Monthly Archives: August, 2006

Hysterical Antecedents

Sheiks On A Plane

Never mind Snakes On A Plane, airline travelers and crew members are much more apprehensive about terrorists on a plane. Indeed, in the aftermath of the alleged British terror plot that was foiled earlier this month and the heightened security that followed this event, the friendly skies have been downright hysterical. Fliers are jumpier than members of Dick Cheney’s hunting party (and perhaps his political party). They’re seeing terrorists everywhere. Suspects abound. And, by suspects, I mean those who appear of Middle Eastern descent or of Muslim faith. Thanks to their dangerously extremist brethren, these are exceedingly difficult times for such folks, who, however innocent or unassuming, are viewed with more suspicion than Cindy Sheehan at a GOP fundraiser. Consider the recent consequences…

From the Washington Post:

Travelers Are Jittery After Air Plot Arrests

At an airport in Spain, a terrified 12-year-old girl began crying and pointing at two passengers, both Muslim college students, fueling a panic that led to their removal from the plane. A West Virginia airport terminal was evacuated when officials wrongly suspected that luggage belonging to a woman of Pakistani descent contained liquid explosives. A Muslim doctor was escorted off a United Airlines flight in Denver after passengers became suspicious when he recited prayers.

A growing number of these kinds of incidents in recent days suggest how jittery and suspicious air travelers have become. Since British police announced earlier this month that they had broken up an alleged plot by young British Muslims to bomb jetliners flying from Britain to the United States, passengers and pilots are reporting high anxiety in the skies.

Some say the feeling is an understandable response to extraordinarily unsettling events involving airplanes, beginning with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But many Muslims—and even Sikhs and other non-Muslim people who appear Asian—say they are suffering for doing nothing more than “TWA: traveling while Asian.� [full text]

From the New York Times:

Dutch, Seeing No Terror Link, Free 12 Held After India Flight

Dutch authorities said Thursday that they were releasing all 12 passengers arrested on Wednesday after they aroused suspicion on a Northwest Airlines flight to India and it made an emergency landing in Amsterdam.

The police said that the men had been unruly but that no evidence was found that they were planning any terrorist actions.

The men, all Indian citizens or of Indian descent, had aroused the suspicion of the crew and several federal air marshals when they began using and passing around cellphones soon after takeoff from Amsterdam and ignored orders to keep their seat belts on and stay in their seats.

Because of the group’s behavior, the pilot of the DC-10 decided to return to Amsterdam, and on the way back the plane was escorted by two Dutch fighter jets. On arrival, the 12 men were handcuffed and led away by the police, who held them overnight in a detention center. [full text]

From the Bangor Daily News:

Handcuffed Man Removed from Plane Diverted to Bangor

A man was handcuffed and removed Friday from a trans-Atlantic flight that was diverted to Bangor International Airport, passengers said.

American Airlines Flight 55, a Boeing 767, was en route from Manchester, England, to Chicago, when it was diverted for security reasons, said Arlene Murray, New England regional spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

She declined to elaborate….

Passengers told reporters that a man they believed to be of Middle Eastern descent was handcuffed and taken away by police. [full text]

Despite these incidents and others like them, government officials in the U.S. and abroad seem rather blasé about the growing hysteria and the prejudice and harassment that such breeds. Through their inaction or collusion, they sow further seeds of discontent in the Muslim and Arab world and so, rather than creating greater security, create less.

Cranston Ward 2 Debate Last Night

It sounds like this was a lively debate. I’m sorry I had to miss it, but we already had an important commitment to honor — the publication party for The Book of Regrets, a poetry collection published by Little Pear Press, which I’ll say more about soon. The summary of the debate seems to focus more on the clashes between Navarro and Castellone, so if others can add comments fleshing out what was covered, that would be great. From Projo:

CRANSTON — Emilio L. Navarro stressed his “lifelong commitment” to the Democratic Party, drawing attention to his opponent’s past Republican affiliation. Joseph C. Castellone praised the city’s fiscal strength and suggested that Navarro was allied with politicians who had nearly bankrupted the city four years ago.

That was just in their opening remarks.

The candidates for the Democratic nomination for the Ward 2 City Council seat faced off last night in what will probably be the only debate before the Sept. 12 primary, and they seized on the opportunity to distinguish their platforms.

“I am the only choice for that seat,” said Navarro, 39, a truck salesman who heads the local Little League. “If you want what’s best for your family, you will give me your vote.”

Republican Mark J. Lucas, who has no primary opponent in his bid for the Ward 2 seat, also participated in the debate, held at the Central Library, on Sockanosset Cross Road. The debate, sponsored by the Cranston Herald newspaper, attracted more than 50 people.

