Arranology

Archive for December 2006

Happy New Year. I Guess.

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I don’t have eRobin’s panache but here’s a little something for the new year that seems appropriate.

Written by Mick

December 31, 2006 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Entertainment

Why Is Health Insurance So Expensive?

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The predatory practices of the health insurance industry are one reason. The Boston Globe is reporting today that Humana Inc, one of the bigger insurers involved in providing the new Medicare drug benefit with some 2,000,000 seniors signed up in seven states, is going to raise the price for its Standard prescription drug coverage plan by 130% in Massachusetts. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 31, 2006 at 9:48 am

President Bush Explains It All for You

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Written by Mick

December 30, 2006 at 3:34 pm

How Safe Is Our Coast? Not Very

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A Coast Guard plan to combat terrorism by creating the maritime equivalent of an air traffic control system in the coastal waters here, a test for a nationwide effort, has fallen far short of expectations.The Coast Guard installed long-range surveillance cameras, coastal radar and devices that automatically identify approaching vessels to help search out possible threats.

But the radar, it turns out, confuses waves with boats. The cameras cover just a sliver of the harbor and coasts. And only a small fraction of vessels can be identified automatically.

Officials acknowledge the limited progress that the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard have made toward creating a viable defense here in Miami or at harbors nationwide against a maritime attack, despite the billions of dollars invested since 2001.

Well, exactly what did they expect was going to happen? Anybody who’s ever used a camera could have told them that covering more than “a sliver” of the coast would take a rainforest worth of cameras; for long-range work, two forests. Radar aimed at water is notoriously touchy and hard to interpret (though it seems that the new system the CG bought is even worse than usual). Besides which:

  • The communications, boat tracking and surveillance equipment rarely lives up to its promised capacity; for the largest systems, work is far behind schedule and over budget.
  • Unlike the relatively unified command over the nation’s skies, control of the waterways and coasts is divided among at least 15 federal agencies, which sometimes act more like rivals than partners.
  • Even if the federal government can successfully gather tips on vessels that might present a threat, it will be of little help because the Coast Guard does not have enough armed vessels or planes to take action before it is too late.

Emphasis mine, of course.

Not very reassuring, ay? But they’ve made some progress, they say, even if it’s “limited”. Wanna know what they call “progress”?

Some progress has been made here and at other high-profile ports since 2001. Ships approaching the United States must provide notice 96 hours before they arrive. The Coast Guard then determines whether to board a vessel before it lands — it did that about 10,000 times in 2005.

Oh. Yes. A small boat full of terrorists, a la the Cole, is going to voluntarily call the CG 4 days beforehand to let them know when it plans to arrive to plant a bomb in the harbor.

I think there are 2 facts which need to be faced here.

  1. Homeland Security under Chertoff is basically a $$$ funnel that channels big bucks to the Republicans’ corporate sponsors (nothing new there) without bothering to check whether or not we’re getting what we’ve paid for.
  2. A great deal of what’s been done in the name of protecting us from terrorists is really being used by law enforcement for investigating criminal activity.

A year or so ago somebody (I wish I could remember who) did a study of the Patriot Act and discovered that in something like three-quarters of the cases in which it had been invoked, the targets weren’t terrorists but ordinary criminals. In other words, the police were using the Patriot Act to get information they couldn’t otherwise acquire legally, or worse, that they could acquire legally but it would take longer and would need a judge’s OK, and citing the PA was easier and quicker. Tell me that if this system of the CG’s worked, the DEA wouldn’t be the one using it 98% of the time trying to interdict drug smugglers.

If that seems OK to you, come at it from a slightly different angle: the Bush Admin and HS are using the Patriot Act and the GWOT to smuggle in under the people’s radar anti-Constitutional, authoritarian powers to spy on us. Pinochet used the same excuses in Chile when he undermined its laws in the name of – wait for it – protecting the state against criminals and Communist terrorists, and it only took the space of a couple of heartbeats before he was defining “terrorists” as anybody who dissented from his dictatorship, subsequently murdering and imprisoning his own people.

