Political MoJo

Bush Administration's "Lethal Mistakes" at the Heart of the Middle East Crisis

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 4:24 PM EDT

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian lays the blame for the current "mess" in the Middle East squarely at the feet of the Bush administration.

...It's fashionable to blame the US for all the world's ills, but in this case the sins, both of omission and commission, of the Bush administration genuinely belong at the heart of the trouble.

Diplomacy has had a difficult task from the start, in part because the US is not seen as an honest broker, but as too closely aligned with Israel. Washington has long been pro-Israel, but under President Clinton and the first President Bush there was an effort to be seen as a plausible mediator. Not under George W. Far from keeping lines of communication open with Hizbullah's two key patrons - Syria and Iran - they have been cast into outer darkness, branded as spokes, or satellites, of the axis of evil. As a result there has been no mechanism to restrain Hizbullah. Now, when the US needs Syria's help, it may be too late. Damascus will extract a high price, no doubt demanding the right to re-enter, in some form, Lebanon. The White House can't grant that - not when it considers Syria's ejection from Lebanon in 2005 one of its few foreign-policy successes.

But the record of failure goes deeper than that. It began in the president's first week, when Bush decided he would not repeat what he perceived as his predecessor's mistake by allowing his presidency to be mired in the fruitless search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even though Clinton had got tantalisingly close, Bush decided to drop it. While Henry Kissinger once racked up 24,230 miles in just 34 days of shuttle diplomacy, Bush's envoys have been sparing in their visits to the region.

The result is that the core conflict has been allowed to fester. Had it been solved, or even if there had been a serious effort to solve it, the current crisis would have been unimaginable. Instead, Bush's animating idea has been that the peoples of the Middle East can be bombed into democracy and terrorised into moderation. It has proved one of the great lethal mistakes of his abominable presidency - and the peoples of Israel and Lebanon are paying the price.

Read the full article here.

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Cow-Killing Heat

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 3:02 PM EDT

California's record heat isn't only killing people, as Clara notes; it's also doing a number on livestock. Cows are dying by the dozens - so many, in fact, that local rendering plants can't even keep up, leaving carcasses rotting in farmers' fields. That'll make for a nice visual in the sequel to "An Inconvenient Truth".

In Beirut: Baby Carrots a Little Spongy

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 2:34 PM EDT

carrot.jpeg

I get it that when peoples fight each other part of what they're often fighting for -- in addition to basic survival, dignity, justice, territory etc. -- is the opportunity, eventually, to prosper, partaking of the finer things in life. And that when a grand and cosmopolitan city like Beirut gets pulverized from a great height, bourgeois amenities will be among the casualties. But the first paragraph in this otherwise pretty good Beirut dispatch from the Washington Post had me squirming.

The baby carrots at Beirut's tony Duo Café restaurant were a little spongy. But the sauce normande was right on the beam and the loup de mer tasted reasonably briny against an astringent rosé from Chateau Kefraya.

The waiter asks if fruit salad will do for dessert, "since Duo's more elaborate creations were not available in these trying times." And the writer later reports the breath-stopping arrival at Duo of "a lithe woman with stylishly unkempt hair, her tank top revealing a lot of gloriously tanned skin, [who] used Arabic, French and English in a single sentence to greet a friend who had arrived for lunch." Yes, Beirut is a sophisticated city. Life goes on there, as it must, people making the best of a dreadful situation. But...I'm still squirming. Is that wrong?

Israeli Bombing Results in Massive Lebanon Oil Spill

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

It looks like an eco-nightmare is taking place on the beaches of Lebanon. Reports coming in say beaches are being clogged with oil because five out of six oil tanks at the electricity plant in Jiyeh were destroyed by Israeli bombs.

The Lebanese Embassy in Washington confirmed the spill. Marwan Francis, second secretary, told Mother Jones, "It is definitely the worst oil spill we [Lebanon] have ever faced.''

One report says 15,000 tons of fuel oil is spreading into the water and along the coasts. The spill has spread along the northern coasts for some 100 kilometers from the electric plant, according to an email from the Tayyar Organization, a political party. The Lebanese government can't control the spill. Many Lebanese live along the coast which has numerous resorts. Story (in Arabic) here.

Big Dig safety manager warned contractor that tunnel ceiling would not hold

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 1:42 PM EDT

In 1999, a Big Dig highway tunnel on-site safety manager, John Keaveney, wrote a two-page memo to a senior project manager for Big Dig contractor Modern Continental Construction Co. In the memo, Keaveney said that he could not "comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of time."