The most pointed exchanges, however, were between Navarro and Castellone, 42, who appeared eager to stake out conflicting positions on most issues and, at times, ridiculed each other’s ideas.

At one point, Castellone mocked Navarro’s proposal to drain the Budlong Pool every fall to accommodate skateboarders, saying mischievous youths need structure and parental oversight. “Rather than send them off on a skateboard,” he said, “I’d like to send them off in the right direction.”

Later, when Castellone called for eliminating the fees residents pay to use the pool, Navarro dismissed the idea as counterproductive. He said the city needed to raise revenue to improve the aging facility. (Residents pay $50 for a season family pass, $25 for an individual.)

“The fee that’s charged is a bargain,” Navarro said, agreeing with Lucas. “Every little bit helps.”

Navarro, who has never before sought elective office, said the City Council should strip developer Piyush Patel of the liquor license it issued him for the restaurant Patel says would be part of his redevelopment of the long-closed Park Cinema.

That project, he said, is as good as dead. “The only thing that’s happened is weeds growing,” he said. “We need to tell Patel to just give it up.”

Castellone, the owner of Cranston Firearms, disagreed. Navarro’s plan, he countered, would doom the project. “The idea is not to continue to strangle this businessman,” he said, a position echoed by Lucas. “We need to work with him.”

The two switched their postures dramatically when asked about the council’s strained relationship with the School Committee, with Navarro counseling reconciliation, and Castellone taking a hard line.

Navarro, running with the endorsement of the Democratic Ward 2 City Committee, said the council members should “build relationships” with the school board members to find common ground. He said the department should continue to enjoy virtual autonomy over its spending. [full text]

I was wondering if the issue of the Cullion Corporation Concrete batching plant came up. The latest news on this issue seemed discouraging, as the lawyer for Cullion was quoted in the Projo earlier in the week saying he fully expected the DEM to approve their building permit, over the strong objections of residents and businesses in the area. Council President Garabedian said that there will be another hearing of the City Council to solicit testimony from the DEM about the project.

Help Chafee Take a Position on Net Neutrality

The issue of net neutrality has been an issue that Lincoln Chafee, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Steve Laffey have all avoided taking a position on. The House of Representatives has already voted to give more power to corporations on the issue of internet communication. Now there is an effort from corporate lobbyists to force a vote on this issue in the Senate. Senators like Lincoln Chafee need to know that this is not a small, insignificant issue. Further, if Chafee takes a position on this issue, it may help encourage the other candidates to research this issue thoroughly and let the public know where they stand. From Moveon.org:

Can you help deliver the petitions next Wednesday—asking Senator Chafee to protect Net Neutrality? Please RSVP below.

What: Internet freedom petition delivery to the senator’s office
Where: Senator Chafee’s Providence Office, 170 Westminster Street, Providence, RI
When: Wednesday, 30 Aug 2006, 12:00 PM

Link to RSVP

Sign the petition here

For more on net neutrality, visit Save The Internet.

Failing Health Care

Bush is for inadequate health care

Occasionally, President Bush is forthcoming about what he stands for, as illustrated in the photo above. Earlier this year, Mr. Bush presented his proposed 2007 budget to the nation. A careful review of the budget revealed cuts to many valuable health care programs, as reported by the Washington Post:

If enacted, the 2007 budget would eliminate federal programs that support inner-city Indian health clinics, defibrillators in rural areas, an educational campaign about Alzheimer’s disease, centers for traumatic brain injuries, and a nationwide registry for Lou Gehrig’s disease. It would cut close to $1 billion in health care grants to states and would kill the entire budget of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center.

In a $2.8 trillion budget, the amounts involved may seem minuscule, but proponents argue that the health care projects Bush has singled out are the “ultimate homeland security,” as Vinay Nadkarni put it. The spokesman for the American Heart Association said he cannot fathom why the administration has recommended eliminating a $1.5 million program that provides defibrillators to rural communities and trains local personnel on how to use the machines to restart hearts that go into cardiac arrest.

“Coronary heart disease is the number one killer in the United States,” Nadkarni said. “This is actually something we can arm ourselves with.” [full text]

There appears little question that the health care system in this country is inadequate, inefficient, and inequitable and that the Bush administration and Congress have failed to take any substantive action to remedy the situation. Compelling evidence of the health care crisis is offered by Doug Pibel and Sarah van Gelder in an article in the Fall 2006 issue of YES! Magazine:

Health Care: It’s What Ails Us

For Joel Segal, it was the day he was kicked out of George Washington Hospital, still on an IV after knee surgery, without insurance, and with $100,000 in medical debt. For Kiki Peppard, it was having to postpone needed surgery until she could find a job with insurance—it took her two years. People all over the United States are waking up to the fact that our system of providing health care is a disaster.