Throughout history, from Imperial Rome to Hitler and Stalin, dictators have been using the “law” in just that way – to justify the suppression of rivals and dissenters in the name of “protecting society from criminals” – whenever they thought they could get away with it. I’m not saying that’s what the Right is planning to do but why else would they want all that extrajudicial power? So far, not one terrorist has been stopped, caught, or even identified using the PA’s authoritarian police powers alone. By contrast, the Clinton Administration stopped both the Millenium and WTC plots without such powers.

I don’t think the Coast Guard is going to use its new technology (assuming they can ever get it to work) to help turn the US into a police state. I wish I could say the same about Bush and the right wing.

Written by Mick

December 30, 2006 at 3:21 pm

Posted in The GWOT

The National Park Service: Grand Canyon Created by Noah’s Flood

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Via the Wege. Read it and weep.

HOW OLD IS THE GRAND CANYON? PARK SERVICE WON’T SAY — Orders to Cater to Creationists Makes National Park Agnostic on Geology

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”

These people are out of control.

Written by Mick

December 29, 2006 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Environment, Religion

“Put Another Ribbon On Your SUV”

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Ever get tired of seeing yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbons on the ass-ends of cars belonging to people who never said a word against sending soldiers into battle on the cheap, without proper equipment or armor, ensuring that more of them would die or be maimed?

Cul Heath dug up a satiric video just for you.

Written by Mick

December 28, 2006 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Culture, Iraq

Fat Cats Make Sure They’ll Get Fatter

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The corporatocracy continues to marshall its forces in the attempt to gut any restraint that might be put on its greed now that the Democrats are in power. As we have been documenting, ever since the November elections corporations have been hiring scads of new lawyers and pushing the Bush Admin hard for regulation relief as well as doing everything in their power – which is considerable in a Pub govt – to kill the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley once and for all. They continue to succeed. Equity firms have just joined the assault, banding together to lobby as a group. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 28, 2006 at 2:19 pm

The 2nd Annual Highly-Unscientific Wal-mart Parking Lot Survey

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Last year at the now-defunct Revolution, I noticed (and naturally reported) that even though Wal-mart owns my area (the nearest non-Wal-mart department store is an hour’s drive in any direction), the parking lots at the two stores close to me were surprisingly empty during the week before Christmas when you would have expected them to be over-flowing. It turned out that Wal-mart didn’t have a very good season last year; sales were down some 3-4%, which gave WM’s corporate honchos the willies.

Given that my little survey seemed to have some validity in the real world, I decided to do it again this year and here are the results: Mixed. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 27, 2006 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Wal-Mart

The Surge Is On

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For a year before Bush launched the invasion of Iraq he pretended that he hadn’t made up his mind even as his neocon inner circle was toting up the oil revenues they would control when the war was won. For the last few weeks since the November election he’s been playing the same game, stalling and making believe he’s “studying the problem”. A graf in an AP story and a report from Reuters would suggest that that particular cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river. First, Reuters:

The Pentagon is expected to send 3,500 troops into Kuwait to stand ready for use in Iraq, senior defense officials said on Tuesday as the Bush administration weighs adjusting force levels in the war.The “call-forward” force was requested by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of the military command responsible for the Middle East, and must be approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The first contingent of the “surge” is being put in place, and the pretense that it may not happen because Gates has yet to give his approval is thinner than the skin over an anorexic’s ribcage, especially given that the AP has this: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 27, 2006 at 6:07 am

Don’t Relax – Open Your Eyes

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Jim Rutenberg reports in the NY Times today that Democrats and “war critics” don’t see much real change in Bush’s attitude despite the results of the election and his conciliatory words afterward.

Immediately after the beating his party took in November, President Bush indicated that he had received the message that voters wanted change, and that he would serve some up fast. He ousted his defense secretary, announced a full-scale review of his war plan and contritely agreed with critics that progress in Iraq was not happening “well enough, fast enough.”But in the last two weeks, the critics and even some allies say, they have seen a reversal. Mr. Bush has shrugged off suggestions by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that he enlist the help of Iran and Syria in the effort to stabilize Iraq. Countering suggestions that he begin thinking of bringing troops home, he has engaged in deliberations over whether to send more. And he has adjusted the voters’ message away from Iraq, saying on Wednesday, “I thought the election said they want to see more bipartisan cooperation.”

