Livin' it up, American style

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Just type in evil, Iran, nuclear, destroy, America, and hit search. Congratulations, you've just gathered vital US intelligence and the State Department will be in touch with you momentarily to see your results.

The State Department needed some intelligence information regarding the names of Iranians involved in building Iran's nuclear program, so like any good government agency, they approached the masters of intelligence, the good guys over at the CIA. Well, the CIA refused to give the State Department any help, saying they were too busy and didn't want to reveal any trade secrets on how they gather intelligence information. I guess the CIA missed the memo explaining how not sharing information can lead to the government overlooking the potential danger of plane-crashing crazy terrorists, or the false creation of a large WMD program. Anyway, the State Department really needed to get some names of dangerous Iranians, so they turned to the most reliable source of information out there- the internet, more specifically, Google.

Now don't get me wrong, I love Google. I use it easily 5 times an hour, not to mention Gmail, Google Talk, and a multitude of other Google programs that I probably don't even know are owned by that internet behemoth. I used it to write papers in college, to find the nearest bank, look up recipes, and to coo at pictures of cute kittens. However, please note I did not mention 'look up classified intelligence information about Iranian terrorists'. But that's just what one poor Foreign Service officer had to do, all because the CIA wouldn't share its info on Iran.

I guess you could say he was successful, because by searching terms such as Iran and Nuclear the internet yielded over a hundred names. Too bad many of the names were of Iranian diplomats and other people who are working with UN inspectors, in other words, the good guys. But the State Department submitted the list to the CIA anyway, to get their approval. But the CIA said the list was too long and would take too much work to go through the whole list. So the State Department cut the list in half and resubmitted it. Eventually the CIA approved 12 of the names, but they also said that none of the names are people connected to Project 1-11, which is apparently "Iran's secret military effort to design a weapons system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead" (Wash Post). (Just to check the effectiveness of Google, I searched for Project 1-11 and Iran, and got zero results except that Washington Post article) So I guess those 12 people are somehow suspicious in other ways, so suspicious that they are being dealt with in a US backed resolution at the United Nations.

Yep, this carefully researched intelligence is being put in a draft resolution backed by the US, Britain and France that would call for a ban on international travel and the freezing of the assets of those 12 people. First we rely on evidence gathered from people we tortured who may or may not have been terrorists, then we get our intelligence on Iran off the internet because the CIA is too paranoid to share its information. Great, just great. I feel totally confident in what the government tells me, don't you? Next it's going to ban tin foil because the internet told them that some Americans are communicating with Osama through tin foil satellites. Actually, that's true. Google told me so.

Friday, December 08, 2006

You thought Saddam's digs were fancy? Wait until you see our new embassy.

The Iraqi people may not have sewers or electricity, but they will soon be the proud hosts of the largest US embassy in the world. Most embassies cover about 10 acres, but this new one will be a whopping 104 acres alongside the Tigris River. We're talking a $529 million facility with 21 buildings, an apartment complex, a gym, a pool, restaurants, shops, a beauty salon, a movie theater, a food court, and of course, its own sewer, water treatment plant, and power generator. Of course we wouldn't want to rely on the Iraqi sewers or water or power plants, because frankly, they're quite unreliable, if not mostly non-existent. I for one sleep easier knowing that while the Iraqi people in Baghdad may only get 4 hours of electricity a day and very little access to clean water, the Americans in Iraq will not have to suffer at all. Really, who doesn't believe it's more important for Americans to get their hair done and watch a movie than for Iraqis to have power to run an oven, or air-conditioner, or refrigerator, or lights in a school or hospital?

We're also outfitting the embassy with 15 foot thick walls, cause we don't want to risk the chance that some Iraqi might get inside and see that while they don't get electricity at their house a few miles down the street, the Americans have so much they can run lights all through the night so construction on the embassy can take place 24/7. Well, you may think, I bet all that construction is providing lots of Iraqis with decent paying jobs. Sadly, you would be wrong. The construction company building the embassy is Kuwaiti, and the 900 on-site workers are almost all Asian. It's really too bad these 900 workers couldn't be drawn from the Iraqi population, which has an almost 50% unemployment rate. Security is usually the cited reason. I guess we are afraid any Iraqi workers would get upset and resentful to see how lavish everything at the embassy is compared to life outside the 15 foot walls. Locals are already calling it George W's Palace.

The government is remaining very quiet about the whole issue. Reporters' questions are directed to the State Department, which says it cannot comment because of security concerns. The government has not released any photos of the project, and any unofficial pictures of the complex just show a wall with about 10 large construction cranes behind it rising in the sky. So first Saddam built lavish, expensive palaces while the Iraqi people starved, and now the US is doing the same thing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Revolving Door

The New York Times had an
article today about the deregulation of the US semi-trucking industry. It talked about how the powerful trucking lobby has convinced the Bush administration to loosen regulations and safety standards. Truck drivers are now allowed to stay on the roads for longer periods of time, and there is little oversight of truckers' hours to make sure they are not driving more than the allowed hours a week and are resting for the mandated time between trips.