An estimated 50 million Americans lack medical insurance, and a similar and rapidly growing number are underinsured. The uninsured are excluded from services, charged more for services, and die when medical care could save them—an estimated 18,000 die each year because they lack medical coverage.

But it’s not only the uninsured who suffer. Of the more than 1.5 million bankruptcies filed in the U.S. each year, about half are a result of medical bills; of those, three-quarters of filers had health insurance.

Businesses are suffering too. Insurance premiums increased 73 percent between 2000 and 2005, and per capita costs are expected to keep rising. The National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) estimates that, without reform, national health care spending will double over the next 10 years. The NCHC is not some fringe advocacy group—its co-chairs are Congressmen Robert D. Ray (R-IA) and Paul G. Rogers (D-FL), and it counts General Electric and Verizon among its members.

Employers who want to offer employee health care benefits can’t compete with low-road employers who offer none. Nor can they compete with companies located in countries that offer national health insurance.

The shocking facts about health care in the United States are well known. There’s little argument that the system is broken. What’s not well known is that the dialogue about fixing the health care system is just as broken.

Among politicians and pundits, a universal, publicly funded system is off the table. But Americans in increasing numbers know what their leaders seem not to — that the United States is the only industrialized nation where such stories as Joel’s and Kiki’s can happen.

And most Americans know why: the United States leaves the health of its citizens at the mercy of an expensive, patchwork system where some get great care while others get none at all.

The overwhelming majority — 75 percent, according to an October 2005 Harris Poll — want what people in other wealthy countries have: the peace of mind of universal health insurance. [full text]

Hurricane Katrina Coverage and More

Ava Lowery, the young activist phenom from Alabama, has recently created two new animation videos which may be viewed on her website, Peace Takes Courage. Both videos, “Progress� in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, are powerful and well-worth watching.

By the way, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating rampage through the Gulf Coast is nearly upon us. The enormous human costs of this tragedy have been well-documented, but the ecological costs have generally received less attention. The National Geographic explores this subject (and many others related to the disaster) in their current issue:

• Hurricane Katrina’s Ecological Legacy: Lost Swamps, Crops, Islands

• Hurricane Katrina: Complete Coverage

Weapons of Mass Distension

The following article from today’s Chicago Sun-Times offers hard evidence that, on occasion, some claims of a terrorist threat are inflated:

Is that a grenade in your pocket?

Mardin Azad Amin found himself in a tight squeeze last week when security at O’Hare Airport discovered a suspicious-looking object in his luggage.

So, Amin, 29, handled the delicate situation this way: He told security the object was a bomb, Cook County prosecutors say.

The security guard then asked Amin to repeat what he’d said to a supervisor. This time, Amin was chuckling as he spoke, prosecutors say.

In fact, Amin was trying to disguise the fact that the black object — resembling a grenade — was a component for a penis pump.

All the same, Amin was charged with felony disorderly conduct and faces up to three years in prison if convicted, said Andrew Conklin, a spokesman with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Amin is due in court today for a preliminary hearing, Conklin said.

Amin eventually told investigators he’d lied about the object’s true use because his mother was standing nearby when the object was discovered and he didn’t want her to know about it, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto said during a bond hearing last week.

The incident occurred Aug. 16 as Amin was set to catch a flight to Turkey, Scaduto said.

Amin has no known criminal history, Scaduto said.

Clearly, some individuals will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment—even if it means serving hard time. I wonder what sort of defense Amin’s attorney will erect. ;-)

The Tragedy of Unintended Consequences

Tragedy abounds in this world. It always has, in various measures, and always will. In the face of tragedy, many questions linger. Why did this happen? What does it mean? Could it have been averted? Those answers that perchance come tend to be rather individual, filtered as they are through one’s beliefs, values, and experiences. Rarely do the answers, such as they are, bring adequate comfort and resolution. For the past, with all its losses and horrors, cannot be undone. The fact of the tragedy remains, and so the question becomes: what can be taken from this event?

Today’s Boston Globe offers a story of one recent tragedy. Here is an excerpt from that article:

Injured woman drowns when rescue boat capsizes in Connecticut River

CHARLESTOWN, N.H. –An injured woman drowned after a rescue boat taking her to an ambulance capsized in the Connecticut River, trapping her underneath in 20 feet of water, authorities said.

