Thursday, August 31, 2006
by Emad Mekay
WASHINGTON - Top oil and defence industry executives in the United States are raking in record personal profits on the backs of the U.S. wars following the terror attacks of Sep. 11, 2001 and sky-high oil prices, two think-tanks said Wednesday."CEOs (chief executive officers) in the defense and oil industries have been able to translate war and rising oil prices into personal jackpots," says the new report "Executive Excess 2006," a 60-page study by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and the Boston-based United for a Fair Economy. The report's authors say U.S. taxpayers are funding much of this bonanza and faulted U.S. political and congressional leaders for not exercising better and more thorough oversight.
"Americans across the political spectrum should be outraged by the sight of executives cashing in on war windfalls," says report co-author Sarah Anderson. "Unfortunately, partisan politics has stopped Congress from effectively overseeing this war contracting free-for-all." The study surveys all publicly held U.S. corporations among the top 100 defence contractors that had at least 10 percent of revenues in defence. It found that the top 34 CEOs combined have earned almost a billion dollars since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. This would have been enough money to employ and support more than a million Iraqis for a year to rebuild their country. The defence executives' average compensation jumped from 3.6 million during the pre-9/11 period of 1998-2001 to 7.2 million dollars during the post-9/11 period of 2002-2005. Among other startling facts revealed in the report is that in 2005 alone, defence industry CEOs garnered 44 times more pay than military generals with 20 years experience, and 308 times more than Army privates.
The report names United Technologies CEO George David as the winner of the top spot in executive profits after the Iraq war with more than 200 million dollars in pay since 9/11, despite investigations into the quality of the company's Black Hawk helicopters.
Health Net's CEO Jay Gellert secured the biggest personal pay raise after 9/11, a gigantic 1,134 percent leap over the preceding four years. "The company owes its earnings growth to American taxpayers, who may not realize they pick up a hefty share of cost overruns in the privatized military health care system," said the report.
Halliburton CEO David Lesar made a modest 26.6 million dollars last year, even though his company has been criticised for its links to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. "While Halliburton's future Iraq work is uncertain, Lesar will enjoy the nearly 50 million dollars he has made since the 'War on Terror' began," the report says.
Oil company chief executives are also making three times the pay of CEOs in comparably sized businesses. In 2005, the top 15 U.S. oil industry CEOs got a 50 percent raise over 2004. They now average 32.7 million dollars, compared with 11.6 million dollars for all CEOs of large U.S. firms, the report finds.
The top three highest-paid U.S. oil chiefs in 2005 were William Greehey of Valero Energy at 95.2 million dollars, followed by Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum at 84 million dollars and Lee Raymond, the outgoing CEO of ExxonMobil, at 69.7 million dollars.
The lowest paid was Chad Deaton, CEO of Baker Hughes, at 6.6 million dollars. "The average construction worker at an energy company would have to work 4,279 years to equal what Greehey collected last year," the report noted. Executive pay at U.S.-based oil companies also far outpaced pay at oil companies based outside the United States, says the report. International oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell, the second and the third largest internationally, paid their top executives only one-eighth what their U.S. counterparts received -- 5.6 and 4.1 million dollars in 2005, respectively. Both companies operate in the same global marketplace as their U.S.-based competitors.
Since 1990, the overall CEO-worker pay gap in the United States has grown from 107-to-1 to last year's 411-to-1, said the report The study came out a day after another U.S think-tank, the Phoenix Centre for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies, issued a report defending oil industry profits by comparing the overall profitability of the U.S. oil firms to other industries. It concluded that "selling beer or bleach is more profitable than selling gas and oil, even during times of 'record' profits for the oil companies." The Phoenix Centre, which looks into broad public-policy issues and promotes a free-market approach, studied profits from companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron-Texaco, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Marathon, Hess and Sunoco. "It may be fashionable to beat up on oil industry profits, but it appears that these firms do bear at least some of the burden of high oil prices," said George S. Ford, Phoenix Centre's chief economist and author of the study. "Our analysis shows that when gas prices are at their highest, oil industry profitability is at its lowest," he said. But the Phoenix Centre's position may be a lonely one in light of reports that BP, which operates some of the largest oil field in the United States, is under investigation by the Justice Department and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission for possible manipulation of crude oil and gasoline markets.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Previously I posted an article regarding a lone senator that was blocking an attempt to create a database that would allow anyone to track government contracts and grants. Considering the very real fact that this is our money - yours and mine - we should, by all means, have access, should we be so inquisitive, to where it ends up. What is so telling about all this is that Republicans that were contacted did not follow lockstep and utter "no comment", they released statements of categorical "wasn't me!"...Everyone except our little rebellious salmon man himself....Senator "Build Me A Bridge" Stevens from Alaska. It certainly appears that this legislation has bipartisan support.
Looks like the mystery is all but solved. I bet it bugs the begeezles out of the older guys in government that some tenacious guy with internet access can blow the shroud of secrecy off of a US Senator.
Details from Think Progress:
Caught Red-Handed: Stevens Blocked Creation of Federal Spending Database
Last week, an “unidentified senator” placed a hold on legislation introduced by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would create a easily-accessible Google-like database of all federal spending, which totaled $2.5 trillion last year.
The bill appeared to be headed for passage after being approved unanimously in committee. However, the anonymous senator’s hold on the bill prevented it from coming to a vote.
In response, liberals and conservatives worked together to ask every Senate office whether they had placed a hold on the bill. Of all 100 senators, only Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) would not deny placing the hold. In addition, one of the bill’s leading sponsors, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), said of Stevens, “he’s the only senator blocking it.” Stevens’s opposition to such a bill is not surprising; he is one of the most prolific earmarkers in the Senate:
– In 2005, Stevens helped slip in legislation to begin construction on the “Bridge to Nowhere,” earmarking over $200 million for a bridge to an island home to 50 people. When an amendment jeopardized funding for the project, Stevens threatened to resign.
– Later that year, Stevens tried to insert an amendment into the national defense bill allowing oil drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. When the Senate struck the provision, Stevens called it “the saddest day of my life” and has “written off” Senate friends who opposed drilling.
– This year, Stevens earmarked $450,000 to research baby food made from salmon and over $1 million for “alternative salmon product research.” This is the third year in a row he has appropriated money to research salmon products.
More at TPMmuckraker.
The faintest touch
Into existence into reality
Links that never would be
Not taken the bus that day
Or from work she did stay
With errands and chores
Roam department store floors
Seeing that person
From where do I know
Church work school
Where have I seen her before
The blink has passed
Yet the footprint remains in the sand
On the edge of the shore
Waiting in limbo
For an assignment
Limbo’s a terrible place to be
Connected but not
A life continuously fraught
With an eventual loss
That guilts sweeps in when
A moment catches unaware
To allow a smile or laugh
To permeate the grief of an impending loss
God puts everyone everything in our life
For a reason
Regardless of season
Each connection is an indelible mark
We are conductors of electrical charges
Players even in the margins
Observers as intrinsically involved as the troupe
With the moves
She was in a class I took
Just me and the kids
Snap fingers nod head
Divorce counseling years ago
In the group barely know
That one is put to rest
But again God urges lest
Book store wandering through
Looking for something to give to
Time with me is at its end
Moving as we all seem to do
How to convey how much she means
A book of poetry
Soft singsong whimsical friendship verses
Culinary morsels for those with a cooking flair
How about a ticket back
Place them all back on the rack
The dark cloud enshrouds the missions now
Memories of times shared
Sitting in the car
Sharing stories of times long ago
First glimpses of vulnerability and acceptance
Of understanding new depths reached
Angry hurtful remarks
Sincere apology not needed
The quilt is not complete without all the squares
No matter how threadbare
A square ripped from its place leaving shreds
Threads reaching for its rightful place
Hanging in space
For the return of part
So vital to the whole
To the hole in the heart
It seems so cruel
To see the tears of a broken heart
As the leaving threatens to tear apart
The very life force it did impart
Trying to find something that can show
The abstract force when a friendship grows
Snail pace or giant leaps
The hearts reap
A mountain a heap
Of glorious gifts that can’t be seen
Joy laughter secrets grief
Share sustain support relief
Amazing that someone could sweep
So much into your being
That removal is excruciating
Kids seem to know
Of a friend held close
Assimilating by wearing like clothes
Acquiring the others endearing moves
Pulling hair back tie with bows
Inflections in voice almost too close
Talk on the phone every day
Trying to stay
Figure a way
To be in each others’ presence
Is in this case tragic
No fondness growing
Just a mind numbing slowness of time
So many put masks of indifference
Untouched by heartfelt matters
No damage done
Wondering if one
Can hear the party the noise the fun
From inside the box
Does it shatter the barrier
Or fortify more
Emotionless not the big score
Doesn’t remove reality
Eyes closed it still be
Cutting others off at the knees
Three feet circumference
Barrier protection from involvement
I beg of you
Nothing ventured nothing gained
No joy no pain
Flinch pull back
But try again don’t withdraw
Eventually what you wish for
All you desire
From your cramping open arms
There are certain sounds
That lift spinning around
Yet some like good jazz
A primal sway
No wonder some say
From the dirty devil music
Emanating from that den
Of smoke gin and men
Sullen at times
Nothing clouds yet clarifies the mind
Like the perfect blend
That sends awareness on the unique trip
Whatsoever is on the lip
To be young
Perhaps a road split
Try a trip
Down the missed
Road of misspent youth
Sitting on the roof
Watching stars on the first night of fall
The music can send to places so far
so far visioned never seen
for now stay linger in the stillness
yet wash afire
with flashing desire
as saxaphone cascade like beckoning fingers
just bass drum kit
only live will do it
felt in the hips
even on the tips
of these fingers
the sound lingers
even after the set
it just doesn’t get
any better that that
drifting through the crowd like a ghost
the suit is thread bare
yet his flare
his eyes sparkle an impish twinkle
complicated as it is simple
nothing in this world
as live jazz.
I look at the girls or the kid that got away
They took their lives into their hands on the day
Fought a foe
The odds where stacked
They fought back
Warms my heart for a minute or two
But I think of the man who
Works in the hardware store
See I remember what it feels like to be poor
Even to move to breath cost more
I could barely drag myself off the floor
Kids in school who fall asleep on their books
Staff and kids cast looks
She’s so weak from not enough to eat
The downward spiral too hard to beat
Going all day
Expected to play
Expected to pay
With minimum wage
When you’re diluting your milk
So it’s just chalky water
Something isn’t right
When taxpayers have to pay for lights
When theirs are being turned off at home
Babies left alone
So mom can work
People lining up for food
Just like in the day
Poverty’s so debilitating hard to get up and go
Simply because you know
That even breathing will begin the cash flow
Hard to move the fear the dread
Occupies every cell of the brain in your head
Wanting is not even a consideration
Needing is allowed in moderation
The gut pull tearing you can feel
Wishing upon the unreal
Lottos sweepstakes contests
Just a hand
Not to hang
But for you to hang
Onto in the current of debt
Like a torrent swept
Down the stream of the concrete spillway
Thousands under no power of their own
Into a spiraling pull
People who mistakes they own
Mistakes they owe
Letters of worth
Out of school
The D’s and F’s
Of a credit rating
That no one did show
Or maybe they were who knows
Too busy trying to get by
Distracted by apple pie
Or lucy flying in the sky
Or keeping up appearances by
When at home
From the disconnected refrigeration box
Stuck in silence
Not a breath of wind
How to convey the utter misery
Isolation that no ching
But another session
in Congress does say
on the way
I have to say
I think we know the way
This turns out
I know it won’t be me getting the clout
I don’t belong to the Skull & Bones
I don’t have a pocket of affluent crones
I remember coveting roommates food
Breaking off pieces hoping they didn’t notice
Taking showers so quick
No money to pay for warm water
The shame from not being able
My own life
Now I see
Waiting all day in line
For hours at a time
For food that’ll last two days or so
Dad’s got a job
What about the seniors
War vets and all
Waiting for rations
Thanks buddy for all you’ve done
Here’s a crumb
Doesn’t that just beat it all
Monday, August 28, 2006
This just in....
A wave of shock swept over the world when surprise upon surprise the guy who we have been tracking better than Ernesto, with more information about his diet than we could ever have wanted, the freak that claimed to have killed the blond 6 year old - JonBenet, is not being charged.
The DNA doesn't match.
Quick, sideline, off the cuff question...howsabout next time, when we tag someone in say, Thailand or Guam or Bulgaria, we messenger a DNA sampling to the guys in Colorado so that we don't have to fly a guy, business class, from there to here? Just an idea. I know we have money to burn for such endeavors, but just for the "in future reference" file, we might want to entertain that idea.
And kudos to the many networks that picked this dazzling piece of news up and chewed on it like an old shoe in the mouth of a retriever. Being such a slow news week and all, I can see why this was so important.
I am so proud right now.
Have You Ever Been Poor?
Now when I say poor I mean POOR.
You cannot scrape together enough money for toll or mass transit – a bus or train ticket, groceries, diapers.
You do not have the change to go to the local laundromat and wash clothes.
You wash your hair, body, clothes and dishes with the same soap in the same sink.
You take split second showers because there is no hot water.
All cleaning, homework, or anything that requires light is done before nightfall because there is no electricity.
You eat ketchup sandwiches.
Your children use the teacher’s stapler to mend hems, Sharpies to color their skin the same color as their pants in order to disguise a hole, and glue to repair sneaker soles.
Your children get into trouble for stealing pencils and pens.
You are dizzy from hunger.
You have about four days of relief after paying rent before your stomach tightens into a knot again wondering how you will pay next month.
You never buy clothing retail.
You do not even entertain the idea of a credit card.
You tear out pages from the spirals of the previous grade for your kids to use the next year.
You buy whole milk, split it into two containers and fill with water. You repeatedly refill with water until it is no longer white.
You avoid any phone calls.
You avoid any knocks on the door.
You avoid leaving the house and expending energy unless it is absolutely necessary. Energy requires food. Food is limited.
You do not have a car.
You have to walk everywhere.
Or you do have a car but you can only afford a gallon of gas. The car is so old, it only gets about 8 – 10 miles per gallon. It burns oil and will not pass state inspection. It is unsafe to drive in the rain because of the tires.
There is really no way to explain the burden of poverty. Unless you have lived it, you cannot fathom the pull, the inescapable drag – almost tornadic in nature – of the downward spiral. Getting work means not only overcoming the crushing despair of rejection that is inevitable when attempting to gain employment but it also means being able to bathe, to dress the part and to physically get yourself to an interview. If you are hungry, it is almost physically impossible to appear sharp for an employer. Couple this with having to walk to an interview, in any kind of weather, and you can begin to understand that your candidate might not look as good as someone who was able to eat a meal, take a warm shower, apply makeup, get a professional outfit, and drive to an interview with a computer generated resume. Until you have been hungry, you cannot begin to understand how crippling it is. Go one day without eating. And try to do what you normally do. Go a week on a crap diet – ketchup sandwiches, white rice and vegetable broth, water, Koolaid, and see how conducive it is to staying in the running.
To me the discrepancy, the discrimination is blatant. It’s kind of like watching an athlete who has had access to top trainers, nutritionists, doctors, dieticians, top training facilities, to all the latest equipment get on the track at the starting line next to some kid with Converse hi-tops, holes in his shirt and no access. Sure if the kid has talent, some God given gift that allows him to somehow overcome the fact that he hasn’t had a decent meal, isn’t hydrated, and has had no access to the information he needs to compete there is a definite possibility that he could still come out on top. But it is a rarity, and to use that example, that anomaly, as some kind of norm is defeating at best.
You see this all the time, the kid that came out of the projects that made it. It’s a great story. But it is atypical. Why? Just because one person can somehow manage to squeeze out from under a crushing mountain of stress, need, violence, fear, uncertainty, instability, and want does not somehow cast a shadow of failure on those still under that mountain.
We are all wired differently. We all have a completely unique frame of reference. Even within families. Everyone experiences his or her own life distinctively. To use some false example of success as the standard is unrealistic. I found that I batted at this sort of thing repeatedly throughout my life.
