Defense Secretary Robert Gates is demanding a full inventory of all U.S. nuclear weapons and materials. The announcement comes in the wake of the Pentagon's realization last week that four nuclear warhead fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan in 2006. This is just the latest chapter in the Bush administration's mismanagement of nukes.
In "Failure to Launch" (January/February 2008), James Sterngold writes, "the real problem with Bush's nuclear policy...was simple neglect. From the dawn of the nuclear era more than six decades ago, every administration, whether in peaceful or violent times, has maintained a solemn focus on its policies for the only weapon that can end civilization. But not this one."
Barack Obama posted his and Michelle's tax forms yesterday, and it seems that their recent rise to fame has also brought a rise in fortune. From 2004 to 2006, the Obamas' combined income increased five-fold to just under $1 million: $983,826 (adjusted gross income). Must be nice. During this same period, from 2004 to 2006, the personal savings rate in the U.S. declined significantly, even dipping negative at the end of 2005—something that hadn't happened since the Great Depression.
This may stir doubts among cautious Obama supporters. Can Moneybags relate to the average American? However, in the battle over transparency with rival Hillary Clinton, this may be a winning move. HRC has positioned herself as the establishment candidate, which breeds a certain amount of resentment in itself, and her hesitancy to release her tax forms might only deepen the feeling. If she doesn't release them, she appears secretive (already a problem for her); but if she brings more media attention to her and Bill's wealth, she'll make Obama look like a regular working stiff.
In one of those "only in California" type lawsuits—a state that heavily promotes solar and renewable energy under the California Solar Initiative—homeowners Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett of Sunnyvale, California, have been forced to chop down two redwood trees in their backyard that were obstructing prime-time rays from their neighbor's solar array. Citing the Solar Shade Control Act, a remnant legislation from the energy crisis of the '70s, a Santa Clara County judge ruled in December in favor of solar array owner and Santa Clara resident Mark Vargas.
Vargas installed the 10-kilowatt solar array on his home in 2001. Treanor and Bissett's redwoods, which were planted in 1997, eventually grew tall enough to shade more than 10 percent of Vargas' solar panels, inciting a not-so-neighborly feud. Aside from the tricky issues regarding property rights, the case also pits the benefits of carbon-dioxide-absorbing resources against those associated with sources of renewable energy.
It begins with the chills, matures into a fever, and gives its victims cold sweats. It kills red blood cells and ultimately can induce failure of the liver or kidneys. And, most noticeably to many of the Iraqis who now suffer from it, it turns urine reddish black—a detail that has caused it to be called "Blackwater fever."
The illness has nothing to do with Erik Prince's security company, but Blackwater's reputation among Iraqis has now become the stuff of dark humor as a virulent form of malaria has begun to burn its way across Iraq's Anbar province, particularly the Sunni strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi. From the Inter Press News Agency:
Talat al-Mukhtar is an Iraqi doctor now studying abroad. IPS asked him to comment on the Blackwater fever outbreak in Iraq.
"Malaria is endemic in Iraq, mainly in the northern part. However, it is prevalent in the milder forms; the severe form had been reported but not at an epidemic level."
Dr. Mukhtar said this form of malaria requires a "triple-drug treatment programme because it is an aggressive infection." He said the patient "requires meticulous medical and nursing care, and might even need time in an intensive care unit, as it can easily lead to kidney and liver failure."
Like the other doctors IPS spoke with, Dr. Mukhtar was clear that the Iraqi ministry of health needs to take a proactive role before the disease spreads further...
The spread of this condition follows the outbreak of other diseases. According to the WHO, as of Oct. 3, 2007 cholera outbreaks in Iraq had spread to nine of 18 provinces, and roughly 30,000 people had fallen ill with acute diarrhoea, with 14 deaths.
An Oxfam International report released last July showed that the humanitarian disaster in Iraq is compounded by a mass exodus of medical staff fleeing chronic violence and lawlessness. The report said the lack of doctors and nurses is breaking down a health system now on the brink of collapse.
The report said many hospitals had lost up to 80 percent of their teaching staff.
Zimbabwe goes to the polls Saturday to see if it can manage to democratically oust 28-year despot Robert Mugabe. I say "manage" because Mugabe can't win a fair election, but he can rig it so that he wins, as he is widely suspected of having done in the past. Opposition candidate Simba Makoni presents a stronger challenge than any Mugabe has seen recently, but suspicions about the election have already been raised.
To understand what 200,000 percent inflation means, a journalist friend I was traveling with, N., said that on Friday, he had lunch at a hotel in Harare , where a local beer cost 2 million Zimbabwean dollars (less than $1). He passed by the hotel after work the same day and the same beer was going for more than 4 million.
Earlier this month, the AP reported that $1US was worth 25,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars.
It is 3 a.m., and the stillness of the White House night is shattered by the ringing of the red phone. President John McCain, rousing himself from a deep sleep, turns on the light and picks up the receiver. A U.S. embassy in a Middle Eastern country, he is told, has been blown up, and al-Qaeda is taking credit.
