Hey, Don’t Bogart That Climate!

From the New York Times:

Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms

The world’s richest countries, which have contributed by far the most to the atmospheric changes linked to global warming, are already spending billions of dollars to limit their own risks from its worst consequences, like drought and rising seas.

But despite longstanding treaty commitments to help poor countries deal with warming, these industrial powers are spending just tens of millions of dollars on ways to limit climate and coastal hazards in the world’s most vulnerable regions — most of them close to the equator and overwhelmingly poor.

Next Friday, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that since 1990 has been assessing global warming, will underline this growing climate divide, according to scientists involved in writing it — with wealthy nations far from the equator not only experiencing fewer effects but also better able to withstand them.

Two-thirds of the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas that can persist in the air for centuries, has come in nearly equal proportions from the United States and Western European countries. Those and other wealthy nations are investing in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater to drinking water, in flood barriers and floatable homes, and in grains and soybeans genetically altered to flourish even in a drought.

In contrast, Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the global emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel burning since 1900, yet its 840 million people face some of the biggest risks from drought and disrupted water supplies, according to new scientific assessments. As the oceans swell with water from melting ice sheets, it is the crowded river deltas in southern Asia and Egypt, along with small island nations, that are most at risk.

“Like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic,� said Henry I. Miller, a fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheaper decks were lost. We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.� [full text]

Pouty Politics Redux

As the hours dwindle on the month of March, 2007, let us pause to mourn the 80 American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in this 49th month of the Iraq War. As of this writing, a total of 3,246 American service members have perished in this unholy conflict, 917 in the last year alone. Clearly, this nation’s march into Iraq is not going out like a lamb. However, folks have had their fill of all the lyin’. And all the dyin’.

Despite broad public opinion to put an end to the madness of King George and bring the troops home as quickly as possible, the President and his minions are sticking to their guns (perhaps due, in part, to their fondness for the second amendment), maintaining that the war can be won despite considerable evidence to the contrary. In response to the passage of bills in the House and Senate that provide funding for U.S. forces in Iraq but also set a deadline for their withdrawal, Mr. Bush is up in arms, claiming that “each of the Democrats’ bills would substitute the judgment of politicians in Washington for that of our generals on the ground.” In addition to selectively ignoring the fact that some members of his own party voted for these bills, the President failed to mention that he and others in his administration—including, most notably, his former Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld—have frequently substituted their judgment for that of the military commanders in Iraq. The only opinions that these arrogant ideologues truly value are those that jibe with their own. Dissent is disdained.

Accordingly, Mr. Bush is saying that he will “veto a bill that restricts our commanders on the ground in Iraq, a bill that doesn’t fund our troops, a bill that’s got too much spending on it.” The thing is, though, the bill does fund the troops. Both the House and the Senate voted to appropriate—however inappropriately—more than $100 billion more in military spending (a type of expenditure of which there can, apparently, never be “too much”). Thus, the President is getting the fiscal support he has requested. It just happens to be accompanied by some much needed limits, which he does not care for. Spoiled fellow that he is, George is unaccustomed to being told what to do or when he can and cannot receive his allowance. Therefore, somewhat petulantly, he is threatening to hold his breath until he turns blue veto any bill that does not give him exactly what he wants and arguing that it will be all the Democrats’ fault. It is little wonder that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi felt the need to patiently urge the President to “calm down with the threats.” Perhaps she and others in Congress ought consider having him stand in a corner of the country and think about what he has done.

Is Technophobia Compromising Veteran Health Care?

Imagine suffering an injury that necessitates a trip to the emergency room of your local hospital. After a painfully long delay, the doctor who finally treats you determines that you need to undergo a procedure, which would be made considerably easier and more efficient by the use of readily available technology. However, even though this technology is at the doctor’s disposal and would benefit your care, he opts not to use it, because it’s in a locked cabinet that he hasn’t learned to access and, anyway, he’s more comfortable simply using whatever is at hand. Would you stand for such care (or the lack thereof)? No? Well, would it shock you to learn that many injured soldiers are returning home to receive such negligent care? The New York Times has the story:

Disuse of System Is Cited in Gaps in Soldiers’ Care

Lapses in using a digital medical record system for tracking wounded soldiers have led to medical mistakes and delays in care, and have kept thousands of injured troops from getting benefits, according to former defense and military medical officials.

The Defense Department’s inability to get all hospitals to use the system has routinely forced thousands of wounded soldiers to endure long waits for treatment, the officials said, and exposed others to needless testing.

Several department officials said the problem may have played a role in the suicide of a soldier last year after he was taken to Fort Lewis in Washington State from Iraq. His intentions to kill himself were clearly documented in his digital medical record from overseas, but doctors at Fort Lewis did not consult the file and released him, according to department records and defense officials.

“The D.O.D.’s failure to share data and track patient records is truly a matter of life and death,� Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said in a statement. “This isn’t an isolated case, but a system-wide failure.�

The system was designed to make seamless the transition of soldiers who were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as they moved to hospitals stateside. But only 13 of 70 military treatment centers in the United States use it even though it was mandated by the Pentagon more than two years ago, according to agency documents. [full text]

A Pattern of Politicization

Now that the legislative branch has evolved from an invertebrate species to something with a spine that walks upright, let’s hope that the members of Congress do more than hurl coconuts at the Justice Department and White House over the politicized firing of several U.S. attorneys. Let’s hope that they take a long, hard look at the full array of dangerous and unethical shenanigans that the Bush administration has perpetrated on this nation. For it is not just the criminal justice system that these neoconservative Neanderthals have sought to subvert and politicize. They have similarly sought to shape scientific research and environmental policy to fit their corrupt ideological agenda. Consider the egregious behavior of the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, as reported here by the Washington Post:

Report Faults Interior Appointee

A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions, the department’s inspector general concluded.

The investigator’s report on Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks — which was triggered by an anonymous complaint from a Fish and Wildlife Service employee and expanded in October after a Washington Post article about MacDonald — said she frequently sought to reshape the agency’s scientific reports in an effort to ease the impact of agency decisions on private landowners.

Inspector General Earl E. Devaney referred the case to Interior’s top officials for “potential administrative action,” according to the document, which was reported yesterday in the New York Times.

The IG noted that MacDonald “admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences” but repeatedly instructed Fish and Wildlife scientists to change their recommendations on identifying “critical habitats,” despite her lack of expertise.

At one point, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, MacDonald tangled with field personnel over designating habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, a bird whose range is from Arizona to New Mexico and Southern California. When scientists wrote that the bird had a “nesting range” of 2.1 miles, MacDonald told field personnel to change the number to 1.8 miles. Hall, a wildlife biologist who told the IG he had had a “running battle” with MacDonald, said she did not want the range to extend to California because her husband had a family ranch there. [full text]

Cranston Schools Get Zero New Funding

This article in the Projo today explains that while our “no-new-taxes” Mayor Michael Napolitano wants to raise taxes by 5.22%, his budget includes exactly zero dollars in increased funding for the schools. School Committee Chair Michael Traficante’s reaction pretty much sums it up:

The budget gives the School Department no additional city dollars, leaving it $4.4 million short of what it had requested.

“I’m totally shocked,� School Committee Chairman Michael A. Traficante said last night. “If you take into account that we would have still been $1.1 million short of what we needed even if the city had given us what we asked for, this now means that we have a $5.5-million gap and we can’t even meet our contractual obligations.

“There’s no way we can live with this,� said Traficante, noting that as a former mayor of the city he cannot remember a time when the schools did not receive some increase in local support.

Although he has not yet spoken to other school board members, Traficante said that it is highly likely that the School Department may have to take the city to court — a move commonly known as a Caroulo action – to obtain more money.

Why is it we can’t seem to do anything in Cranston without hiring a pack of lawyers? Every time the school department needs to hire lawyers to argue a Caroulo action, it costs big bucks — at least the cost of one or two full-time teachers if not more. These are dollars that are not getting to our kids in the classroom. Every time the city has to hire lawyers to argue against the Caroulo action, that’s another several hundred thousand dollars that could be put toward funding the schools.

So, zero new dollars for the schools. This should be interesting. My guess is that Mayor Napolitano is trying to start the bargaining with the lowest offer he can make. So if we come down somewhere in the middle, it means funding the schools with about $2.2 million. Depending on how much of this ends up going to the lawyers haggling over it, the schools will still be down about $3 million, which is not unusual. But given that the proposed budget is already eliminating about a dozen teachers, this could mean more heavy impact on class sizes.

Is a Thirst for Blood behind the Purge?

Is an unsavory fondness for capital punishment behind the Justice Department’s purge of U.S. attorneys? Evidence is emerging that suggests Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others took exception to the hesitance of some prosecutors to actively pursue the death penalty in certain cases. As a result, some of those who hesitated soon lost their jobs, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Three fired U.S. attorneys balked at seeking death penalty

As a U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., Margaret Chiara, who once studied to become a nun, appealed several times to the Justice Department against having to seek the death penalty. In hindsight, for her it was a risky business.

No prisoner has been executed in a Michigan case since 1938, but the Bush administration seemed determined to change that. Under Attys. Gen. John Ashcroft and Alberto R. Gonzales, far more federal defendants have been dispatched to death row than under the Clinton administration. And any prosecutors wishing to seek other punishment often find themselves overruled.

Chiara was not the only one to run afoul of the administration’s death penalty stance.

In San Francisco, U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan was ordered by Ashcroft to conduct a capital trial for a Californian charged with killing a man with a booby-trapped mail bomb. Ryan persuaded Ashcroft’s successor, Gonzales, to drop the death charge; last month the defendant, David Lin, was acquitted in San Jose.

In Phoenix, prosecutor Paul Charlton was told repeatedly, despite his resistance, to file capital murder charges in a case where the victim’s body has not been recovered. The woman’s remains are believed buried deep in an Arizona landfill, but the Justice Department refused Charlton’s request to shoulder the cost — up to $1 million — to retrieve the corpse.

Little patience

The three prosecutors are among eight U.S. attorneys terminated last year in a housecleaning by the Justice Department. Their hesitation over the death penalty was not cited as a reason for their dismissals, but Washington officials have made it clear they have little patience for prosecutors who are not with the program.

Data from the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, which opposes capital punishment, show that there have been 95 federal death penalty trials in the last six years under Ashcroft and Gonzales, compared with 55 during the eight years under the Clinton administration’s Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the center, said that when Bush came to Washington in 2001, his administration seemed determined not only to toughen the federal death penalty statute but to seek it across the nation — including in places where state laws forbid it, such as Michigan.

As a result, he said, “you see a lot more [capital] cases going to trial, unlike what was happening before, where U.S. attorneys were given some leeway to settle cases or take plea bargains.”

Dieter said: “Bush certainly believes in the death penalty, Ashcroft was a fervent believer, and Gonzales was Bush’s advisor in Texas, denying all those clemency requests.” [full text]

Speaking of all those clemency requests, consider the following damning and disturbing piece by Alan Berlow, dug up from the July/August 2003 issue of the Atlantic Monthly:

The Texas Clemency Memos

On the morning of May 6, 1997, Governor George W. Bush signed his name to a confidential three-page memorandum from his legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and placed a bold black check mark next to a single word: DENY. It was the twenty-ninth time a death-row inmate’s plea for clemency had been denied in the twenty-eight months since Bush had been sworn in. In this case Bush’s signature led, shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the very same day, to the execution of Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.

Washington’s death was barely noted by the media, and the governor’s office issued no statement about it. But the execution and the three-page memo that sealed Washington’s fate—along with dozens of similar memoranda prepared for Bush—speak volumes about the way the clemency process was approached both by Bush and by Gonzales….

During Bush’s six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution, and was then briefed on those facts by his counsel; based on this information Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales….

Gonzales never intended his summaries to be made public. Almost all are marked CONFIDENTIAL and state, “The privileges claimed include, but are not limited to, claims of Attorney-Client Privilege, Attorney Work-Product Privilege, and the Internal Memorandum exception to the Texas Public Information Act.” I obtained the summaries and related documents, which have never been published, after the Texas attorney general ruled that they were not exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Public Information Act.

Gonzales’s summaries were Bush’s primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant’s personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant’s claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes.

A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence. [full text]

There is a disturbing pattern of behavior evident here, one that paints a portrait of a studiously uninvolved chief executive colluding with his amoral legal counsel to avoid even cursory intervention in death penalty cases, other than to ensure that Old Testament justice would prevail. And woe to those who would not embrace their lust for blood.

The Burgeoning Gap in America

When I first heard the Gap was expanding, my mind immediately conjured up an image of a trendy and color-coordinated crowd of twenty-somethings dancing for joy in a choreographed fashion. I then rolled my eyes and reached for the Pepto-Bismol, to avoid inadvertently jettisoning my breakfast. Not wanting to dismiss this tidbit of news out of hand, I bravely forged ahead—once my queasiness had abated—and delved deeper into the topic. To my surprise and chagrin, I discovered that the gap that was expanding was not the trés chic retail store but, as reported by the New York Times, the chasm that exists between the richest and the poorest of Americans, which was approaching a level not seen since Herbert Hoover occupied the White House. Regrettably, no amount of Pepto-Bismol was now adequate to the task of managing my expanding nausea. Read on, at your own risk…

Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows

Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans — those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 — receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

Prof. Emmanuel Saez, the University of California, Berkeley, economist who analyzed the Internal Revenue Service data with Prof. Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, said such growing disparities were significant in terms of social and political stability.

“If the economy is growing but only a few are enjoying the benefits, it goes to our sense of fairness,� Professor Saez said. “It can have important political consequences.� [full text]