Everyone else can get their homework in on time, why can’t you?
Everyone else follows instructions..why can’t you?
I guess, because I am not them. I am me. I hear this from my youngest. He has had teachers that did the “shaming” game. The everyone else is doing it regime of trying to force him into line. He used the standard – if everyone else was jumping off a cliff I probably wouldn’t do that either. (He got sent to the principal for that one.)
But there is such hypocrisy in this country, torn open by the ravages of Katrina, and still openly exposed a year later. Hearing people who did nothing to help, had no involvement whatsoever, tsk tsk at “those people that sat on their asses waiting for someone to get them out” disgust me.
Because I am fed up with the haves in this country condemning from their opulence, their stability, the false security those that have not. How can you possibly judge each of the individuals in that area for their actions or inactions during that time?
And how dare you!
Do you have any idea what they went through? Do you know each story?
Each detail of loss?
Of conflicted decision?
Many that remained had no means.
Others didn’t think it would be that bad – they would weather the storm.
Others didn’t want to leave those that wanted to stay.
To cast blame on the victims is so nauseating and so freakin’ easy. They lost everything. Can you even begin to know what that means?
To lose everything?
All you photos, your keepsakes, your legal papers, your schools, your neighbors, your address, your phone number, your roots, your hospitals, your car, your clothes, your toothbrush, your street, your grocery store.
There is no judging a human being’s response to that. Couple this with being stranded for days while crews of reporters made it through to document your disaster – but the aid? The reinforcements? The cavalry? No show. Can you even begin to grasp the despair? That they can send the National Guard into the air above you to “shoot to kill” but not to get you and your baby or your senior off the roof? In the August heat? With toxins swirling all around you? Cut off?
There is no way you can imagine it, don’t even try.
I heard Ray Nagin’s comment about the five year hole in NYC not being fixed on 60 Minutes on Sunday. I think he regretted it the moment it came out of his mouth, but I don’t blame him. How frustrating must it be to try to bring an entire city back with people scrutinizing your every move? Within a year? Preposterous!
Gosh. It’s so easy to judge people isn’t it?
Why did God wire us like this? And then say, don’t do it.
I hear someone say something so crazy and out there and it is impossible for me to not mutter an obscenity (hopefully) under my breath. I listen to hate radio and it shocks me that the flagrant racism goes unchecked out of the mouths of these guys. I guess that’s what the listeners want, validation for their beliefs. Validation that this is an “us versus them” world. Good v Evil. Right v Wrong. But it is never, ever that easy.
What if the Us tells people that the air is safe at Ground Zero and first responders go in and work their asses off in toxic conditions causing them to become terminally ill?
Do the Us become a “Them”?
What if the Us constantly tell people that they are on the side of right but are continuously called out doing what’s wrong? What if the Us decide that torturing people, holding innocent civilians for years without cause is ok?
Does it make their actions right?
I don’t buy the global war on terror. I believe there is a global war of terror where we are being distracted with false stories of the “terrorists” amongst us.
Remember the guys in Ohio? Come on, now! That was only in February. There were at least three days and fifty stories about those three guys. What happened to them?
Remember the Florida guys?
Where is the follow-up on these “terrorist” cells? These stories that seem to always pop up right around the time negative news comes out about this administration or the democrats are getting too much press.
The “them” that got caught rolling the dice and losing in a big way during Katrina have been demonized enough. It is so easy to point a finger at people beaten down by the system, but until you have had to walk in their shoes, you can keep your opinion to yourself. If you are here to criticize and not to help, not to go and pick up a hammer and fix something, not to go and render aid, then be quiet.
Go about your business accumulating your personal wealth and feathering your personal nest. No one wants to hear your continuous putdowns, except, of course, the idiots of talk radio and the dwindling number of people that believe like you do that gwbush is a great American, is horrifically misunderstood, that there is a terrorist or child molester illegal immigrant around every corner and it is just best if you lock your door and stay inside and buy crap on the internet so that it can be delivered to your home in your gated community. You sit there at your kitchen island topped with granite “workstation” with your am radio permanently tuned to fat pompous bigots that demonize the working population, who marginalize the need for people to be paid a living wage and to know that their health is a national concern. You continue to listen to the drumbeat of the likes of slush limpjaw and sean insanity ever increasing their urgent hammering on the alarm about Nancy Pelosi being next in line for the presidency and how progressives are just commies in a new style of hoodie. The same jokers who in their oh so soothing voice tell you that the amassing number of people speaking out against this administration will say anything because they “hate bush that much”. Keep swallowing the lies of the democratic party being overtaken by the fringe (ooooh! nooooo!) radical leftists. You can cling to the belief that those who want war to end are really un-American, and those that want war to continue deserve patriotic support. You can find corroboration for this repeatedly, ad nauseum if you wish, on hate radio. You can listen to slush backhand every minority group, in between handfuls of prescription painkillers, all the while promoting his personal interests and point of view. Our beloved troops! Oh, how we love to show our support for our brave and honorable soldiers with car decals. But golly, I can’t possibly make a Veteran’s Day parade…it’s hot..I have an appointment…oh, too much traffic. In Houston, they are passing resolutions about the VD parades because of low attendance. Isn’t that interesting? You would think with all the “God bless America!” and “I support the troops and the president” and the yellow ribbons slapped all over cars there would be all kinds of true RED WHITE and BLUE patriotic supporters of our military personal… wouldn’t you? Or does the support only go as far as the exterior of your vehicle? Regardless, you keep buying the books and tickets of these regurgitators of false facts. You just keep replacing all that real information you have in your head with the beck and hannity factoids that have no basis in reality. You keep sucking that crap in, go ahead, for those of us who care about this country, who care about our security, who care about our troops, who care about the citizens of not only this country but of the world, who care about our natural resources, we say “tune in baby and zone out”. Your eyes are like the twilight light zone intro. Spiraling in black and white infinity. You just hang on to that belief that these guys really give a crap about this country and they aren’t the least bit self-serving. Keep believing and drink the Koolaid and take a nice little nap.
Because while you’re out, we plan on taking back this country, and doing the right thing. We have great big wonderful plans for this country that don’t entail running it into the ground and stripping it of its beauty. We have plans to lift people up so that they can see how worthy they are and how much promise they hold. So that they can do for themselves. We are going to say, you know what? You deserve to be paid enough to support your family and cover basic needs. You deserve to have your health maintained, whether you can afford it or not because we understand the devastating effect that the stress of not being able to afford to help your family can bring. Small businesses, crippled by healthcare coverage premiums, will be able to run with the big dogs and truly compete for business. We are going to put people back to work. We are going to empower people. We are going to facilitate those that live in the regions in conflict to work out problems and negotiate peacefully. We are going to give Iraq back its economy. We are going to start pulling out because everyone knows – for as long as you have a crutch you will never know if you can walk by yourself. We will work out a plan that if violence escalates an international effort, sanctioned by the UN will be implemented. We will repair our annihilated international reputation and credibility by becoming the wise mediator instead of the infantile instigator. We will re-write the laws that make a corporation an individual with individual rights because that is the most destructive legislation ever written. We will empower communities through grants and funding to take the reins and improve the living conditions of their citizens. We will clear a place for scientific facts again. We will encourage all religions to be an intrinsic part of their communities. We will write sweeping reforms for lobbyists’ influence, campaign financing, the environment and voting machines. We will undo the destruction inflicted on our national parks, our public lands by people with an unprecedented fiscal greed. We will completely overhaul the educational system. Needing no more money to operate, it will be streamlined. Our educational system as well as the new healthcare system will be based on the research gathered by teams of specialists who go into other countries and find out what is working and what is not. We will ensure that every kid has a place to go after school by encouraging communities to build youth centers. We will ensure that no parent has to leave a child home alone because daycare will be accessible. We will give law enforcement the resources it needs to do its job. We will ensure that people with addictions have access to the resources of rehabilitation that they need. We will be on the cutting edge globally for alternative energy resources and transportation. Think it can’t happen? Good. Keep listening to savage and glen speck. It’ll take awhile but it will be so worth it. While you sit transfixed, holding your fist high above your head in solidarity to the boys of hate we will be making America a place of pride again. A place of tolerance and prosperity.
A place that reflects the people’s values and principles.
A place that other countries look to not only for guidance but as an example of what they can become.
When that day comes the amount of pro-America paraphernalia slathered all over the place will be justified.
And we will welcome you back into the fold like the prodigal son/daughter we know you to be.
* I have the flu.
By Stephen DinanTHE WASHINGTON TIMESAugust 28, 2006
It's a sign of just how hot an issue pork-barrel spending has become that the biggest game in political Washington this summer is trying to smoke out the senator who is blocking a bill to create a searchable database of federal contracts and grants. The bill has the support of the Bush administration and activists on widely divergent sides of the political spectrum. It also passed a Senate committee without any objections, so the unknown senator is annoying many people. Sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, the bill would require the administration to create a searchable Web site that would list the name and amount of any federal grant, contract or other award of money amounting to $25,000 or more. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, tried to win speedy passage just before the Senate left for its summer break, but at least one senator objected anonymously. Now Porkbusters.org, a Web site dedicated to exposing wasteful government spending, is conducting a public campaign to smoke out the obstructor or obstructors, while blogs on both sides of the political spectrum have weighed in, demanding action on the bill. Mr. Frist has also vowed to get into the act, promising to try to pass the bill again when Congress returns from its break next month. "For reasons of policy and politics, many bloggers are rightly outraged that S. 2590 was shot down when I attempted to bring it up for a vote prior to the August recess," Mr. Frist wrote in an entry last week on the blog of Volpac, his political action committee (www.volpac.com). The Federal Times reported that one senator has a "secret hold" on the bill. Holds are an unofficial part of Senate parliamentary tradition that allow a single senator to delay action anonymously. A spokeswoman for Mr. Frist said it's not clear how hard and fast the hold is. Sometimes holds are simply a way for a senator to earn time to learn more about a bill, though other times the intent is to scuttle the bill. The Bush administration is backing the bill as a way to improve accountability. "We want to see the bill enacted, so whatever we can do to be supportive of Senators Coburn's and Obama's efforts, we'll be supportive," said Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. "What we like is transparency. We believe that the more public information that's available about how programs work, about where we're spending our money, who's getting grants, who's getting contracts, the more accountability there is," Mr. Johnson said. So far, Porkbusters has cleared a little more than a quarter of the Senate of suspicion. "It's all about focusing on an individual and uncovering secrets," said Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, one of the forces behind Porkbusters. "Fortunately, a member of the Senate played into our hands." He said enough people in Washington know who is obstructing the bill that if the hold continues, the senator's name will come out. The effort is already producing some interesting results, including an e-mail from a Senate staffer who accused Porkbusters of a "guilty until proven innocent approach." Mr. Reynolds, who declined to release the name of the staffer or the office he works for, said it shows members of Congress are feeling the heat. Understanding the power of wasteful spending as an issue, House Democrats this past week announced their own "truth squad" to target waste, fraud and abuse in Hurricane Katrina relief spending. Mr. Frist could try to overcome the hold by forcing the issue onto the floor using the same procedure used to end a filibuster, which would require 60 votes. The House passed a bill earlier this year that creates a database for grants only. In his blog entry, Mr. Frist said the issue underscores the stakes in November's congressional elections. "There is a real choice between Democrats and Republicans on matters of taxes and spending," he wrote. "Indeed, just this year, when we wrote our tight budget, Senate Republicans defeated constant Democrat attempts to bloat spending and hike your taxes by billions of dollars."
Friday, August 25, 2006
"We cannot bring ourselves to regard close confinement of sows by stalls or thethers throughout their pregnancies-- which is, for most of their adult lives-- with anything but distaste."-- Great Britain's House of Commons' Agricultural Committee, report, 1981.
“Although other animals cannot reason or speak the way humans do, this does not give us the right to do with them as we like. Even though our supposed possession of a soul and superior intelligence are used to create an arbitrary dividing line over rights, the fact remains that all animals have the capacity to experience pain and suffering, and in suffering they are our equals.” — Nathaniel Altman (1948- )
“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness Thereof, Oh, God, enlarge within us the Sense of fellowship with all living Things, our brothers the animals to Whom Thou gavest the earth as Their home in common with us . . . May we realize that they live not For us alone but for themselves and For Thee and that they love the sweetness Of life.” — St. Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (330-379)
“The old assumption that animals acted exclusively by instinct, while man had a monopoly of reason, is, we think, maintained by few people nowadays who have any knowledge at all about animals. We can only wonder that so absurd a theory could have been held for so long a time as it was, when on all sides the evidence of animals’ power of reasoning is crushing.” — Ernest Bell (1851-1933)
“The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withheld from them but by the hand of tyranny . . . a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes. . . .” — Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
“We find amongst animals, as amongst men, power of feeling pleasure, power of feeling pain; we see them moved by love and by hate; we see them feeling terror and attraction; we recognize in them powers of sensation closely akin to our own, and while we transcend them immensely in intellect, yet in mere passional characteristics our natures and the animals’ are closely allied. We know that when they feel terror, that terror means suffering. We know that when a wound is inflicted, that wound means pain to them. We know that threats bring to them suffering; they have a feeling of shrinking, of fear, of absence of friendly relations, and at once we begin to see that in our relations to the animal kingdom a duty arises which all thoughtful and compassionate minds should recognize—the duty that because we are stronger in mind than the animals, we are or ought to be their guardians and helpers, not their tyrants and oppressors, and we have no right to cause them suffering and terror merely for the gratification of the palate, merely for an added luxury to our own lives.” — Annie Besant (1847-1933)
“What the factory farmers emphasize is that animals are different from humans: we can’t, we are told, judge their reactions by our own, because they don’t have human feelings. But no one in his senses ever supposed they did. Anyone acquainted with animals can guess pretty well that they have less intellect and memory than humans, and live closer to their instincts. But the reasonable conclusion to draw from this is the very opposite of the one the factory farmers try to force upon us. In all probability, animals feel more sharply than we do any restrictions on such instinctual promptings as the need, which we share with them, to wander around and stretch one’s legs every now and then; and terror or distress suffered by an animal is never, as sometimes in us, softened by intellectual comprehension of the circumstances.” — Brigid Brophy (1929- )
“On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark wooden crates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain. Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread their wings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine. . . . The law clearly requires that these poor creatures be stunned and rendered insensitive to pain before [the slaughtering] process begins. Federal law is being ignored. Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating. Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated even if these animals are being raised for food—and even more so, more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society.” — Senator Robert Byrd (on the floor of the U.S. Senate, July 9, 2001)
"Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs-they were pigs at one time-raised in 2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beasts are unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and this way they live for months at a time." — Senator Robert Byrd
“Never believe that animals suffer less than humans. Pain is the same for them that it is for us. Even worse, because they cannot help themselves.” — Dr. Louis J. Camuti (1893-1981)
“The saints are exceedingly loving and gentle to mankind, and even to brute beasts. . . . Surely we ought to show [animals] great kindness and gentleness for many reasons, but, above all, because they are of the same origin as ourselves.” — St. John Chrysostom (347-407)
“There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties. . . . The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention and curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes a well-developed condition, in the lower animals.” — Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
“To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man. . . . I want to realize brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things as crawl upon earth.” — Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
“This [eating animals] appears from the frequent hard-heartedness and cruelty found among those persons whose occupations engage them in destroying animal life, as well as from the uneasiness which others feel in beholding the butchery of animals. It is most evident in respect to the larger animals and those with whom we have a familiar intercourse—such as oxen, sheep, and domestic fowls, etc. They resemble us greatly in the make of the body, in general, and in that of the particular organs of circulation, respiration, digestion, etc.; also in the formation of their intellects, memories and passions, and in the signs of distress, fear, pain and death. They often, likewise, win our affections by the marks of peculiar sagacity, by their instincts, helplessness, innocence, nascent benevolence, etc., and if there be any glimmering hope of an ‘hereafter’ for them—if they should prove to be our brethren and sisters in this higher sense—in immortality as well as mortality, in the permanent principle of our minds as well as in the frail dust of our bodies—this ought to be still further reason for tenderness for them.” — David Hartley (1705-1757)
“The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different.” — Hippocrates (460?-370? BC)
“I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” — Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
“It should not be believed that all beings exist for the sake of the existence of man. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of anything else . . . there is no difference between the pain of humans and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for the young are not produced by reasoning, but by feeling, and this faculty exists not only in humans but in most living beings.” — Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1135-1204)
“Since factory farming exerts a violent and unnatural force upon the living organisms of animals and birds in order to increase production and profits; since it involves callous and cruel exploitation of life, with implicit contempt for nature, I must join in the protest being uttered against it. It does not seem that these methods have any really justifiable purpose, except to increase the quantity of production at the expense of quality—if that can be called a justifiable purpose.” — Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
“But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.” — Plutarch (in Moralia) (46-120)
Excerpts from an interview with Pope Benedict XVI, (then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican's foremost advisor on matters of doctrine) by German journalist Peter Seewald.