Should any innocent state worker or member of the public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect mentally and emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality project.

Keaveney was then told by both the contractor and Big Dig project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff that the system had been adequately tested and would hold up. A woman was recently killed when concrete fell from the tunnel ceiling and crushed her. Keaveney's specific warning--that the bolts could not hold the ceiling panels--proved to be true.

Bolts in the ceiling were inserted with epoxy, which caused Keaveney to doubt whether the ceiling would hold together. He also expressed doubts that--once the state took control of the project--there would be adequate vigilance. The state of Massachusetts, he wrote in his memo, had "a record of poor maintenance."

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Car

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 12:51 PM EDT

Jim Norman of the New York Times has written a nice article about his own campaign to go green by converting a used diesel Jetta to run on vegetable oil. The piece covers the costs of converting, the hassles, which seem pretty minimal, and the head-in-the-sand attitude of the federal government, noting that "the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a statement stating flatly that using vegetable oil as fuel is a violation of the Clean Air Act and that modifying a car for vegetable oil subjects the owner to a $2,750 fine."

What we need is for the government and car companies to figure out if large-scale production of veggie cars would help our environment and dependency on oil, foreign and otherwise, or whether if the mass amounts of soy needed would, in the end, rely on mass application of petroleum-based fertilizers, and whether the grease emissions, though they might be free of sulfur and low on carbon dioxide, would contain unacceptable particulate matter.

As it stands now the leading proponent of biodiesel is Willie Nelson, and what with his touring schedule, he can only do so much.

Norman's piece ends up noting that Rudolf Diesel originally intended his engine to run on vegetable oil, saying in 1912 that: "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as the petroleum and coal tar products of the present time."

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Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 9:53 AM EDT

JULY 26, 2006

All eyes are now on Syria, where SANA, the official news agency, is busy denying a Sky News report claiming Syria is ready to rat out Al Qaeda to the US and wants to mediate some deal between Bush and Iran. This seems pretty far fetched given that the high rollers among the neo-conservatives, currently savoring Israel's seizure of southern Lebanon, want regime change in Syria on the way to overturning the ayatollahs in Iran.

The Death of UN Observers: "The BBC's Daniel Lak at the UN in New York says that the observers had taken shelter in a bunker under their base because there had already been 14 Israeli artillery attacks on their position, causing a French general in charge of the UN observers to call Israel's military asking them to desist. However, as they sheltered, the bunker was hit by a single heavy bomb from an Israeli war plane and four unarmed observers, from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, were killed. A UN rescue team also came under fire as it searched the rubble for survivors.''

Israel's War Against Lebanon's Shi'a: The two weeks of Israeli air and sea bombardment suggests Israel aims to play on Lebanon's sectarian tensions to impel Hezballah's disarmament, with potentially very dangerous consequences for Lebanon.


Army: If They Screw up, Promote 'em?

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 3:42 AM EDT

There is so much that is depressing, and so much that feels like you already kind of knew it but have never seen it laid out in such horrific detail, about Fiasco, the new book by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks, now being serialized in the paper. One of those things is the pattern whereby grunts do bad things--always have, always will; that's a given if you're going to send hundreds of thousands of people into a creepy, scary, unknown environment--but it's the command structure that signals whether those things are to be tolerated, winked-and-nodded, or avoided at all costs. That is why it's a problem when, as Emily Bazelon documented in Mother Jones, torture was exported from Bagram to Abu Ghraib; or when you have an Army batallion commander who, even after he's been outed for helping his guys cover up a straight-out murder, can get away with saying that

"If I were to do it all over again, I would do the exact same thing, and I've thought about this long and hard. I was taught in the Army to win, and I was trying to win all the way."

57 Dead From Heat in California, So Far

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 2:59 AM EDT

According to my local (San Francisco) ABC station. And the expected break in the heat...not coming until Thursday, at the earliest.

If the heat waves in Europe (2003) and Chicago are any indication, the national reporting numbers will be slow and contested. (In France, for example, they are still arguing over how many tens of thousands died in 2003. )

But how much evidence will need to amass before...oh never mind.

Hot in the City - Because of the City

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 9:14 PM EDT

Global warming isn't the only reason cities are sweltering across America: cities themselves are creating more heat. In Los Angeles, at least climatologists report that while average daytime temperatures have risen three degrees over the last century, average nighttime temperatures are up by seven degrees. The reason is that features of the ever-expanding urban environment like golf courses, shopping centers and lawns trap the day's heat, and release it again after dark - keeping the atmosphere from cooling down. No reason to think the same thing isn't happening in other big cities.