Monday, February 25, 2008


You really have to read this article from the New York Times Magazine first. It's long, but not too long. It's important - very, very important. It will upset you, but you have to read it in order to honor those who are the subjects.

And then I hope you'll be angry. Really angry. Really pissed off! And I hope you'll write letters, make phone calls, talk to people you know.

Journalist Elizabeth Rubin has written about her time with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Battle Company, in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. She has held nothing back; she has spared few details. She has told it like it is, every day and every night, for this small group of U.S. soldiers. She describes the mental anguish, the fatigue, the simmering hatred, the moral conflicts, and the death that permeates the lives of these young people who are serving their country.

This "global war on terror" has gone to hell in a hand basket. Our troops are living in hell, and many come home in a hand basket. Why? How did it get to be like this? What is the purpose? What can be done now? Ask these questions! Demand answers!

The cost of the "Global War on Terror" since September 2001, according to a 2008 estimate by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), is about $700 billion ($700,000,000,000). About 75% of this amount ($526 billion) has gone to Operation Iraqi Freedom (the invasion and on-going occupation of Iraq); about 20% ($140 billion) to Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and other counter-terror operations), about 4% ($28 billion) to Operation Noble Eagle (military base security), and leaving about 1% ($5 billion) that CRS cannot allocate.

About 94% of the $700 billion has gone to the Department of Defense, 6% has gone for foreign aid programs and embassy operations. Less than 1% has gone to medical care for veterans.

The members of Battle Company whose stories are told in the NY Times Magazine article deserve our praise for their brave service and their many sacrifices. At the same time, the Bush Administration deserves our scorn and the wrath of the people for putting our military people in a situation that can no longer be won. The Bushies blew it - big time. They took their eyes off the ball and put their heads into a different game, one that was not as important. The reports I've read say that only Kabul is relatively secure in Afghanistan - the remainder of the country is in turmoil, and getting worse. Our presence there is a lost cause; a military solution isn't and can't work anymore. Read the article.
The voting citizens of the United States need to lAunch our own war - the War on the War on Terror. We need to wage this war on two fronts:
1. Put pressure on the three presidential candidates left standing to develop clear policies for ending the Iraq debacle while at the same time fixing the situation in Afghanistan and creating a realistic policy for fighting terrorism. We should demand alternatives that do not rely on more military actions, more troops on the ground, more weapons - Iraq and Afghanistan have proven the ineffectiveness of these. Villagers in Afghanistan don't side with the Americans when we bomb their villages and kill their women and children (read the article). We can't win against an insurgency. A much larger percentage of the billions being spent should go to non-violent foreign policy, with programs designed to help people improve their lives and choose stability and security over terror and fanaticism.
2. Demand from our elected representatives that they initiate impeachment hearings immediately for George W. Bush and Lord Darth Cheney. At a minimum, the lies and deceptions and illegalities perpetrated by these men and their underlings must be exposed to the light of day. Whether or not they are impeached, the goal is to clearly show what is wrong so that we can avoid similar deceptions in the future. The needless sacrificing of our military men and women is not the only casualty of this administration; the blatant disregard of our Constitution is the underlying, and more far-reaching tragedy played out by these men.

Read the article by Ms. Ruben. Channel your feelings of anger and frustration into political action. We live in a democracy, a fact that our present leaders have ignored for too long.

Comments here are welcomed. Suggestions for action are solicited.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is truly the most exciting election year in my 4+ decades of voting.  Each political party had a real race over the past few months, engaging many voters in the process.  And as of this writing, the Democratic Party nominee is not yet identified.  

Perhaps the single greatest historic change is that the two candidates left standing on the Democrat side are a woman and a black man.  Many of us longed for the day that a woman or a person of color would be the nominee for President; now that outcome is a sure thing. 

In February, 2007, I wrote here a short piece titled "Is America Ready for a Woman or Black President?"  This was a comment related to the media focus on this question.  Here it is:  

Unfortunately, the fact that this question is asked means that we're not ready. If this is truly a democracy, why does it matter what gender, color, religion, etc. a candidate is? I wonder if this would even be a question if the media didn't keep hyping it. Perhaps we need to get beyond gender and color and religion identity, and just talk about candidates in terms of their qualifications, experience and positions on critical issues. I look forward to the day when the news isn't that so-and-so is the first woman or black such-and-such, and the focus is on the real story.

Well, I don't need to "look forward to the day" anymore - that day has been here, and now the focus is on the "qualifications, experience and positions" of Barak and Hillary.  (An interesting tangent is that in this election we usually refer to the D candidates by their first names - I think because the Hillary campaign didn't want the focus of her campaign to be "Clinton."  But that's another discussion.) 