Seewald: Are we allowed to make use of animals, and even to eat them?
Ratzinger: That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God's creatures, and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation and as important elements in the creation.As far as whether we are allowed to kill and to eat animals, there is a remarkable ordering of matters in Holy Scripture. We can read how, at first, only plants are mentioned as providing food for man. Only after the flood, that is to say, after a new breach has been opened between God and man, are we told that man eats flesh...Nonetheless...we should not proceed from this to a kind of sectarian cult of animals. For this, too, is permitted to man. He should always maintain his respect for these creatures, but he knows at the same time that he is not forbidden to take food from them. Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.
— Pope Benedict XVI
“The welfare of animal citizens is as much our concern as is that of other humans. Surely if we are all God’s creatures, if all animal species are capable of feeling, if we are all evolutionary relatives, if all animals are on the same biological continuum, then also we should all be on the same moral continuum—and if it is wrong to inflict suffering upon an innocent and unwilling human, then it is wrong to so treat another species.” — Richard D. Ryder (1940- )
“The emancipation of men from cruelty and injustice will bring with it in due course the emancipation of animals also. The two reforms are inseparably connected, and neither can be fully realized alone.” — Henry Salt (1851-1939)
“If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
“The same questions are bothering me today as they did fifty years ago. Why is one born? Why does one suffer? In my case, the suffering of animals also makes me very sad. I’m a vegetarian, you know. When I see how little attention people pay to animals, and how easily they make peace with man being allowed to do with animals whatever he wants because he keeps a knife or a gun, it gives me a feeling of misery and sometimes anger with the Almighty. I say ‘Do you need your glory to be connected with so much suffering of creatures without glory, just innocent creatures who would like to pass a few years in peace?’ I feel that animals are as bewildered as we are except that they have no words for it. I would say that all life is asking: ‘What am I doing here?’” — Isaac Bashevis Singer, Newsweek interview (October 16, 1978) after winning the Nobel Prize in literature
“How pitiful, and what poverty of mind, to have said that the animals are machines deprived of understanding and feeling . . . has Nature arranged all the springs of feeling in this animal to the end that he might not feel? Has he nerves that he may he incapable of suffering? People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines . . . It appears to me, besides, that [such people] can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different Voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel. . . . They are endowed with life as we are, because they have the same principles of life, the same feelings, the same ideas, memory, industry—as we.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.” — Alice Walker
Thursday, August 24, 2006
By Hope Yen The Associated Press
Thursday 24 August 2006
Washington - The government awarded 70 percent of its contracts for Hurricane Katrina work without full competition, wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the process, says a House study released Thursday by Democrats.
The report, a comprehensive overview of government audits on Katrina contracting, found that out of $10.6 billion in contracts awarded after the storm last year, more than $7.4 billion were handed out with limited or no competitive bidding.
In addition, 19 contracts worth $8.75 billion were found to have wasted taxpayer money at least in part, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the report. It cited numerous instances of double-billing by contractors and cases of trailers meant as emergency housing sitting empty in Arkansas.
Aaron Walker, a national spokesman for the Homeland Security Department's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the primary agency for awarding hurricane contracts, said FEMA was already working to improve its contracting process based on "previously issued, non-politicized, reports."
"This report has no new revelations," he said. "At the height of hurricane season, it is a disservice to FEMA employees, who are working around the clock to continue retooling this agency."
In their report, Democrats acknowledged that some no-bid contracts were necessary to provide quick aid in the immediate aftermath of the August 29, 2005, storm. But they noted that while 51 percent of Katrina contracts awarded in September were limited or no-bid, that percentage increased to 93 percent in October.
Last December, FEMA was still awarding 57 percent of the total dollar value of contracts without full bidding.
The report came as House Democrats announced a new six-member "truth squad" they said would highlight the problems before the November congressional elections.
"It is apparent that taxpayers and the residents of the Gulf Coast are paying a steep price for the failure to stop waste, fraud and abuse in federal contracting," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee and a member of the new panel.
He said the new panel, made up of six House Democrats, was needed because the Republican-controlled Congress has resisted probing such allegations against the Bush administration.
In the House report, Democrats faulted FEMA for recently awarding new $400 million temporary housing contracts for future disaster work to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Bechtel National, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Enterprises Inc.
Those four companies have previously been criticized by lawmakers for receiving no-bid Katrina contracts. Three of them - Bechtel, CH2M Hill and Fluor - were found by government auditors to have wasted money in the hurricane effort.
The Shaw Group Inc.'s lobbyist, Joe Allbaugh, is a former FEMA director and a longtime friend of President Bush, while Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel served on Bush's Export Council from 2003-2004. CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor Corp. have done extensive previous work for the government. The companies have denied that political or government connections played a factor.
FEMA has defended the latest contracts, which were awarded earlier this month after a full bidding process, as the best among 13 proposals submitted based on quality of plans, price and resource capacity.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Activists had sued Forest Service over fire prevention plan
The Giant Sequoia National Monument includes trees 2,000-year-old. The Bush administration wants to thin much smaller and younger trees within the monument it says are a fire hazard, but a judge has blocked the policy.A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Bush administration plan to allow commercial logging inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument violates environmental laws. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sided with environmental groups that sued the U.S. Forest Service over its plans for managing the 328,000-acre preserve, home to two-thirds of the world’s largest trees. Breyer had already issued a preliminary injunction, in September 2005, to halt further logging in the national monument created by President Clinton in 2000. In the lawsuit filed last year, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups said the management plan for the reserve in the southern Sierra Nevada range was a scientifically suspect strategy that was intended to satisfy timber interests under the guise of wildfire prevention. The Forest Service had said the plan to allow thinning of some trees was aimed at meeting fire prevention goals. "Today's ruling only strengthens the case for transferring management of this magnificent Monument to neighboring Sequoia National Park, where it would be treated with the good stewardship it deserves," Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club's conservation director, said in a statement.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Proposal for building 11 dirty coal-fired plants across Texas could wipe out other states' cuts
Coal rush: Texas's biggest utility, TXU, wants to build 11 new highly polluting, coal-fired plants across the state, and fast.
Take Action »Tell TXU to halt plans to build dirty power plants.
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Many a Texan boasts that everything is bigger and better in the Lone Star state. Even the state's biggest utility, TXU, touts on its web site that it is planning "a Texas-sized $10 billion investment" in 11 power plants across the state. But in this case, bigger is definitely not better.
TXU chief executive, C. John Wilder, has unveiled a plan that would double the utility's already sky-high emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The proposed power plants are to be conventional (or pulverized) coal-fired, which uses outdated, highly polluting technology.
This bodes ill not just for Texas, but for the rest of the country too. State leaders and city mayors are taking decisive actions to curb global warming, and the additional emissions from TXU plants would negate their progress. These new plants would emit 78 million tons of CO2pollution per year.