***

“I’ve seen very few tea leaves in the mix that would give you any sense of hope or confidence that he is getting it so far,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who supports the study group’s advice that the administration seek help from Iran and Syria in Iraq. “The bottom line is this president can’t afford not to change course. The time is up.”

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army ranger who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, said, “I don’t think he’s given up the sort of sloganizing and the simplistic view of what’s happening there.”

Evidently these Dems – and and many others besides, no doubt – believe that Junior is going back to his old position.

Bullshit. He isn’t “reversing” himself; he never versed.

It constantly amazes me that no matter how often Bush lies to them, most people listen to what he says and seem to think, “This time he’s telling the truth” and when it turns out he wasn’t, they’re surprised. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 26, 2006 at 6:04 pm

Merry Christmas, O’Reilly

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This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

In America, we are reminded, the idea of a Christmas celebration didn’t really take hold until commercial interests recognized its potential and began to sell it like corn flakes.

The growth of Santa as the predominant icon of Christmas in much of the world grew out of the efforts of retail wizards such as John Wanamaker and Rowland Hussey Macy, founders of the modern department store. Much like the early church fathers, Wanamaker and Macy systematically laid claim to a Christmas of their own making in the 19th century.By this point, said Russell W. Belk, a sociologist and anthropologist at York University in Toronto, Christmas had already been through several incarnations — Christians in the United States had initially resisted Christmas because it was seen as tied to the Catholic calendar, but waves of European immigrants brought traditions of Christmas celebrations with them. Still, the idea of giving gifts to relatives was not the norm, especially among English immigrants, where Christmas gifts were primarily seen as acts of benevolence toward servants and slaves.

***

Business magnates who had once protested that holidays such as Christmas were a drain on the economy spotted the business potential of Christmas and encouraged the idea of gift-giving among family. Where Christmas gifts had once been primarily about charity, advertisers and marketers encouraged the notion that Christmas was primarily a family celebration and stressed the importance of reciprocal gift exchanges for friends and relatives. By the 20th century, American marketing geniuses led by Coca-Cola had seized on the advertising potential of Santa Claus. Although Santa’s ancestors in Europe and Asia had various religious connotations, the modern Santa is an American invention, with growing appeal in Europe and around the world.

“Coca-Cola to some extent owns Christmas,” said Belk. In the 1930s, he added, “they had a painter commissioned to do one painting of Santa Claus every year . . . it seems likely that the red color of Santa’s outfits came from Coca-Cola’s paintings.”

It doesn’t actually. “Santa Claus” is from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas – Sinterklaas – and the color red was always associated with the Greek St Nicholas who is the source of the icon. (More about him later.) Coke’s artists merely appropriated an image already made famous by Thomas Nast in the 1870′s and 80′s, an action that is fairly symbolic of how the holiday actually developed.

Myth #2: That Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday

The trappings of Christmas are almost entirely pagan in origin. Christmas trees, the lights on both trees and homes, wreaths, caroling, Santa Claus, the exchange of gifts – all of it was born in pagan solstice festivals beginning, as far as we can tell, long before Christ’s time. In the context of the solstice, it all makes perfect sense. In a Christian context, they simply don’t belong. What does Christ, a product of the Judean desert, have to do with pine trees, after all? Nothing.

