDT

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Rob Corddry has it.

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Environmental Devastation in Lebanon

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 3:00 PM EDT

Admittedly I'm worried more about residential apartment buildings being bombed than I am about dead sea-turtles, but the environmental damage caused by the war in Lebanon has been absolutely staggering. The Jiyeh power plant near Beirut has leaked some 15,000 tons of oil into the Mediterranean sea since it was targeted by Israeli air strikes two weeks ago. (As first reported, I belive, right here on this blog.)

The oil has slicked a third of Lebanon's coast and could affect Cyprus, Turkey, and possibly Greece. Cleanup crews can't get to the mess due to the violence, and it could cost up to $500 million to clean up and ten years for the ecosystem to return to normal, by some estimates. As Lebanon's environment minister, Yaacoub Sarraf, told the AP, "What is at stake today is all marine life in the eastern Mediterranean."

Life is Full of Surprises. But This Many?

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 2:43 PM EDT

Surprise!

The Bush administration was caught by surprise when Cuban President Fidel Castro announced a temporary transfer of power due to illness, according to a U.S. senator who met with the president.

Surprise!

[In 2003,] US Marines pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. Today, America battles Iraqi insurgents not only in the Sunni Triangle but also in Baghdad's Shi'ite slums and throughout Southern Iraq. Only the Kurdish north remains solidly pro-American, and there are fewer than 300 coalition troops in all of Kurdistan.

This is not how George Bush and Dick Cheney thought it would happen.

Surprise!

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.

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Surprise!

The administration's allies, however, were disturbed that Bush's hands now may be tied by the [Hamdan] ruling, written by Justice John Paul Stevens. "Stevens's opinion was quite shocking in its lack of discussion of the president's independent authority," said Andrew McBride, a former Justice Department official...

Bush made no such protest himself yesterday, caught by surprise at the decision.

Surprise!

Although the transaction has been in the works for months and was approved by a federal interagency committee Jan. 17, the White House was caught by surprise early this week when a bipartisan group of lawmakers lashed out at the deal and suggested that the administration was compromising national security by allowing a state-owned company from the United Arab Emirates to take charge of operations at U.S. ports.

Surprise!

In fact, the Bush administration seems to have been caught by surprise when Chiron Corp. notified the US Center for Disease Control Oct. 5 that the company wouldn't be shipping the vaccine due to the British action. The US Food and Drug Administration didn't begin an investigation until five days later, according to an FDA news release.

Surprise!

The White House was caught by surprise by [Richard]Clarke's book [Against All Enemies] even though the book had been over at the White House for months. Clarke followed the rules by shipping his book to the National Security Council last November so it could make sure he had not revealed any national secrets.

Surprise!

"The White House didn't expect a chorus of doubts from religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, Michael Horowitz and even Marvin Olasky, one of the [faith-based] program's early architects. They worry that churches would be corrupted by government regulations orthat objectionable sects would be rewarded.

Surprise!

[T]he meaning of the Vietnam metaphor is that we could be bogged down for years as an unpopular occupying force fighting a low-grade guerilla resistance. I don't know whether that will happen, but I do know the White House didn't expect that and certainly didn't prepare the American people for the possibility.

Halliburton Contractor Settles in Overcharging Suit

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 2:04 PM EDT

AP reports that a company hired by Halliburton to ship military cargo to Iraq has paid the government $4 million to settle a case alleging it overcharged by adding a "war risk surcharge."

"The invoices from Houston-based EGL Inc., operating as Eagle Global Logistics, were for shipments of military goods sent from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Iraq between November 2003 and July 2004.

A former Dubai-based vice president, Christopher Joseph Cahill, pleaded guilty in February to inflating the invoices by $1.14 million to cover the fraudulent surcharges.

For much more on Halliburton and its far-reaching tentacles, see here.

Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 10:06 AM EDT

ROLE OF FRANCE
Although mocked by the Israelis, the French, because of their historic role in Lebanon, doubtless will play an important role in putting together an international force and terms of any political settlement. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, in Beruit Monday for talks with the Lebanese government, provided clues as to French thinking: "There will not be a permanent cease-fire without a political agreement ... France believes that it would be impossible to have a military solution only," he told reporters. He said the political agreement should be "between Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah on one side, and Israel, Lebanon and the international community on the other."

Douste-Blazy continued: "I have spoken a lot about the necessity of reaching a political agreement, and its components are: the release of all Lebanese detainees and the two Israeli soldiers; the complete implementation of the Taif Accord; the expansion of the authority of the Lebanese government to cover all the Lebanese territories; a solution to the Shebaa Farms through demarcating the borders, and even placing it temporarily under the UN mandate; and the emphasizing on the sovereignty of each of Lebanon and Israel."

HAGEL'S BREAK WITH BUSH
Full Text of Hagel's Middle East statement
"The United States will remain committed to defending Israel. Our relationship with Israel is a special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice. Achieving a lasting resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is as much in Israel's interest as any other country in the world."