This huge amount would more than wipe out the gains to be made under California's recent legislation that will cut CO2from automobiles by 30 million tons a year. "TXU might as well give each of their 2.4 million customers four new Cadillac Escalades," says Environmental Defense climate and air expert Jim Marston. "The effect is the same in terms of global warming pollution." TXU's deeply flawed proposal is also raising concerns about air quality and health effects and the real motives of CEO Wilder in pushing this expansion.
Gov. Perry and CEO Wilder are headed down the wrong path
Despite the mind-boggling numbers on pollution, Wilder has said wants to replicate this strategy in other states like Pennsylvania and Virginia. To make matters worse, Texas Governor Rick Perry has signaled his approval of the 11 plants. Last year, after secret meetings with TXU executives, Perry fast-tracked the permitting process for TXU's 11-plant expansion through an executive order, slashing the time frame in half, to six months, and in April of this year, joined Wilder at a press conference to unveil the proposal.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been criticized, too, for skimping on rigorous analyses of air pollution effects and studies of cleaner technologies. With so much at stake, many are wondering why the rushed pace, when if anything such a mammoth expansion should be carefully evaluated.
Perry's forward-looking Republican peers, such as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York's George Pataki, have led strong initiatives in their states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (see a summary of state actions). Perry — who is running for reelection — is ignoring the global warming threat and taking his state back to the dark age of dirty coal and foul air.
Texas can add power without pumping out so much CO2. A more enlightened strategy would draw on a portfolio of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy sources to meet growing demand, combined with use of cleaner coal-burning technology that can significantly reduce CO2emissions.
Global warming pollution would mushroom with new TXU plants
Just how big is big in terms of global warming pollution? TXU's 11 proposed plants with a total capacity of 9,079 megawatts, will produce an estimated 78 million tons of CO2per year.
To put that in perspective, 78 million tons of CO2is roughly equivalent to:
More than the total 2001 emissions of 21 states and many countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Portugal;
The annual emissions of 14 million average passenger cars;
2.6 times larger than the benefits of California's groundbreaking greenhouse gas reduction program for cars and trucks (more on this program and other state initiatives);
8 times larger than the 2018 benefits resulting from the Northeastern States Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI — more on this program); or
One-quarter of the 2004 emissions benefits of EPA's entire set of voluntary climate change initiatives.
Another way to grasp the enormity of the additional CO2these 11 plants will spew out, consider these facts:
Power plants are the biggest single source of the country's CO2pollution, most of which comes from coal-fired plants. (The U.S. leads all other nations in global warming pollution, producing nearly one-fourth of the world's CO2.)
Among all states, Texas is already the number-one global warming polluter. If it were a country, it would rank in the top 10 globally.
If all 11 plants are built, TXU — now ranked as the 10th largest emitter of CO2among American utilities — would have the dubious distinction of vaulting to 3rd place .
Clean coal technologies provide power with fewer emissions
One way to minimize carbon dioxide emissions from smokestacks is to use advanced coal combustion technologies such as gasification. Twenty-four coal-gasification electric power plants have been proposed around the country and two have been in commercial operation for years, one in Florida and the other in Indiana (owned by Duke Energy). Other large electric utilities are on board with the cleaner technology, including American Electric Power, the nation's largest utility, which plans clean coal-fired plants in West Virginia and Ohio.
And Xcel Energy just announced a proposal for the nation's first coal power plant to use state-of-the art technology that will capture CO2before it is released into the atmosphere and store it underground. Xcel's project in Colorado will use advanced Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle coal technology (IGCC) that gasifies coal and then burns the gas to produce electricity. Yet Wilder refuses to even consider the technology, dismissing it as not sufficiently proven nor affordable, and calling the coal-gasification plants "a gleam in someone's eye."
Wilder seeks rock-bottom costs, at high costs to the rest of us
Wilder's claims that cleaner gasification technology is not affordable rings hollow given that the company just reported a 31 percent increase in quarterly earnings, and the rates they charge their customers — already among the highest in the country — have increased 24 percent in the last year, even as natural gas prices fell. Further, experts in the power sector say that cleaner-technology power plants can produce electricity cost-effectively.
What TXU really means is that it's not profitable enough for the company. In the deregulated Texas market where natural gas plays a big role, TXU will be able to sell its cheap coal-fired power at the same price as power produced by other companies using more expensive natural gas — a kind of bait-and-switch ploy that may rake in profits but is not the most honest way to run a business. "Essentially, the company plans to generate cheap, dirty, coal-fired electricity, and sell it to customers for the price of cleaner, more expensive natural gas-fired electricity," says Marston. "It's like building a Yugo and selling it as a Prius."
Dirty plants would also worsen air quality and pose health risk
Of grave concern, too, is the effect on air quality and public health from increased mercury, smog- and soot-forming pollution (nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide) that 11 new plants would produce. This is of special concern in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, which suffers some of the poorest air in the country and is downwind of where many of the plants are to be located. (More on smog, soot and health.)
By a number of measures, Texas already has the dubious distinction of being high on the list of polluters among states, and not just for CO2. Five of the nation's top 10 power plants that emit the most toxic mercury are in Texas, according to a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project. TXU's Martin Lake plant ranked number one, with more than 1,700 pounds of mercury emissions. Mercury can cause severe nervous system problems in humans and wildlife. Especially vulnerable are developing fetuses, babies and children.
In a public relations gimmick, Wilder has proclaimed that it will make "voluntary" reductions from its existing plants in Texas to offset the additional emissions. But recent new rules under the Clean Air Act mandate significant cuts in these smog- and soot-forming pollutants as well as toxic mercury in existing power plants. Federal air quality regulations call for reductions that are roughly equal to those TXU says it will make for NOx and SO2, but require even more for mercury. The company is taking credit for changes the law requires it to make, with or without new plants.
Reasonable voices oppose the 11 new power plants
There is a growing chorus of reasoned voices critical of the plan and the way it is being undertaken. Among them are TXU shareholders who have urged Wilder to come up with a more responsible plan. The press across Texas have voiced opposition (see below), and many scientists and doctors have denounced TXU's refusal to use cleaner technology.
All three of Governor Perry's campaign opponents — Democrat Chris Bell and independents Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman — oppose the plan. And Texas mayors are considering joining forces to address the plan's Texas-sized global warming and air pollution issues. Dallas mayor Laura Miller called the new plants "a national issue" and urged further analyses of cleaner technologies. Even a commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (a Perry appointee) has urged his agency to push for more stringent analyses of new plants.
Their efforts come on the heels of the recent formation of the Texas Cities for Climate Protection and last year's Conference of Mayors' approval of the U.S. Climate Protection Agreement to lower emissions in cities.
Make Texas a leader, not a laggard, in the global warming fight
The bottom line: Only Governor Perry and TXU, which stands to make a lot of money, are championing these plants. If TXU's Wilder, with Perry behind him, succeeds in building these dirty plants, Texas stands to keep its number-one status as a polluter — and go down in history as the number-one laggard in the fight to curb global warming.
Take Action » Send a letter to TXU CEO Wilder, telling him to halt plans to build dirty power plants.
Find out more
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - "Miller urges mayors to pressure TXU over coal-plant plans" (July 12, 2006)
The Wall Street Journal - "As Emission Restrictions Loom, Texas Utility Bets Big on Coal" by Rebecca Smith (July 21, 2006)
Dallas Morning News - "Texas power plants pack emissions list: State dominates group's U.S. report on mercury, carbon dioxide pollution" (July 28, 2006)
Reuters Wire Story - "Expansion worries weigh on TXU's spreads" (August 2, 2006)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Business Column by Mitchell Schnurman - "11 power plants will help TXU -- but the air?" (August 6, 2006)
Dallas Morning News Editorial - "Skepticism over TXU desire to rush coal plants" (August 6, 2006)
Dallas Morning News Op-Ed by Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power - "Running on coal: Even before FutureGen, cleaner technology is worth the price" (August 7, 2006)
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram – "Energy prices expected to roil election" (August 8, 2006)
EnergyWashington Week – "Texas Mayors Cooperate To Push New Clean-Energy Technologies" (August 9, 2006)
California Environmental Protection Agency - "Climate Action Team Report to Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature" (March 2006)
Environmental Defense article - "States Taking Action on Global Warming"
Environmental Entrepreneurs - California Solutions for Global Warming (National Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense)
Environmental Entrepreneurs - California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006: Cutting pollution while strengthening the economy
Environmental Protection Agency – Clean Air Interstate Rule: Texas
Environmental Protection Agency – Power Plant Emissions and Mercury
by Michael Schwartz
With a tenuous cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon holding, the ever-hotter war in Iraq is once again creeping back onto newspaper front pages and towards the top of the evening news. Before being fully immersed in daily reports of bomb blasts, sectarian violence, and casualties, however, it might be worth considering some of the just-under-the-radar-screen realities of the situation in that country. Here, then, is a little guide to understanding what is likely to be a flood of new Iraqi developments -- a few enduring, but seldom commented upon, patterns central to the dynamics of the Iraq war, as well as to the fate of the American occupation and Iraqi society.
1. The Iraqi Government Is Little More Than a Group of "Talking Heads"
A minimally viable central government is built on at least three foundations: the coercive capacity to maintain order, an administrative apparatus that can deliver government services and directives to society, and the resources to manage these functions. The Iraqi government has none of these attributes -- and no prospect of developing them. It has no coercive capacity. The national army we hear so much about is actually trained and commanded by the Americans, while the police forces are largely controlled by local governments and have few, if any, viable links to the central government in Baghdad. (Only the Special Forces, whose death-squad activities in the capital have lately been in the news, have any formal relationship with the elected government; and they have more enduring ties to the U.S. military that created them and the Shia militias who staffed them.)
Administratively, the Iraqi government has no existence outside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone -- and little presence within it. Whatever local apparatus exists elsewhere in the country is led by local leaders, usually with little or no loyalty to the central government and not dependent on it for resources it doesn't, in any case, possess. In Baghdad itself, this is clearly illustrated in the vast Shiite slum of Sadr city, controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and his elaborate network of political clerics. (Even U.S. occupation forces enter that enormous swath of the capital only in large brigades, braced for significant firefights.) In the major city of the Shia south, Basra, local clerics lead a government that alternately ignores and defies the central government on all policy issues from oil to women's rights; in Sunni cities like Tal Afar and Ramadi, where major battles with the Americans alternate with insurgent control, the government simply has no presence whatsoever. In Kurdistan in the north, the Kurdish leadership maintains full control of all local governments.
As for resources, with 85% of the country's revenues deriving from oil, all you really need to know is that oil-rich Iraq is also suffering from an "acute fuel shortage" (including soaring prices, all-night lines at gas stations, and a deal to get help from neighboring Syria which itself has minimal refining capacity). The almost helpless Iraqi government has had little choice but to accept the dictates of American advisors and of the International Monetary Fund about exactly how what energy resources exist will be used. Paying off Saddam-era debt, reparations to Kuwait from the Gulf War of 1990, and the needs of the U.S.-controlled national army have had first claim. With what remains so meager that it cannot sustain a viable administrative apparatus in Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, there is barely enough to spare for the government leadership to line their own pockets.
2. There Is No Iraqi Army
The "Iraqi Army" is a misnomer. The government's military consists of Iraqi units integrated into the U.S.-commanded occupation army. These units rely on the Americans for intelligence, logistics, and -- lacking almost all heavy weaponry themselves -- artillery, tanks, and any kind of airpower. (The Iraqi "Air Force" typically consists of fewer then 10 planes with no combat capability.) The government has no real control over either personnel or strategy.
We can see this clearly in a recent operation in Sadr City, conducted (as news reports tell us) by "Iraqi troops and US advisors" and backed up by U.S. artillery and air power. It was one of an ongoing series of attempts to undermine the Sadrists and their Mahdi army, who have governed the area since the fall of Saddam. The day after the assault, Iraqi premier Nouri Kamel al-Maliki complained about the tactics used, which he labeled "unjustified," and about the fact that neither he, nor his government, was included in the decision-making leading up to the assault. As he put it to an Agence France-Presse, "I reiterate my rejection to [sic] such an operation and it should not be executed without my consent. This particular operation did not have my approval."
This happened because the U.S. has functionally expanded its own forces in Iraq by integrating local Iraqi units into its command structure, while essentially depriving the central government of any army it could use purely for its own purposes. Iraqi units have their own officers, but they always operate with American advisers. As American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad put it, "We'll ultimately help them become independent." (Don't hold your breath.)
3. The Recent Decline in American Casualties Is Not a Result of Less Fighting (and Anyway, It's Probably Ending)
At the beginning of August, the press carried reports of a significant decline in U.S. casualties, punctuated with announcements from American officials that the military situation was improving. The figures (compiled by the Brookings Institute) do show a decline in U.S. military deaths (76 in April, 69 in May, 63 in June, and then only 48 in July). But these were offset by dramatic increases in Iraqi military fatalities, which almost doubled in July as the U.S. sent larger numbers of Iraqi units into battle, and as undermanned American units were redeployed from al-Anbar province, the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, to civil-war-torn Baghdad in preparation for a big push to recapture various out-of-control neighborhoods in the capital.
More important, when it comes to long-term U.S. casualties, the trends are not good. In recent months, U.S. units had been pulled off the streets of the capital. But the Iraqi Army units that replaced them proved incapable of controlling Baghdad in even minimal ways. So, in addition, to fighting the Sunni insurgency, American troops are now back on the streets of Baghdad in the midst of a swirling civil war with U.S. casualties likely to rise. In recent months, there has also been an escalation of the fighting between American forces and the insurgency, independent of the sectarian fighting that now dominates the headlines.
As a consequence, the U.S. has actually increased its troop levels in Iraq (by delaying the return of some units, sending others back to Iraq early, and sending in some troops previously held in reserve in Kuwait). The number of battles (large and small) between occupation troops and the Iraqi resistance has increased from about 70 a day to about 90 a day; and the number of resistance fighters estimated by U.S. officials has held steady at about 20,000. The number of IEDs placed -- the principle weapon targeted at occupation troops (including Iraqi units) -- has been rising steadily since the spring.
The effort by Sunni guerrillas to expel the American army and its allies is more widespread and energetic than at any time since the fall of the Hussein regime.
4. Most Iraqi Cities Have Active and Often Viable Local Governments
Neither the Iraqi government, nor the American-led occupation has a significant presence in most parts of Iraq. This is well-publicized in the three Kurdish provinces, which are ruled by a stable Kurdish government without any outside presence; less so in Shia urban areas where various religio-political groups -- notably the Sadrists, the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Da'wa , and Fadhila -- vie for local control, and then organize cities and towns around their own political and religious platforms. While there is often violent friction among these groups -- particularly when the contest for control of an area is undecided -- most cities and towns are largely peaceful as local governments and local populations struggle to provide city services without a viable national economy.
This situation also holds true in the Sunni areas, except when the occupation is actively trying to pacify them. When there is no fighting, local governments dominated by the religious and tribal leaders of the resistance establish the laws and maintain a kind of order, relying for law enforcement on guerrilla fighters and militia members.
All these governments -- Kurdish, Shia and Sunni -- have shown themselves capable of maintaining (often fundamentalist) law and (often quite harsh) order, with little crime and little resistance from the local population. Though often severely limited by the lack of resources from a paralyzed national economy and a bankrupt national government, they do collect the garbage, direct traffic, suppress the local criminal element, and perform many of the other duties expected of local governments.
5. Outside Baghdad, Violence Arrives with the Occupation Army
The portrait of chaos across Iraq that our news generally offers us is a genuine half-truth. Certainly, Baghdad has been plunged into massive and worsening disarray as both the war against the Americans and the civil war have come to be concentrated there, and as the terrifying process of ethnic cleansing has hit neighborhood after neighborhood, and is now beginning to seep into the environs of the capital.
However, outside Baghdad (with the exception of the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, where historic friction among Kurd, Sunni, and Turkman has created a different version of sectarian violence), Iraqi cities tend to be reasonably ethnically homogeneous and to have at least quasi-stable governments. The real violence often only arrives when the occupation military makes its periodic sweeps aimed at recapturing cities where it has lost all authority and even presence.