As a result of Barak's amazing results in Iowa and other early contests, and his recent string of "wins,"  the pundits have pretty much concluded that Hillary is on the ropes and will not be the winner (headline from today's NY Times, beneath a head shot of a resolute, tight-lipped Hillary Clinton: "Soldiering On, but Somber as the Horizon Darkens"). I think there's a lot of "piling on" re: Hillary's campaign and the primary outlook, and some of it is just plain mean. The campaign post-mortems will be endless - and interesting.  Many pundits think that her campaign has made fatal and presumption-of-victory errors from the very beginning, while the Barak machinery, by comparison, has worked carefully and methodically to build an amazing base of support. I'm certain that candidates in the future will look very closely at these two campaign strategies and teams.

But the bottom line for me is that Hillary Clinton is a good person and would be a good President. (For the record, I'm in the Obama camp - this week, and probably for good.) If she were to become the nominee, I would campaign for her and vote for her.  If she indeed does not become the Democratic nominee, there will be many and long discussions after the dust settles about what went wrong for Mrs. Clinton, including discussions about the role of sexism (gender bias?) in her ultimate failure to win the nomination.  And this discussion should be engaged; it is important.  But I have to ask; if Clinton wins the nomination, will we have similar discussions about the role of racism in the Obama defeat?  It seems to me that there has been more media time spent on the gender question than on the race question. (A confounding variable is "the Clinton question.") Is there more gender bias in the USA (and perhaps the world) compared to race bias?  If nothing else, I hope that this election year elevates these questions to a prominent place in our national dialogue. 

I hope that the American public gives Hillary Clinton the credit she deserves for breaking an historic barrier, for putting herself under the microscope of public scrutiny and on the grill of media heat, and for standing up for democracy.  You go girl! 

Friday, February 15, 2008


As a public service, I sometimes summarize the news of the day for readers who are too busy (or too lazy?) to read the newspaper themselves. So below is a summary of some of the news for today, [with my compulsory editorializing] all from the front section of The Oregonian newspaper. (Note: I need to also point you to Nicholas Kristof's column in the editorial section re: the shame of Guantanamo.)

"Run, he's reloading the gun" A former student walked into a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and started shooting (a shotgun and 2 handguns), killing at least 5 (including himself) and wounding many. [Are we just going to accept that this kind of thing will happen once or twice per year, or are we maybe going to finally do something about gun violence in this country?]

"Dead zones off coast look like a first" and "Study finds no ocean areas untouched by human activity" The first story reports on an article in the journal Science about dead zones at the bottom of the ocean off the Oregon coast, resulting from lack of oxygen. After studying decades of oceanographic data, researches found that the appearance of dead zones every year for the past 6 years had not been seen previously off Oregon. Scientists hypothesize that some environmental "tipping point" has been exceeded, as a result of global warming, and that this could be a new "normal" for the coastal ocean. The second article reports about a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science during which a new map was shown of the world's oceans. Every part of the oceans on Earth have indicators of human activity, and the extent and level of impacts "looks much worse" than researchers expected. The impacts studied included: effects of structures such as oil rigs, commercial shipping, species invasion, climate change impacts including acidification, ultraviolet radiation and sea temperature, various types of fishing, and several types of human-related pollution. [I wonder what Sammy C. Lyon thinks about all this? (see 24 Jan 2008 post]

"Bush orders shootdown of satellite" [Cue the scary sci-fi music; this one is right out of a bad sci-fi movie, with Bruce Willis playing the reluctant hero who needs to save the Earth.] President Bush has ordered a Navy vessel to try something never done before - shoot down an orbiting rogue U.S. spy satellite before it plunges to Earth. The wayward spy satellite is loaded with "toxic fuel" (about 100 pounds of toxic hydrazine) that could create major problems if it lands in the wrong place after the satellite breaks up as it falls out of orbit. The goal of the missile shot is to break the huge satellite into smaller pieces, "most" of which will consequently burn up as it falls to Earth. [I sure hope they warn us before it starts to rain satellite pieces.]

"Governor ups ante against LNG sites" Three liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants are proposed for Oregon, two in the lower Columbia River. These very controversial projects have been receiving almost daily coverage in the press for months. At issue in this story is the conflict between the State of Oregon and federal agencies. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 preempted state authority over these kinds of projects, and the governor is asking federal agencies to do a better job of analyzing energy alternatives and environmental impacts for these projects. The State is also trying to wrest control over these projects back from the feds. [It's interesting that shipping super-cooled (liquefied) natural gas to the USA from Asia and warming it to its gas state can be profitable; but such is our unlimited appetite for energy in this country.]

Charged Up" Obama is drawing huge crowds to his rallies compared to other candidates. [gObama!]

And that's just the front page! Here are a few more of my favorites from the front section.

"Hezbollah leader vows to hit Israel, avenge slain militant" Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, [OK, this guy is a total thug. This is the "religious leader" who recently bragged in public that Hezbollah has a lot of Israeli soldier body parts in storage from the 2006 war in Lebanon - "arms, legs, heads, torsos." He complained yesterday that the "Zionists" killed Imad Mughniyeh "outside the natural battleground..." Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus, Syria on Tuesday by unknown assailants. Mughniyeh was a terrorist strategist wanted for many attacks over the past 20 years, including hijackings, kidnappings, and the 1983 bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. troops. In other words, his "natural battleground" was anywhere he wanted it to be. Hey Nasrallah - (expletive deleted!)]