  • Christmas trees – Probably born in Germany or the Nordic countries, the ritual symbolism of the solstice evergreen was just that: it was ever green. Unlike the deciduous trees that dominated the forests of northern Europe whose leaves died and fell away as winter began, fir trees remained green all year round. They were the perfect representation in pagan societies for the persistence of life and the fertility of the earth on which those societies depended. Druids (the real ones, not the pale, bogus artifices we know today) worshipped trees, evergreens in particular, because they believed they were the earthly incarnations of spirits and/or gods. Evergreens were believed either to be or to be the homes of spirits who controlled the sun and had the power to bring it back and renew the earth for another year. The custom of bringing a tree inside, almost certainly German, probably began as a form of pagan tree-worship.
  • Lights – As the days shortened and the sun threatened to disappear, the long nights became a source of real fear, not just because folk believed it might vanish but because they believed that evil spirits lurked in the dark, and the longer the nights were, the more chance there was that these monsters would wreak havoc on their villages. The solution, of course, was a Festival of Light held, naturally, on the one day of the year that had the least of it. There were torch parades and candles were kept burning all night. When the trees came inside, so did the candles, and by the Victorian era the candles had become attached to the branches of the tree.
  • Wreaths – Common to many cultures, wreaths were either worn, as in Rome, or displayed as signs of either special favor or protection from evil. Long before trees were brought into the house, wreaths were attached to doorposts, connecting the magic of the evergreen to individual homes.
  • Caroling – Noise has long been believed by many peoples to scare away evil spirits. In China they beat drums and gongs, in Europe they sang. The origin of this particular custom (called “wassailing” in Britain) is lost to history but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that it was a natural addition to all the other anti-evil charms employed by our ancestors. So is dancing, of course, so it isn’t surprising that the two were combined. In fact, the original meaning of the word was “circle dance” and was most likely an integral part of the midwinter ritual. We don’t do the dancing part much any more, and it’s too bad.
  • Santa Claus – Unlike the rest of our Christmas traditions, Santa Claus does have some slight connection to Christianity.
    St Nicholas of Myra

    St Nicholas of Myra

    Born to wealthy and devout Christian parents in Patara, then a province of Greece, St Nicholas is supposed to have taken the words of Christ to heart and given away the whole of his large inheritance to relieve the suffering of the poor and the sick. Though he was never ordained, his reputation for piety was such that he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Persecuted and imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, he returned to Myra after his release and died there on December 6, 343. For many years after that, the anniversary of his death was celebrated as “St Nicholas Day”.Co-incidence? Sort of. The fact that he died in December only a few days before Saturnalia (the Roman midwinter festival) connected him quite naturally to what became Christmas when the Catholic Church appropriated midwinter festivals for a celebration of the birth of Christ. After centuries of trying unsuccessfully to stamp out these primarily pagan rituals, the geniuses in the Church came up with a brilliant idea: if they couldn’t be stopped, they could certainly be swallowed up – assimilated by the Church and given a Catholic context. This was to prove a valuable and almost universally successful tactic in the centuries to come.St Nicholas Day melded rather naturally into the solstice festivals and it wasn’t long before St Nick and Christmas were inseparable. In many parts of Europe, Dec 6 is still celebrated as both.It should be noted that the St Nick we know is neither Greek nor terribly Christian. He’s Dutch. Sort of….

  • The giving of gifts, stockings over the fireplace, and coming down the chimney – Both of these customs arose not in Europe but – are you ready for this? – here. In America. In New York, in fact.

    After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe. These delightful flights of imagination are the origin of the New Amsterdam St. Nicholas legends: that the first Dutch emigrant ship had a figurehead of St. Nicholas; that St. Nicholas Day was observed in the colony; that the first church was dedicated to him; and that St. Nicholas comes down chimneys to bring gifts. Irving’s work was regarded as the “first notable work of imagination in the New World.”The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children’s treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, “Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”

    So Washington Irving invented the Santa Claus we know more or less out of whole cloth, relying on legends (as he often did) and embellishing until the original story was barely recognizable. Irving entirely ignored the religious connotation of the title “saint” and any overt connection to religion, let alone to Christ. His St Nick was already 95% secular, a cultural symbol closer to solstice celebrations than Christian ones.
    An early Nast Santa cartoon
    The total secularization of St Nicholas, morphing him into the Santa Claus we know, was accomplished by only two men: Clement Moore (probably) and Thomas Nast. Moore is generally credited with writing A Visit from St Nicholas (“‘Twas the night before Christmas/and all through the house….” – you know it) for his children in 1822. It forever identified St Nick with the roly-poly, “jolly old elf” of Irving’s story and pretty much divorced him from any possible religious significance. Fifty years later, what Moore had done with words, Nast did with pictures. His cartoons of Santa Claus formed our visual image of the old guy once and for all. Following Irving and Moore, Nast’s Santa is no more a religious figure than, say, Uncle Sam.