McCain takes a deep breath. "Character counts, my friend," he says. "Bomb Iran. Bomb, bomb Iran."
There is a rustling of blankets, and, brushing aside Cindy McCain, a concerned Joe Lieberman rises from the bed. "Not Iran, Mr. President," he says. "They hate al-Qaeda."
"That's right," the president says. "I remember now." He sighs with relief. "Good thing you're here every night, Joe."
McCain's initial mention of the fictional Iran/al Qaeda axis wasn't a slip; it was part of pattern that raises questions about McCain's claims of foreign policy expertise. (Example of such claims, from a speech in Keene, NH: "My friends, I know how to handle the Iranians. And I'll handle 'em.")
Actually, if McCain does take the White House, perhaps Democrats can get Lieberman a post as his National Security Adviser or butler. At least he'll be out of the Senate.
Should we start counting the days before John McCain has anything real to say about the current financial crises? In a speech on Tuesday, he offered not a single concrete proposal. Today, as Barack Obama was delivering a speech on the financial crisis, McCain issued the following statement:
On Tuesday, I addressed the housing crisis and its devastating impact on our financial markets and the household budgets of millions of hardworking Americans. The fact is that there are about 4 million homeowners in danger of losing their homes. We have a responsibility to take action to help those among them who are deserving homeowners, and as I said this week, I am committed to considering any and all proposals to do so. Any action must further look to the future to make certain this never happens again.
As I said on Tuesday, I believe the role of government is to help the truly needy, prevent systemic economic risk, and enact reforms that prevent the kind of crisis we are currently experiencing from ever happening again. Those reforms should focus on improving transparency and accountability in our capital markets -- both of which were lacking in the lead-up to the current situation.
However, what is not necessary is a multi-billion dollar bailout for big banks and speculators, as Senators Clinton and Obama have proposed. There is a tendency for liberals to seek big government programs that sock it to American taxpayers while failing to solve the very real problems we face.
This is a complex problem that deserves a careful, balanced approach that helps the homeowners in trouble, not big banks and speculators that acted irresponsibly. I again call on our lending institutions, where possible, to step up and help Americans who are hurting in this crisis.
Again, not one specific proactive idea. McCain is quick with the usual anti-Democratic rhetoric. And he has a populist point about no bailouts for irresponsible corporate actors rings. But does he intend to spend the next seven months campaigning as Mr. No? McCain notes that he is willing to consider proposals placed before him. He's apparently not interested in coming up with any of his own. Is that a model of economic leadership that will play well in the fall?
All joking aside, age is a serious issue that John McCain is going to have to overcome this fall. According to a new NBC/WSJ survey, 29 percent of respondents feel this country isn't ready for a president over 70. McCain, who was born August 29, 1936 at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, is currently 71 and will be 72 by election day. If elected, he would be the oldest first-term president in American history. If he runs against Obama, the 25-year age difference between the two will be the largest-ever difference between major party candidates.
By contrast, the same survey showed that 20 percent of respondents said the country is not ready for a female president and 18 percent said it is not ready for an African American one. This is consistent with an early 2007 poll that showed being 72-years-old on election day is as much of a disadvantage as being homosexual. No joke.
That is, of course, a rhetorical question. But if you needed any additional proof of the obvious answer, The New York Times provides it in a fine example of front-page investigative reporting that shows how a fledgling firm run by a 22-year old and by a licensed masseur has been the American military's lead supplier of arms--and shoddy and ineffective arms, at that--to the Afghan army. It's a tale of incompetence and absurdity. Due to the Times' probing, the company has been suspended by the military. But the real question is, will anyone in the military lose their job because of this massive foul-up? From Iraq to Walter Reed to this, Bush's adventures overseas have revealed how screwed up the military can be. That ain't a surprise. But heads ought to roll. Paging Congressman Waxman.
Update: That didn't take long. Waxman's House Oversight Committee has called the company's top brass, plus officials from State and Defense, to come testify.
I'm always stoked when artists put out a capellas from their songs (for easier DJ tricks and mashupping), and it's even more fun when you get the individual instrument tracks, all split up for your amateur-song-rearranger pleasure. This "here, take it all" attitude is still kind of rare, weirdly enough: you'd think every artist out there would take advantage of the free "wikimixers" out there on the off chance of coming up with an even more awesome version of their song.
Well, at least Spanish-French singer Manu Chao gets it. He's sponsoring a remix contest for his latest song, "Politik Kills," which in its original version is a loping reggae number, complete with Chao's typically hypnotic guitar work, although the first thing I might do is take down the level of the vocals which are a bit on the polemical-lecture side for me. But no biggie. Eighteen new versions have already been posted on his website, including dubby ones from Chris Blackwell and Prince Fatty, as well as a shuffly south-of-the-border style mix from Mexican Dubweiser & Kinky. Watch a fan-made video for the original after the jump, and check out the remixes and download the individual tracks here.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user thetripwirenyc.