"FEMA to speed trailer relocations" FEMA has suddenly found a sense of urgency to move Katrina victims out of the FEMA-supplied trailers because many of them have very high levels of toxic formaldehyde. [FEMA has known about the formaldehyde issue for a long time, and has even warned its employees not to enter these trailers because of the toxicity - at the same time they had not warned the people living in the trailers! Can anyone explain to me why FEMA gets away with all of this, in this age of "compassionate conservatism?"

"Official says waterboarding's legality isn't determined" Steven Bradbury is head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. He told a congressional committee yesterday that waterboarding is no longer included in the authorized program of interrogation. [In a case of classic double-speak and obfuscation, this smart attorney said that the Justice Department has not made a determination that the use of waterboarding would be lawful under current law. He also stated that the Department has not made a determination whether or not the method would be unlawful. [It is worth listening to the report of this hearing on NPR today in order to hear the deliberate question-dodging by this guy, and the frustration of congressional members that the guy won't answer questions with anything specific.]

And there's more - lots more - for the reading. But enough from me.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the problem isn't the kind of fuel we use in our automobiles, the problem is our automobiles.

Some new studies published in the scientific literature conclude that "almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account" (see NY Times article). At issue here is the amount of land being converted to agricultural uses to grow biofuel crops, and the greenhouse gas emissions created when forest, shrub or grasslands are cleared, burned and plowed to plant fuel crops.

We already know that there are many implications of biofuel production beyond the "green" aspects of cleaner burning fuels. Production of government-mandated ethanol in the USA from corn and soybeans has driven up the price of these crops, and therefore the price of food. There are even some shortages of these crops because of the demand for them by the biofuel industry. Ethanol production from corn and soy is more profitable than using these crops for food. This has far-reaching global implications in economic and social terms.

The problem, and solution, isn't the fuel we burn, it's burning the fuel in the first place. The number of automobiles in the world is increasing rapidly, with a related demand for fuel. We need to develop different concepts and methods of transportation, and we need to plan our communities around principles of sustainability instead of around the automobile.

There is no such thing as a free lunch; biofuels aren't the magic bullet. Let's get smart.


The news flash today: the White House asserts that torture is legal if The President approves its use. So The Decider is now The Grand Inquisitor!

In essence, if there is a threat to The Homeland, the President can authorize extreme measures of interrogation to protect The Homeland. In other words, waterboarding, which the CIA has admitted using and which is considered torture by most people, and other techniques can and will be used. (The head of the CIA has said that waterboarding "might be illegal" under current law.)

Torture is illegal under international law. It is considered illegal under various U.S. laws and Constitutional rulings. (A good FAQ on the illegality of torture is provided by Human Rights Watch.) Waterboarding is a technique that dates back to the Inquisition; some descriptions indicate that victims of this technique often died. We are led to believe, by the Axis of Weasels Spin Machine, that waterboarding and other "extreme interrogation techniques" employed by the CIA are performed by professionals in a controlled environment - in other words, we should not have an image of a dark, dank dungeon with implements of torture and big, hairy goons grinning as they torture the life out of their hapless prisoners. Yeah - right.

I'm truly outraged by this. I called the offices of our Senators and Congressman to voice my outrage that this President has taken our country to such depths of immorality. I hope all of you do the same.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Living in Priusland, Oregon is sometimes a self-image challenge, particularly for those of us who are Prius-less. This isn't a criticism of those who are among the Prius-pious, but rather, a plea for recognition for those who don't own one of Toyota's finest.

On a drive in downtown Portland the other day, I saw a large billboard advertising reduced parking fees for drivers of hybrid cars. How does this make sense? Does someone verify that the driver of the Prius getting the discount doesn't also own 2 or 3 other vehicles, including big truck and SUV gas-guzzlers? A recent survey (no time to find the link) found that many hybrid owners have added the eco-car to their family fleet of bigger vehicles. And many of the newer luxury hybrids, like the Lexus, use the hybrid technology to improve acceleration, with small gains in fuel efficiency.

In our 2-person family, we moved into an urban part of town 5 years ago, reduced our fleet to 1 car, and do a lot of walking to shops and restaurants. I ride my bicycle to the office probably 99% of the trips there - rain or shine, winter or summer. So why don't we get a parking discount downtown?

I lke the Prius and other hybrids. Hybrid vehicles are a good development for a variety of reasons. But let's not get too carried away with it. The reality is that the increase in the number of motor vehicles in the USA and work-wide results in rising fuel consumption and more emissions. The answer to our motor vehicle related problems isn't different fuels and engines, it's changing the basic concept of transportation for people and goods. We need fewer vehicles, period.

Well, gotta go - the sun is shining, and it' a good day for a walk.