Of all the traditions we associate with Christmas, only three are overtly religious: the Nativity Scene, the angel on top of the tree, and going to church. Many Christian churches have the former and most Christians do the latter on Christmas even if they never go the rest of the year. By my count, that makes Christmas roughly 87% secular whether Bill O’Reilly likes it or not.

Written by Mick

December 25, 2006 at 11:12 am

Posted in Culture, Religion

Happy Holidays, O’Reilly

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I hate to be the one to break it to Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Xmas” Fan Club but the phrase “Happy Holidays” has been in use since at least WWII, and until Billy Boy found this nag he thought he could run into the ground, nobody thought much of it. It was then – and remains today – an alternate phrase, nothing more and nothing less.

I can’t prove this but I’ve never seen an earlier reference: the phrase may have been born in – or at least gained popularity from – the film Holiday Inn with Fred Astaire, Bing Crosy, a very young Marjorie Reynolds and a very frantic Walter Abel. In the movie – a musical, of course – one of the featured songs is titled, oddly enough (O’Reilly Dittoheads, get your retroactive conspiracy theories ready on the launching pad), “Happy Holidays”. The film was released in – wait for it – December of 1942. That’s, um (1,2,5….) 64 years ago, at the beginning of the war. Ads done during the war and for the next 60 years used “Happy Holidays” as an alternative to “Merry Christmas” and you know what? Nobody thought a thing about it.

No one was catering to “atheist secular humanists” and it never occurred to anybody that a secret cabal (led by Fred and Bing, I guess) was using Hollywood to lead the Charge of the Left Brigade in the War Against Christianity. Madison Avenue wasn’t using “Happy Holidays” because it wanted to appease froth-mouthed secular humanists waving subpoenas and threatening timid agency ad execs with AK47′s. It was just a way to vary their copy, and until Billy Boy came along, frothing at the mouth and waving petitions around, it was accepted for what it was.

Sorry if I busted your little bubble but until and unless you’re prepared to prove to me that Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby were conspirators in the War Against Xmas 64 years ago, I think you better just shut up about it.

Written by Mick

December 24, 2006 at 5:38 am

Posted in Conservatism

Through the Looking Glass with the Chemical Industry

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Two months ago, Bush signed yet another corporate-friendly, industry-lobbyist-written bill passed by the corporate-owned rubber-stamp Republican Congress. This one had to do with chemical companies making themselves secure against a terrorist threat. Yesterday – a Friday, natch (and the friday before Xmas, no less) – Michael Chertoff’s Homeland Security released the new Federal rules. Do they require stringent inspections? co-ordination with local authorities and First Responders? feedback from the public and local govts?

Don’t be silly.

The rules, scheduled to take effect April 4, closely follow the recommendations of the chemical industry and result from legislation President Bush signed into law in October.Companies would be required to assess their own vulnerabilities and provide the government with plans for fixing them under the new rules, which were released for public comment. Industry representatives welcomed their arrival. (emphasis added)

I’m sure they did. Thanks to the corporate puppets of the GOP once again abandoning their oversight responsibilities and a corrupt administration that turns its responsibilities over to anybody who pays it enough, the safety of the millions of people who live within range of a chemical plant has now been put into the hands of chemical plant owners infamous for their negligence when it comes to safety – or anything else that might cost them a dollar they don’t want to spend.

Tine after time we’ve seen example after example of the effect of Bush’s “volunteer” approach to industry oversight and if there’s one thing to be said about it on which all objective observers can agree, it’s this:

IT DOESN’T WORK.

Given the opportunity to voluntarily clean up their act, the corporatocracy has almost universally taken it as a license to pollute, to remove worker protections, to dump toxic waste indiscriminately, and to ignore all safety and environmental improvements that would cost them more than $1.85.

  • The explosion of a waste water treatment plant in Florida that the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board says was a direct result of Florida’s new “voluntary” worker safety program.

    Florida is one of 26 states that lacks a mandatory program that meets OSHA standards, federal officials said. Only a few categories of public workers in Florida are covered by mandated safety standards, including correctional officers and firefighters. The state safety program was eliminated in 2000 and a governor’s executive order made such programs voluntary. ***

    Better training, construction of the system and maintenance of the flame arrester — all of which would have been required by OSHA — would have prevented the deaths, according to CSB investigators:

    Robert Hall, who headed the federal investigation, said the explosion may have been prevented if the corroded safety device on the methanol tank had been regularly cleaned or inspected. The device, called a flame arrester, is commonly used to stop an external fire from igniting chemicals inside a tank. At the Daytona tank, the bread-box-sized aluminum flame arrester, that might have cost less than $500, had corroded so badly that it had gaping holes where flames could pass through, he said.

    Flame arresters should be inspected regularly and cleaned of dirt so that they can be effective, Hall said. However, city officials had not cleaned or inspected this device since it was installed in 1993, he said.

  • Then there is British Petroleum, whose negligence of – seemingly – all regulations has resulted in explosions, massive oil spills, hundreds of deaths, some of the biggest fines ever levied against any corporation, and a culture of bottom-line worship in which “cutting costs” was all that mattered, and if it had to come out of the hides of its own workers or the people who lived around its facilities, so be it.

    The Wall St. Journal today reports on a series of internal “accountability reviews” of the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180. The Chemical Safety Board reported earlier this year that cost-cutting at BP had contributed to the accident. The interviews cited by the Wall St. Journal seem to confirm those contentions.BP had originally blamed the accident on workers’ failure to follow procedures and reassigned the plant manager, Don Parus. Parus didn’t have kind words for BP’s upper management. Parus said

    he had been ordered to cut costs by 25% as recently as 2005, according to notes of an interview conducted Oct. 12.He said he had given a slide show to [BP's global chief executive, John]Manzoni during a visit by the executive in July 2004 showing BP and Amoco had “underinvested” at Texas City for the previous 10 years, according to the interview notes. He said he pleaded for additional funds, citing problem areas such as the poor condition of equipment, and he said he had “exhausted every avenue he had to get the funds and it remained a no,” according to the notes.

  • And of course there is the well-known story of how seriously coal-fired generating plants have taken the “voluntary” program to install cleaner scrubbers on their smokestacks to cut air pollution. NOT.

But never mind all that. The Bush Administration, so hell-bent-for-leather to disembowel the Constitution in the name of protecting us from terrorists, can’t be bothered (or is afraid) to demand accountability from an industry that has paid over $$$Millions of $$$ in bribes (labeled “campaign contributions”) into GOP coffers.

Let us now plunge down the rabbit hole with chemical industry PR flack Scott Jensen:

“They are following the structure that Congress outlined,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents the largest chemical makers. “The idea here is to set a security level that they want these facilities to achieve, commensurate with the risk that each facility represents.” (emphasis added)

The “structure that Congress outlined” was written by him, so basically he’s all thrilled that the Republican Congress did what he told them to do. A couple of the people who more or less copied Scott’s memo on what the law should say into the legislation and then passed it (Susan Collins and Joltin’ Joe Lieberman) are, however, a tad unhappy with the way Chertoff interpreted it. Seems he took a couple of liberties they didn’t care for. Collins allowed as how HS might be “going too far in some areas, such as by assigning itself the power to preempt the legal authority of states and courts.”

Hmm. That would be bad. Only corporations are allowed to do that.

The upshot of all this is that chemical corporations get to assign an entry-level junior exec to an hour’s worth of “analysis” and another hour’s worth of bogus “planning” to satisfy the letter of a law so weak it needs crutches to stand up.

Companies would have to conduct background checks on employees and better control access or face possible fines of as much as $25,000 a day and the risk of being shut down. But they may also contest government disapproval of their security plans.