BANGLADESH
With US foreign policy seemingly dead in the water, and military commanders beginning to seriously complain about an army stretched too thin, news that the US soon will be facing a new center of terrorism in the poor Muslim nation of Bangladesh can only add to American disarray. Up to now the Bangladesh government has been secular. According to Selig Harrison of the Washington Post, "While the United States dithers, a growing Islamic fundamentalist movement linked to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence agencies is steadily converting the strategically located nation of Bangladesh into a new regional hub for terrorist operations that reach into India and Southeast Asia."

The Latest: War in the Middle East

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 9:22 AM EDT

FIGHTING AT BAALBEK
Haaretz provides a blow by blow description of Tuesday night's (around 10:20 local time) Israeli commando attacks on this ancient city: Rapid air attacks, bombing, then landing and entering hospital, killing some guerrillas and capturing others, civilian deaths.

Also from Haaretz: "Witnesses in Baalbek said they saw dozens of IAF helicopters hovering over the city. They said the hospital in Baalbek, filled with patients and wounded people, was bombed by IAF helicopters late Tuesday. Plumes of burning smoke billowed from the hospital after it was directly hit, they said."

Attacks came before Israeli pause in fighting had ended. It is the first time since 1994 that Israel has gone this far into Lebanon. Haaretz says the hospital was financed by Iranian charities. Wednesday Hezbollah fired a rocket some 70 kilometers into Israel, the deepest strike to date. The BBC says there were no casualties.

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EPA Insider: Agency a "Private Industry Licensing Program"

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 4:11 AM EDT

"Unions representing thousands of staff scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency say the agency is bending to political pressure and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides," reports the Times. The story is based on a "newly disclosed letter" from the unions that was "given to the The New York Times on Tuesday by environmental advocacy organizations."

Minor point: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility posted a press release on the selfsame letter, which was sent May 24, more than two months ago. But we all know that things don't really exist until they are "given to the Times," and quibbles aside, the story is awfully good. The chemicals in question, carbamates and organophosphates, (as we reported six years ago) are known, to the EPA and everyone else, to be bad news. So why, you ask, are they still legal?

"It's how the game is played," said an E.P.A. specialist involved in the pesticide program who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, he said, critics within the agency often lose choice assignments.

"You go to a meeting, and word comes down that this is an important chemical, this is one we've got to save," he said. "It's all informal, of course. But it suggests that industry interests are governing the decisions of E.P.A. management. The pesticide program functions as a governmental cover for what is effectively a private industry licensing program."

Bush Advisor: Oil Future "Looking So Ugly Nobody Wants to Face It"

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 1:23 AM EDT

Do yourself a favor and read the Chicago Tribune's fantastic series tracing the oil that goes into your tank backward across the globe--to Africa, where more and more of it comes from (causing an affluent superpower to "rattle its half-empty oil can at the world's poorest continent"), to the Middle East, to places you may not have thought of. Along the way, Pulitzer winner Paul Salopek discovers that kicking oil habit is no longer just a matter of virtue, or environmental responsibility, or even finite resources (as Paul Roberts showed in his Mother Jones piece on "peak oil") but of getting out of the way of the inevitable collapse:

(The) globe-spanning energy network... today is so fragile, so beholden to hostile powers and so clearly unsustainable, that our car-centered lifestyle seems more at risk than ever.

"I truly think we're at one of those turning points where the future's looking so ugly nobody wants to face it," said Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker in Houston who has advised the Bush administration on oil policy. "We're not talking some temporary Arab embargo anymore. We're not talking your father's energy crisis."

Mel Gibson wants Jews to help him on a "journey through recovery." Really.

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 9:17 PM EDT

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It would be easy to ridicule Mel ("sugar tits") Gibson's flailing attempts to salvage his rep -- which currently stands at Judas Iscariot/Pontius Pilate levels. So let's. Today, Mel dons his crown of thorns to issue this very, very pathetic statement:

"There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologise specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested.

"I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery...

I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed."

Leaders of the community, meanwhile, are rightly content to withhold absolution until Gibson has self-flagellated a good while longer.

Several Jewish leaders said he must first complete his recovery program and perform acts of goodwill, such as visiting Nazi death camps.

"We will know when the time is, but the time is certainly not when his press agents think it is," said Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Gibson's alleged sexist comments go practically unnoticed

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 9:17 PM EDT

Actor and director Mel Gibson, who is reported to have said some outrageously vile things when he was stopped for lawless driving a few days ago, is having both his drunken words and his apology analyzed and judged by the news media, crisis managers and members of the Anti-Defamation League. Gibson is alleged to have said:

"Fucking Jews....The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

Gibson is alleged to have cursed and carried on like this for some time. What isn't being discussed is that he is also alleged to have called one of the female officers a "bitch," and called another one "sugar tits."

There are some people who are defending Gibson because he was intoxicated when he ranted about Jews. This defense in itself is rather frightening, but nonetheless common in our culture. What is more disturbing, though, is that none of the pundits, crisis managers, media experts, or other analysts seems to be the least bit disturbed about Gibson's alleged sexist remarks.

It is well known that Gibson is anti-feminist, and there was a time--at least in the United States--when calling women, especially women in authority, inappropriate names would have gotten someone into a bit of trouble. Now, though, it seems that if Gibson can somehow make it right with the Jewish community, he will home free, regardless of how he may have treated female officers of the law.