Virginia Yates, 60, of Rockingham, Vt., was stepping on a dock when she slipped, injured her head and fell into the river, said Sgt. Craig Morrocco of the Fish and Game Department.

A fire and rescue crew from Cornish brought Yates onto their brand new, flat-bottomed airboat and strapped her onto a backboard.

But as the boat headed to a waiting ambulance at a landing, it started taking on water and capsized, said Morrocco, whose agency was called to the scene about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“The boat swamped and emergency services personnel were unable to recover Miss Yates until some time later, and she’s passed” said Marc Hathaway, Sullivan County attorney.

Edgar Emerson, of Bellows Falls, Vt., said he and Yates were on their way to visit friends when she slipped getting out of his pontoon boat and onto a dock on the Vermont side of the river.

She had cuts and bruises on her head and arms and might have broken her ankle, so he made sure she was seated on the shore before he boated to Hoyt’s Landing in Springfield, Vt., to find a cell phone and call friends. Others persuaded him to call 911, he said.

“She didn’t want to go in the ambulance, she didn’t want to be rescued,” Emerson told the Rutland Herald….

None of the Cornish fire and rescue crew members were reported injured. Yates remained underwater for nearly an hour.

The cause of the accident was unclear. [full text]

What may be taken from this unfortunate event is the sadly ironic parallel with a tragedy of far greater proportions: the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. President Bush and members of his administration have frequently asserted—once the dissembling about weapons of mass destruction and links with al-Qaeda were exposed—that a key reason for invading Iraq was, in effect, to rescue the Iraqi people, to liberate them from the injurious regime of a brutal man. In March of this year, Mr. Bush described the invasion as “the necessary first step in restoring stability and freedom to the people of Iraq.� While there appears to have been no time in recent history that the Iraqi people have actually experienced much “stability and freedom,� thus making its restoration a questionable premise, it nonetheless appears clear that the lofty goals espoused by the President remain a distant likelihood. The “freedom agenda,� as he has taken to calling it, has proved disastrous. Far from being rescued, the people of Iraq have experienced enormous suffering and loss of life. Consider the following:

• At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 US-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry, and other agencies — a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration. Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but have not been counted because of serious lapses in recording the number of deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government and continued spotty reporting nationwide. (Boston Globe, 6/25/06)

• Malnutrition among Iraqi children has reached alarming levels, according to a U.N.-backed government survey showing people are struggling to cope three years after U.S.-forces overthrew Saddam Hussein. Nine percent — almost one in 10 — of children aged between six months and five years, suffered acute malnourishment, said the report on food security and vulnerability in Iraq. “Children are…major victims of food insecurity,â€? it said, describing the situation as “alarming.â€? A total of four million Iraqis, roughly 15 percent of the population, were in dire need of humanitarian aid including food, up from 11 percent in a 2003 report. (Reuters, 6/15/06)

• Nationwide statistics during the past three years suggest that American efforts to secure Iraq aren’t succeeding. While various military operations have at times improved security in parts of the country, the bloodshed has mounted with each U.S.-declared step of progress, according to figures that the Brookings Institution research center compiled from news and government reports. When L. Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. representative in Iraq, appointed an Iraqi Governing Council in July 2003, insurgent attacks averaged 16 daily. When Saddam Hussein was captured that December, the average was 19. When Bremer signed the hand-over of sovereignty in June 2004, it was 45 attacks daily. When Iraq held its elections for a transitional government in January 2005, it was 61. When Iraqis voted last December for a permanent government, it was 75. When U.S. forces killed terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi in June, it was up to 90. (McClatchy Newspapers, 8/14/06)

• July appears to have been the deadliest month of the war for Iraqi civilians, according to figures from the Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue, reinforcing criticism that the Baghdad security plan started in June by the new Iraqi government has failed. An average of more than 110 Iraqis were killed each day in July, according to the figures. The total number of civilian deaths that month, 3,438, is a 9 percent increase over the tally in June and nearly double the toll in January. The rising numbers indicate that sectarian violence is spiraling out of control and seem to bolster an assertion that many senior Iraqi officials and American military analysts have been making in recent months: that the country is already embroiled in a civil war, not just slipping toward one, and that the American-led forces are caught between Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias. (New York Times, 8/15/06)

How much evidence is required before Mr. Bush and others who would tout America’s success in Iraq wake up and smell the gunpowder? Whatever the intentions may have been, however noble or nefarious, it is patently obvious that U.S. efforts have produced greater harm than good. A fundamental tenet of medicine is primum non nocere, which is Latin for “first, do no harm.â€? Those responsible for formulating and implementing this nation’s foreign and domestic policies ought take this principle more to heart and take heed of the difficult lessons such tragedies as Iraq may afford. Virginia Yates died while being rescued on the Connecticut River, for reasons that remain unclear. It was an unintended consequence. Iraqi civilians are dying every day in Baghdad and Basra and Ramadi, for reasons that are perhaps more clear but no less deadly. It is an unintended consequence, as well. Daily, the body count rises, and the liberation grinds on. What is to be taken from all this?