Background checks? They’ve been very conscientious about doing those when it comes to immigration, right? And since the Bush Administration has never “shut down” any business, no matter how illegal or dangerous its activities have been (BP anyone? Wal-mart? This govt didn’t even shut down Enron because Kenny-Boy was GW’s buddy), they don’t have much to fear on that front. And even if HS were to do the unthinkable and slap their wrists, the law gives them the power to drag that decision through the courts for years.

Feeling safer now, are we?

No, me neither.

Written by Mick

December 23, 2006 at 2:24 pm

The Freedom to Shop

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Charles2 at The Liberal Coalition has a short but thoughtful post suggesting that we have lost sight of what America used to mean.

I agree with Franklin that such people deserve neither, but what would account for otherwise intelligent people willing to do such a thing?Maybe it’s the season, when the old saying I used to title this post is used so often. But my thought was that Americans who have rolled over to BushCo. in giving up such fundamental (in the truest sense) rights such as freedom of speech and habeas corpus have lost sight of what it is that we are supposed to be protecting when we talk of saving America.

Maybe I’m getting bitter and cynical in my old age (OK, not maybe) but it seems to me that in the last 25-30 years conservatives have succeeded in redefining America as a consumer culture. America is now about protecting property and money. When they talk about “protecting our way of life”, conservatives are talking – just as they did in the days of the Cold War – about capitalism. The right tends to define – and certainly to think of – “Freedom” as the freedom to own things, the freedom to get rich, the freedom to go shopping.

In his first speech after 9/11 when the country expected him to announce the beginning of the Afghan War and tell us what we were going to have to sacrifice, Bush’s advice was to urge us to go shopping because that would prove to the terrorists that we weren’t going to change “our way of life” in the face of their challenge. Just this week, with Iraq melting down and body counts going up, with questions about what we’re doing there and growing calls for us to get out, his automatic advice to us was, once again, “Go Shopping”.

And too many of us have bought into this limited conservative definition of what our country means. It shows up particularly in visuals all the time: flag-waving videos, whether political or commercial, feature, above all, things. Cars, barbecues, wide-screen tvs, kids playing with toys, celphones and iPods and computers, a family standing with pride in front of their house. But things were what we were once expected to sacrifice for more important but intangible values: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom from a govt turned tyrannical. Now it is all reversed: we are willing to give up the protection of habeus corpus because it might interfere with buying that new SUV and support an increasingly authoritarian govt if it will promise us that we’ll be able to keep our cable tv’s.

This myopic view of what America is is understandable, in a way. It’s a reflection of how we’ve been taught to deal with our world. We don’t go to school to learn about that world any more, to learn about ourselves, who we are and what we’re doing here and how to make the planet a better place to live on for our children and grandchildren. Now we go to school so we can get a job. In a global economy with the corporatocracy shipping jobs into low-wage countries at an astounding rate and automating everything that’s left here as fast as they can, just “getting a job” has become the single most important action you can take. Everything else pales into insignificance beside it. In such a world, the things that we can buy are at once a signal of our success and the only comfort we’re liable to have as our economic lives become less and less secure.

As understandable as it may be, though, it is still Pure D wrong.. The slightest and least important part of who we are – or were supposed to be – is the part that’s a consumer. It’s the by-product of a system which created the stability that allowed capitalism to flourish in the first place. Without its protections, the capitalism we love so much could descend fairly rapidly into a kind of feudalism with everything at the top, nothing at the bottom, and the rich controlling what we say and even what we’re allowed to think.

The conservative view of the world is, at heart, narrow, selfish, and anti-democratic. Yet we have accepted their “Look out for #1″ Social Darwinism as if we had no choice. We have allowed them to convince us that any other philosophy is unrealistic, even dangerous.

But how you explain that to a badly educated population trying to hang onto what little they have as the plutocrats try to take it away and shift the burden of social costs onto their shrinking purses, I don’t know.