This deadly pattern of escalating violence is regularly triggered by those dreaded sweeps, involving brutal, destructive, and sometimes lethal home invasions aimed at capturing or killing suspected insurgents or their supporters. The insurgent response involves the emplacement of ever more sophisticated roadside bombs (known as IEDs) and sniper attacks, aimed at distracting or hampering the patrols. The ensuing firefights frequently involve the use of artillery, tanks, and air power in urban areas, demolishing homes and stores in a neighborhood, which only adds to the bitter resistance and increasing the support for the insurgency.
These mini-wars can last between a few hours and, in Falluja, Ramadi, or other "centers of resistance," a few weeks. They constitute the overwhelming preponderance of the fighting in Iraq. For any city, the results can be widespread death and devastation from which it can take months or years to recover. Yet these are still episodes punctuating a less violent, if increasingly more run-down normalcy.
6. There Is a Growing Resistance Movement in the Shia Areas of Iraq
Lately, the pattern of violence established in largely Sunni areas of Iraq has begun to spread to largely Shia cities, which had previously been insulated from the periodic devastation of American pacification attempts. This ended with growing Bush administration anxiety about economic, religious, and militia connections between local Shia governments and Iran, and with the growing power of the anti-American Sadrist movement, which had already fought two fierce battles with the U.S. in Najaf in 2004 and a number of times since then in Sadr City.
Symptomatic of this change is the increasing violence in Basra, the urban oil hub at the southern tip of the country, whose local government has long been dominated by various fundamentalist Shia political groups with strong ties to Iran. When the British military began a campaign to undermine the fundamentalists' control of the police force there, two British military operatives were arrested, triggering a battle between British soldiers (supported by the Shia leadership of the Iraqi central government) and the local police (supported by local Shia leaders). This confrontation initiated a series of armed confrontations among the various contenders for power in Basra.
Similar confrontations have occurred in other localities, including Karbala, Najaf, Sadr City, and Maysan province. So far no general offensive to recapture the any of these areas has been attempted, but Britain has recently been concentrating its troops outside Basra.
If the occupation decides to use military means to bring the Shia cities back into anything like an American orbit, full-scale battles may be looming in the near future that could begin to replicate the fighting in Sunni areas, including the use of IEDs, so far only sporadically employed in the south. If you think American (and British) troops are overextended now, dealing with internecine warfare and a minority Sunni insurgency, just imagine what a real Shiite insurgency would mean.
7. There Are Three Distinct Types of Terrorism in Iraq, All Directly or Indirectly Connected to the Occupation
Terrorism involves attacking civilians to force them to abandon their support for your enemy, or to drive them away from a coveted territory.
The original terrorists in Iraq were the military and civilian officials of the Bush administration -- starting with their "shock and awe" bombing campaign that destroyed Iraqi infrastructure in order to "undermine civilian morale." The American form of terrorism continued with the wholesale destruction of most of Falluja and parts of other Sunni cities, designed to pacify the "hot beds" of insurgency, while teaching the residents of those areas that, if they "harbor the insurgents," they will surely "suffer the consequences."
At the individual level, this program of terror was continued through the invasions of, and demolishing of, homes (or, in some cases, parts of neighborhoods) where insurgents were believed to be hidden among a larger civilian population, thus spreading the "lesson" about "harboring terrorists" to everyone in the Sunni sections of the country. Generating a violent death rate of at least 18,000 per year, the American drumbeat of terror has contributed more than its share to the recently escalating civilian death toll, which reached a record 3,149 in the official count during July. It is unfortunately accurate to characterize the American occupation of Sunni Iraq as a reign of terror.
The Sunni terrorists like those led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have utilized the suicide car bomb to generate the most widely publicized violence in Iraq -- hundreds of civilian casualties each month resulting from attacks on restaurants, markets, and mosques where large number of Shia congregate. At the beginning of the U.S. occupation, car bombs were nonexistent; they only became common when a tiny proportion of the Sunni resistance movement became convinced that the Shia were the main domestic support for the American occupation. (As far as we can tell, the vast majority of those fighting the Americans oppose such terrorists and have sometimes fought with them.) As al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote, these attacks were justified by "the treason of the Shia and their collusion with the Americans." As if to prove him correct, the number of such attacks tripled to current levels of about 70 per month after the Shia-dominated Iraqi government supported the American devastation of Falluja in November 2004.
The Sunni terrorists work with the same terrorist logic that the Americans have applied in Iraq: Attacks on civilians are meant to terrify them into not supporting the enemy. There is a belief, of course, among the leadership of the Sunni terrorists that, ultimately, only the violent suppression or expulsion of the Shia is acceptable. But as Zawahiri himself stated, the "majority of Muslims don't comprehend this and possibly could not even imagine it." So the practical justification for such terrorism lies in the more immediate association of the Shia with the hated occupation.
The final link in the terrorist chain can also be traced back to the occupation. In January of 2005, Newsweek broke the story that the U.S. was establishing (Shiite) "death squads" within the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, modeled after the assassination teams that the CIA had helped organize in El Salvador during the 1980s. These death squads were intended to assassinate activists and supporters of the Sunni resistance. Particularly after the bombing of the Golden Dome, an important Shia shrine in Samarra, in March 2006, they became a fixture in Baghdad, where thousands of corpses -- virtually all Sunni men -- have been found with signs of torture, including electric-drill holes, in their bodies and bullet holes in their heads. Here, again, the logic is the same: to use terror to stop the Sunni community from nurturing and harboring both the terrorist car bombers and the anti-American resistance fighters.
While there is disagreement about whether the Americans, the Shia-controlled Iraqi Ministry of Defense, or the Shia political parties should shoulder the most responsibility for loosing these death squads on Baghdad, one conclusion is indisputable: They have earned their place in the ignominious triumvirate of Iraqi terrorism.
One might say that the war has converted one of President Bush's biggest lies into an unimaginably horrible truth: Iraq is now the epicenter of worldwide terrorism.
Where the 7 Facts Lead
With this terror triumvirate at the center of Iraqi society, we now enter the horrible era of ethnic cleansing, the logical extension of multidimensional terror.
When the U.S. toppled the Hussein regime, there was little sectarian sentiment outside of Kurdistan, which had longstanding nationalist ambitions. Even today, opinion polls show that more than two-thirds of Sunnis and Shia stand opposed to the idea of any further weakening of the central government and are not in favor of federation, no less dividing Iraq into three separate nations.
Nevertheless, ethnic cleansing by both Shia and Sunni has become the order of the day in many of the neighborhoods of Baghdad, replete with house burnings, physical assaults, torture, and murder, all directed against those who resist leaving their homes. These acts are aimed at creating religiously homogeneous neighborhoods.
This is a terrifying development that derives from the rising tide of terrorism. Sunnis believe that they must expel their Shia neighbors to stop them from giving the Shiite death squads the names of resistance fighters and their supporters. Shia believe that they must expel their Sunni neighbors to stop them from providing information and cover for car-bombing attacks. And, as the situation matures, militants on both sides come to embrace removal -- period. As these actions escalate, feeding on each other, more and more individuals, caught in a vise of fear and bent on revenge, embrace the infernal logic of terrorism: that it is acceptable to punish everyone for the actions of a tiny minority.
There is still some hope for the Iraqis to recover their equilibrium. All the centripetal forces in Iraq derive from the American occupation, and might still be sufficiently reduced by an American departure followed by a viable reconstruction program embraced by the key elements inside of Iraq. But if the occupation continues, there will certainly come a point -- perhaps already passed -- when the collapse of government legitimacy, the destruction wrought by the war, and the horror of terrorist violence become self-sustaining. If that point is reached, all parties will enter a new territory with incalculable consequences.
Michael Schwartz, Professor of Sociology and Faculty Director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University, has written extensively on popular protest and insurgency, and on American business and government dynamics. His work on Iraq has appeared on numerous Internet sites, including Tomdispatch, Asia Times, Mother Jones.com, and ZNet; and in print in Contexts, Against the Current, and Z Magazine. His books include Radical Protest and Social Structure, and Social Policy and the Conservative Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo). His email address is Ms42@optonline.net.