Bush Administration Fails to Help New Orleans

Bush touts Gulf Coast recovery

I know that the business of governance is diverse and complex, but anyone who would give the Bush administration a passing grade, particularly for its performance in the last year or so, ought have their head examined. (For a modest fee, I can make myself available for such a consultation.) The biggest reason to flunk Mr Bush and his inglorious band of flunkies is the unconscionably shoddy response to Hurricane Katrina, past and present, which has left New Orleans (and other areas of the Gulf Coast) in such utter disrepair that it may be years before the city and its residents adequately recover. The gross incompetence, malfeasance, and corruption that has marked—or, more accurately, impeded—the rebuilding efforts and the misery that has resulted from such are shameful. The situation is inexcusable and decidedly unbecoming of a nation as rich as ours. It sickens me, a feeling that grew exponentially after I read an article today on the Common Dreams website by Bill Quigley, who is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Quigley thoroughly documents the many ways in which New Orleans is presently far from recovered and the federal government has failed to offer due relief. I highly recommend the article, which is too lengthy to excerpt but may be found here:

Trying to Make It Home: New Orleans One Year After Katrina

New Terrorist Plot Uncovered!

As much as I hate to admit it, President Bush may have been right when he asserted that the terrorists are “people who will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives.� On the heels of the recently foiled British terror plot (a.k.a. the al-Qoolata conspiracy) comes word of a plot so fiendish and disturbing that it begs the question: how low can these dirtbags go? It’s bad enough that the terrorists are exploiting angry and impressionable Muslim youth, turning them into IEDs (Improvised Explosive Dudes). But now, apparently not content with their exploitation of one species, these yahoos are using woodland animals to wreak havoc on innocent Americans. It’s true! Thankfully, the ever vigilant folks at the Department of Homeland Security (motto: We Put the Cur in Security) were able to uncover the plot, as reported in today’s Washington Post:

Psycho killer raccoons terrorize Olympia

OLYMPIA, Washington—A fierce group of raccoons has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, residents of Olympia say.

Some have taken to carrying pepper spray to ward off the masked marauders and the woman who was bitten now carries an iron pipe when she goes outside at night.

“It’s a new breed,” said Tamara Keeton, who with Kari Hall started a raccoon watch after an emotional neighborhood meeting drew 40 people. “They’re urban raccoons, and they’re not afraid.”

Tony Benjamins, whose family lost two cats, said he got a big dog — a German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix — to keep the raccoons away….

In one case five raccoons tried to carry off a small dog, which managed to survive.

The attacks…are highly unusual, said Sean O. Carrell, a problem wildlife coordinator with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, adding that trappers may be summoned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove problem animals….

Meanwhile, residents have hired Tom Brown, a nuisance wildlife control operator from Rochester, Washington, to set traps, but in six weeks he has caught only one raccoon. He and Carrell said raccoons teach their young — and each other — to avoid traps.

Brown said he had seen packs of raccoons this big but none so into killing.

“They are in command up there,” he said. [full text]

Stunning Evidence of Dark Matter

Dark Matter Discovered

From today’s Boston Globe:

Scientists say they have proof of dark matter

For decades, many scientists have theorized that the universe is made up of nearly undetectable mysterious substances called dark matter and dark energy. But until yesterday there was no proof that the subatomic matter exists.

After studying data from a long-ago collision of two giant galaxies, researchers now say they are certain dark matter exists and plays a central role in creating and defining gravity throughout the universe.

While the scientists are not sure exactly what dark matter is, since they have yet to identify it in a laboratory, they said the workings of the universe cannot be explained without it.

The finding will have potentially great impact on an active debate among physicists and cosmologists about not only dark matter, but the workings of gravity. Indeed, the theory of dark matter evolved largely to explain the finding several decades ago that there was not enough visible matter in the universe to produce and account for the gravity needed to keep galaxies from flying apart.

“A universe that’s dominated by dark stuff seems preposterous, so we wanted to test whether there were any basic flaws in our thinking,” said Doug Clowe of the University of Arizona in Tucson, leader of the NASA-Harvard University study. “These results are direct proof that dark matter exists.” [full text]

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