Written by Mick

December 22, 2006 at 6:15 am

Posted in Conservatism, Culture

Help Michelle Malkin Get Well

with one comment

The hold of the ultra-right-wing on reality has always been tenuous at best but now, it seems, they’ve finally slipped over the Edge of Illusion and fallen deep into the Abyss of Pure Fantasy where one is allowed to believe anything one wants to believe no matter how illogical, bizarre, or patently false it is. For example, in Right-wing Whackoland, conspiracy theorists run wild:

  • Flouride was a Communist plot
  • JFK was a KGB mole
  • The so-called “landing on the moon” was staged in Arizona
  • George Bush is smart
  • We’re winning the “war” in Iraq
  • Nobody knows we’re winning the war in Iraq because the Associated Press is in a deep conspiracy with the insurgents to send false stories and images to convince us Iraq us a bloody mess when in fact it’s the Garden of Eden with fresh fruit hanging on the lower branches, “where the livin’ is eeeaaasy…”

The AP??!!

Yes, children. According to pro-war bloggers like Michelle Malkin and one See Dubya at the aptly-titled JunkYardBlog, the possible inaccuracy of a single AP source (not the event he commented on, that’s been verified by Central Command) proves that the AP and the entire US Press are dupes of an insurgency propaganda machine so diabolical that it has been able to plant dozens of phony stories with the AP that have given the American people a picture of a chaos that doesn’t really exist. No, Baghdad is peaceful, under control, with shining new schools and regular electricity delivery.

Gloriosky, Sandy! It’s a media conspiracy!

Their sources for these claims?

Um, each other.

Malkin’s source for the latest of these exercises in futility is none other than See Dubya. See-Dubya’s source is..See Dubya! At the bottom of a self-made map claiming to chart the location of stories from a supposedly false source, is this notation:

Data supplied by See Dubya

Oh.

Eric Boehlert at Media Matters has the skinny and it ain’t pretty.

Warbloggers, all boosters of the doomed U.S. invasion, have been poring over the AP’s dispatches, feverishly dissecting paragraphs in search of proof for their all-consuming conspiracy theory that biased American journalists, too cowardly to go get the bloody news in Iraq themselves, are relying on local news stringers who have obvious sympathies for insurgents and who actively “spread terrorist propaganda,” according to right-wing blog Little Green Footballs. The result of the AP hoax? Gullible, or “average,” Americans have been duped into believing there is a “civil war” raging in Baghdad today.

According to the warbloggers, Iraqi insurgents like the AP; they have friendly contacts with the AP; and they use the AP as a conduit to advance their propaganda war. Indeed, insurgents badly want for the AP to broadcast images and write stories about bloodshed in order to create the illusion of chaos in Iraq.

See, it’s really the AP’s fault we’re losing the war. (Plus, it’s ignoring all the “good news” from Iraq.) For warbloggers who have been chronically wrong about Iraq for nearly 50 straight months, the AP conspiracy theory represents a cure-all so important that Malkin herself has vowed to travel to Iraq to wander around the bombed-out streets of Baghdad in order to prove her AP allegations. (More on that later.)

Warbloggers are obsessed with all things AP, or the “Associated (with terrorists) Press,” as Malkin subtly calls it.

Clearly, what we have here is a growing, self-sustaining and supporting crew of obsessive/compulsive paranoid delusionals busily creating an alternate reality because they’re unable to cope with the real one.

It’s sad. I used to get angry about the sort of lying and disinformation and name-calling and personal attacks and setting up of strawmen and all the rest of the nasty shit that’s been emananting from right-wing extremists for the last 30 years, but recently Adam at A Violently Executed Blog came up with an explanation for their behavior that has turned me completely around.

I guess conservatives do have a purpose in our society, though – we need someone to remind us why it’s important to keep our kids from eating lead paint chips.

That’s it. That’s why they’re like that. It all fits. Conservatives are the ones who ate all that lead paint when they were kids, frying their brains into diseased cesspools of hallucinations and imaginary enemies under their beds. It’s not their fault. They are more to be pitied than censured.

And so with love in my heart, I am announcing the formation of a new organization to raise money for the care and treatment of conservatives to be called “Michelle’s Fund”. Any conservative who believes what Michelle believes is eligible to apply for medical treatment and therapy to help them once again re-connect with reality.

Give generously. The country you save may be your own.

Written by Mick

December 21, 2006 at 3:51 am

Posted in Conservatism, Media

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