The trucking industry has partly been able to achieve these changes courtesy of Bush, who has placed many former trucking officials in key administration positions, mostly in the transportation department. For example, to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Bush selected a man who was the former chairman of Roadway, a large trucking company. This same man was a leader of an industry foundation that sponsored research that determined fatigue was not a factor in trucking accidents, despite the fact that every other study on the same topic has found the exact opposite. Yeah, this is really the man I want making decisions about my safety on the road. Next he's going to tell us that the safest drivers in America are parents who talk on their cell phone while simultaneously yelling at one of the 5 screaming kids in the back seats.

This story about the trucking official who made it big in the government is a shining example of something political scientists call the "revolving door". The revolving door refers to the way that industry officials leave their position in the private sector for a job in the government that mainly involves oversight or regulation of their former industry, like the above example of the trucker official. It also refers to the way that Congressmen, their staff, and other government officials will leave their government jobs to take a position as a lobbyist in an industry that they were previously overseeing or working with in their former position.

In fact, 43% of former Congressmen who have left Congress since 1998 and are eligible, have become lobbyists. (former Congressmen have to wait one year after leaving office before they can lobby their former colleagues) A former Congressman still holds many privileges at the Capitol. He/she can roam freely on the floors of the House and Senate, they get to keep using the House gym, and they can go anywhere in the Capitol labeled for congress members only. This gives these congressmen-turned-lobbyists almost unfettered access to the law makers of the country to push the agenda of the industry for whom they now work.

This revolving door quite understandably leads to many conflicts of interest. A newly appointed government official who has spent 20 years working for a logging company is not going to be very sympathetic to the idea of restricting logging in order to save the spotted owl. One specific example is James Connaughton, who is currently the chairman of the Council of Environmental Quality, the main environmental advisors to the president. His former job? A lobbyist for the utility industry and large electricity users. He was one of the great guys who led the fight to allow more arsenic in drinking water, and he persistently advises Bush to ignore the evil conspiracy theory of global warming. Going the other way in the revolving door is Edward Aldridge, who as a Pentagon official long criticized an overpriced plan to buy 20 Lockheed Martin planes. Well, one day he decided that he did approve of the $3 billion dollar plan. And then a few weeks later, he left his job at the Pentagon to go join the board of Lockheed Martin.

Talk about conflict of interest. And it's all legal, and it's all your environmental safety, and drinking water healthiness and your tax money, and YOU that is the loser in these dealings.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Fat Russians are Coming

A few posts ago I talked about a former KGB-spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who was a vocal critic of Putin. He had been investigating the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and had recently been taken seriously ill, ostensibly by poisoning. He continued to get sicker and sicker, and just died last week. It was determined he was killed by exposure to polonium-210, a rare and little known radioactive substance. Traces of polonium-210 was also found in his widow's body, and in the body of the man that Litvinenko had met with on the day of his poisoning. Several planes and restaurants in London that Litvinenko had been in also tested positive for traces of radioactive polonium. This is pretty crazy, it's like the Cold War never ended, except that now these things don't happen in secret behind the Iron Curtain, and now Russia's not supposed to be a repressive regime that does stuff like poison its government's critics. Unfortunately, we will probably never know who is to blame for this spy's poisoning, because it is very difficult to trace the origin of polonium 210, which is probably why it was the radioactive substance of choice.

In other news, being fat, even just 30-40 pounds overweight, is more expensive than being of normal weight, and not because of money spent buying lots of food. Fat people pay more for health insurance, and are at higher risk for diabetes, an expensive disease. They will also face discrimination at work, and earn less money over their life time, and have a harder time getting hired and promoted. (Weight discrimination is only illegal in Michigan). Just a week or so ago, I was reading about people at universities and think tanks promoting 'fat studies', kind of like gender studies or something. It championed the right of people to be fat, and wants to work to fight discrimination against fat people. I can understand wanting to fight the discrimination and low self-image that comes with being overweight, but it's a lie to tell people it's ok to be overweight. It's been proven that their wealth and health will suffer as long as they are obese. It's irresponsible to positively promote being overweight.

I was trying to find some funny or ironic news to talk about, but there's not much good news out there today, with all those car bombs going off in Baghdad. So I'll just finish with a couple of recent Bush-isms.

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."—Interview with CBS News, Washington D.C., Sept. 6, 2006 -Well, it's easy to connect Iraq to Bush's war OF terror.

"I've reminded the prime minister—the American people, Mr. Prime Minister, over the past months that it was not always a given that the United States and America would have a close relationship."—Washington, D.C., June 29, 2006 - Ummmm, okay?

President Bush: Peter. Are you going to ask that question with shades on?
Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times: I can take them off.
Bush: I'm interested in the shade look, seriously.
Wallsten: All right, I'll keep it, then.
Bush: For the viewers, there's no sun.
Wallsten: I guess it depends on your perspective.
Bush: Touché.
—Exchange with legally blind reporter Peter Wallsten, to whom Bush later apologized, Washington, D.C., June 14, 2006 -I'm guessing Bush probably isn't endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind.