Lou Quacious

Unseen Outsider Insight....

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Oxy and Moxie

In case you didn’t notice four of the biggest drug kingpins in the country recently plead guilty to misdemeanors if that’s a surprise it shouldn’t be, they were executives. Specifically they were the makers and distributors of oxycontin, a powerful and lethal narcotic you’ve undoubtedly heard of if not been prescribed. Because of them it’s been recklessly distributed by doctors everywhere leading to overuse, overdose, and addictions that are stronger than heroin for an unknown number of Americans.

Once again criminals of the highest order go free because their crimes were committed in the name of business. The FDA’s investigative wing found an “extensive, long-term conspiracy” to deal as much oxycontin as possible with no regard to public safety. These guys and their corporation (which was convicted of a felony, a non-living entity caught the felony, good deal for the real people that were involved) were fined over $700 million so they didn’t get away scot-free, but that’s monopoly money to everyone involved. It may sound like a lot, but compared to the number of lives they wrecked with their evil substance it’s a weak pittance. They purposefully lied to doctors about the potency and addictiveness of their new drug, downplaying its euphoric effects and saying there were little or no withdrawal symptoms. All devastating deceptions because they masked what was effectively a pure narcotic engineered to be as potent as possible and then flooded the streets with it using unsuspecting doctors as dealers. They overproduced it knowing supplies had to be going to illegal uses but they didn’t care because they got paid either way. These guys were drug dealers plain and simple, they just did it from a boardroom wearing a suit.

Now I don’t blame Purdue Pharma LP and its executives for the addictions of the many people who have wasted their lives doing oxycontin, no more than I blame the Columbian druglords for the crack and cocaine epidemics of earlier eras. Everyone must take personal responsibility for their own choices whether that’s taking a dangerous, addictive drug or producing and distributing it, no one gets off the hook there’s equal culpability there. But what’s worse, to have participated in an epidemic or to have purposefully fostered and enabled one to start in the first place? I vote for the producers and distributors. Without them a lot of unwary people who would never have found heroin because it either wasn’t available or was too taboo were instead introduced to an equally dangerous substance that came in a pill, from a doctor and a pharmacy, and was all of the sudden readily on hand thanks to the marketing and distribution network of a major American corporation. Ambrose Bierce, a Civil War veteran, put it best when he defined a corporation as “an ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Profits without morals, whether you’re a drug dealer or drug executive it makes no difference.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mission Accomplished or Impossible?

President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of his infamous “mission accomplished” speech with an address that seemed to imply the fight was just beginning and any attempt to end the war with a timeline or by other means was nothing less than a declaration of defeat. With the war dragging on four years past its supposed accomplishment you have to wonder what the game plan is now or if there even is one. Hopefully none of the leadership envisioned the morass of misery that’s been unleashed in the wake of the invasion, but what exactly were they expecting to happen in such a volatile and hostile region.

Former CIA chief George Tenet’s new book is out and he’s been everywhere peddling it so we are finally hearing some of the truths about the build-up to war. We don’t seem to get the full story until it’s time for the book tour, long after the revelations are of any consequence and far too late to make a tangible difference. Tenet was asked recently why he didn’t come out sooner and his response was that he didn’t want to “write angry,” like his only possible venue for going public was writing a book post-retirement. Why wasn’t he doing the rounds on the talk shows, expressing his reservations back when it could have affected policy and possibly kept us out of an unnecessary war?

It seems a confrontation with Saddam Hussein was inevitable from day one with the Bush Administration regardless, and September 11th only hastened and legitimized the drive towards war. Richard Perle is said to have come to Tenet just after 9/11 talking about how Iraq had to pay a price and Saddam must bear responsibility, this made him wonder who in the White House Perle had been meeting with so early on. Perle on the other hand claims to have never said anything remotely like this and that Tenet is merely trying to shift blame to the White House and away from the CIA for the intelligence failures. Tenet seems to contend all available intelligence pointed towards the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction existing in Iraq(thus no failure) and even if it hadn’t the administration was going to make the intelligence fit their pre-arranged agenda in any event .

Condoleezza Rice has said it was “intelligence failure’s worldwide” and not Tenet or anyone else’s fault they all got it wrong, but if the rest of the world thought of Saddam as such an imminent threat why was our coalition of the willing so sparse? Bush and Cheney were going to war no matter what, they just wanted it to look good and justified when they did and Tenet regardless of what he says was complicit in that. Even if his “slam dunk” contention was based on bad information he knew they were manipulating his agencies assumptions and being imprudently impatient when it came to using force. He says the administration misused his “slam dunk” comment and it wasn’t as boisterous or definitive as Woodward had everyone believe. He claims to have stopped one speech by Cheney on the eve of war that he thought oversold the threat, but what does one speech so late in the game matter when months of rhetoric had been exaggerating and distorting the menace. The ship had already sailed and he was onboard with their message, he could have gone public or to congress with his supposed qualms but he didn’t. Maybe such a move would have slowed the run-up to war or created enough uncertainty about the sensibility and feasibility of an Iraq invasion and occupation as to have made it too politically radioactive to proceed with maybe not. We’ll never know because he said nothing.

Tenet who resigned in June of 2004 oversaw the CIA in two critical periods (pre-9/11 and pre-Iraq war) and botched both of them fatally, yet he feels comfortable having received the Medal of Freedom for his efforts to fight terrorism. He says he and the CIA were responsible for taking out 2/3 of al-Qaeda and saved thousands of lives by diffusing many potential threats in ways the public will never know about, undoubtedly, but let’s look at what we do know.

On “Meet the Press” recently, Tenet spoke at length about the summer of 2001, a time period we now know was extremely crucial in intelligence circles, as this was the time that “chatter” about the impending attacks was at its peak. He said as early as March he started alerting various officials outside his agency about a burgeoning threat from Osama bin-Laden and his affiliates and in July he went to Condoleezza Rice and said an attack was imminent. In early August he informed the President personally about his certainty that bin-Laden and al-Qaeda had everything in place for a major attack, on American soil, soon. He then wondered why nothing seemed to be happening operationally to thwart this definite and defined threat, yet he sat on his hands all summer as the evidence mounted to overwhelmingly alarming levels. If he had gone public or at least leaked something to the media about how the CIA was positive a large scale terrorist attack was looming the resulting hysteria/publicity could have delayed or derailed the plot. While he didn’t necessarily drop the ball he definitely didn’t pull out all the stops, more could have been done to mitigate disaster if the CIA really was so certain it would occur.

So what were Tenet’s accomplishments in his tenure? There was a supposed plot to assassinate Al Gore in Saudi Arabia while he was Vice President that was foiled. Numerous attempts by al-Qaeda to obtain nuclear weapons were hindered and so was an alleged plan to release cyanide gas in New York subways. We’ll never know for sure the extent to which the world is better off because of Tenet’s involvement only where he faltered and the consequences of his lack of initiative are widespread. He could have had a hand in stopping the largest terrorist attack in history and discouraging the worst foreign policy move by this country ever, neither of which he did. He sat idly by taking notes on it all for his memoirs and now wants us to not blame him or the agency he presided over for the numerous missteps, oversights, and gaffes that lead us to war.

While all the blame surely doesn’t rest with Tenet, there is plenty to go around, but some of it does land squarely at his and the CIA’s feet. The neocon’s and their ilk are the most to blame, but we shouldn’t let the enablers off the hook either. And that includes the pliant congress, the malleable press, and the mistaken intelligence community. It seems if everyone had done their jobs a little more thoroughly and been a tad less hasty when it came to something as significant as waging a war we might not be where we are today; stuck in an intractable debacle with no clear, clean end in sight.

The Hypocrisy Posse

Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson formally launched his campaign last week, throwing his hat into what is already a crowded and convoluted ring. As Thompson, a man who in the past has called for the implanting of computer chips into U.S. citizens for monitoring purposes, rolled out the same tired parade of clichéd rhetoric we’ve been hearing for years about “Blame America Firsters” ruining the country and the Republican’s “Culture of Life” being the only possible saving grace, it got me thinking about the heights to which the hypocrisy has reached and the extent to which it has permeated our culture.

“Culture of Life” and “Blame America Firsters” are really just code phrases. Republicans use them to let their base know they are a. pro life and thus on some sort of moral high ground and b. not treasonous pinko-commie’s intent on seeing the country and its traditions destroyed utterly and completely. These same people so fervently promoting a “Culture of Life” are usually just as passionate about the death penalty and the current war on terror, neither of which seem to align themselves too easily with any sort of “Culture of Life”.

This is the same bunch shouting “support the troops” as a mantra out of one side of their mouth while out of the other they are cutting funds for veterans and then letting them recover in deplorable conditions at Walter Reed. Supporting the troops does not entail sending them into battle ill-equipped in the first place and then extending tours past promised deadlines. It’s not using deceptive recruiting practices and lower admission standards to keep numbers up. It’s not placing an undue burden on the Reserves and National Guard stretching those forces to the breaking point. It’s not having little or no psychiatric care available to returning veterans or their families, who have already suffered an unnecessary amount with their loved ones being gone so long and in such peril. So who’s really supporting the troops? Almost everyone supports the actual troops, it’s the war they have been sent off to wage and the neocon agenda behind it that is lacking in support. It’s this policy of an indefinite “war on terror” with no tangible hope for “victory”, that fewer and fewer people are backing, not the brave men and women who have become mere political pawns in this whole mess.

But what’s to be expected from a President who one minute claims to be a uniter not a divider and the next declares you’re either with him or against him. A man who ran on a platform of no nation-building but then appoints a whole cadre of neocons whose sole intent it now appears was to drum up justification for a war with Iraq.

The “Blame America Firsters” rhetoric is even worse in my mind, it is reminiscent of the same jingoistic, nationalistic nonsense the Nazis were fond of spouting. Like somehow by caring about the direction your country is taking and questioning the logic and reason of those leading the way you are undermining the nation. What’s so hypocritical about this idea is that the Republican’s are admitting we have fundamental problems that need addressing; yet looking inwards at ourselves and our policies is somehow the wrong way to begin solving those problems. Even in AA one of the first steps is to “make a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves”, so why not in matters of policy that have gone horribly off track? It’s obvious this administration has become drunk on power; hopefully someone has a moment of clarity soon before it’s too late. Somehow though the Republicans have convinced themselves that it would be highly un-patriotic at this point to do any soul searching or self analysis about where they are taking us and why. I guess they feel looking outward and blaming others for the failure of their principles is more patriotic and productive then any sort of self examination.

The President in a recent speech to an American Legion group in Northern Virginia spoke quite boisterously of how we were “laying the foundations of peace” in the Middle East. What with a whole lot of killing? I don’t think a shock and awe campaign bent on completely destroying all the most significant infrastructure of a country and then allowing a festering religious conflict to erupt into all out civil war with your bungling are the cornerstones of any kind foundation worth building on. Bush however sees his course so far as some sort of Marshall Plan on which to boast. He even compared Iraq to Japan saying how in the span of a generation his Father went from fighting with them to respectfully vomiting on them in friendship and allowing them to buy out the country at wholesale prices and he was optimistic about a similar relationship developing with Iraq. But Iraq is not Japan, the people aren’t united, they are divided by thousands of years of ethnic and religious strife, and were really only brought together and held in check by an oppressive dictatorship which we don’t have the stomach to impose with the whole world watching. Japan was put back together with a coherent, realistic plan, carried out by competent officials with the support of a willing, motivated populace. Not some free for all, private contractor nightmare, with no kind of logical plan, leadership or consideration for consequences and historical context.

This whole idea of a war on terror smacks of hypocrisy to me, freedom and democracy through force and occupation? Bringing the fight to them since they brought it to us, but wasn’t it a western presence meddling in Middle Eastern affairs for the past century that riled the jihadist up so much in the first place? Do the Bushies really think shock and awe and allowing a situation such as Abu Ghraib to occur on their watch is anyway to import Democracy? We’ve only instilled in another generation, or few, the idea that America and the western world really are the evil imperial force the extremists have been preaching to them about for so long. By trying to become the world’s police we’ve only become bullies in the eyes of most, just cruising for our comeuppance. We are supposed to be about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not war, oppression, and repression.

The Democrats on the other hand aren’t going to let the Republicans have a monopoly on the hypocrisy, they hard at work with their newly bestowed power and leverage speeding to catch up in the hypocrisy race. They run and get elected on an anti-war platform then what do they do once in office? First they pass some carefully worded “non-binding” resolutions, and then an emergency spending bill with some kind of withdrawal tacked on that has no chance of avoiding veto. And since they don’t have the votes for an override it has as little teeth as their earlier “non-binding” nonsense. Also in case you didn’t notice the bill was $20 billion more then even Bush requested, giving Democrats the right to say “look we supported the troops more” while still holding a hard-line against the war, apparently they’re trying to have it both ways.

We may not have managed to spread Democracy in Iraq just yet, but we have imported some good old-fashioned hypocrisy. Samir Sumaida’ie the Iraqi ambassador to the United States spoke recently about the problems his country is facing and how they got there. He spoke of how years of sanctions and corruption had left his country weak and barely functioning (seemingly a good reason for us not to have gone to war to begin with but anyway). He also talked about how the disbanding of the police and army in early days of war (our call) and Saddam’s emptying of the prisons led to the inevitable situation of mob rule that now exists. He went on to say how the United States’ war on terror had thrust Iraq into the middle of an international terrorist war drawing the most extreme elements from all over the world to his country. He did not seem optimistic about the situation resolving itself anytime soon either, “to those seeking simple solutions, forget it.” Despite all this and in nearly the same breath he said he was however still grateful for the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation and felt the only chance for peace is for us to stay. This despite the fact that all we’ve brought them so far is chaos, more corruption, and barely a hint at stability.

With all the major institutions of the country destroyed either by the years of sanctions we imposed, the bombs we dropped, or our inept handling of the post-war, pre-insurgency window, where there was a real opportunity for change. It seems we owe the Iraqi people at least a chance at normal lives. There’s an obligation to finish what we started even though it will be tough, it will be bloody, and it will take a long, long time. The Iraqis don’t want tens of thousands of U.S. troops there indefinitely anymore then we do, so we need to work with those that will cooperate and get this thing as quickly as possible to a point where some sanity and calm and normalcy prevail.

The biggest problem with this administration and the government in general isn’t the hypocrisy it’s the arrogance and incompetence, both dangerous traits for those in power, but especially so at this juncture in history. The president and his cronies will continue to run full bore with only the support of an ever more marginalized base and little to no oversight from a Congress that acts virtually impotent at this point. The Democrats on the other hand are too distracted holding their popularity contest to do anything substantial and so far seem downright unable or unwilling to hold anyone accountable or to check the powers of the increasingly unilateral executive branch. It really isn’t in their best interest at this point to try and do anything anyway. That would only make it so they owned a little bit of this mess that they for so many obvious reasons want nothing to do with. The Democrats are probably better off letting Bush have his way, because they don’t have any good alternatives yet and there really isn’t any popular, easy way off the perilous road we are already on.

The IPCC, You, and Me

Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its considerable and comprehensive report on global warming with the rest to be released quarterly throughout 2007. The IPCC’s voluminous report, the fourth so far, is full of “robust findings and key uncertainties” and emphasizes the concepts of mitigation and adaptation as being essential in dealing with the problems associated with global warming. Basically we have to mitigate the damage we are doing and adapt to the damage already done. The IPCC also recognizes human beings as the leading cause of and solution to global warming, and seemingly eliminates any debate as to whether it is actually occurring.
The IPCC, a United Nations backed group of over 2,500 experts from around the globe, has looked at the issue of climate change from nearly every angle and with as many considerations as possible as to its impacts on every conceivable strata of society. With their seeming to be a lot of emphasis on cost-benefit, co-benefits, spillover effects and the equity issues between the developing and the developed worlds; money is obviously the biggest issue as it is in nearly everything. The poor and underdeveloped will feel the effects first and ultimately be affected the most in any kind of globally warmed future, “those already marginalized in the economy were likely to suffer the greatest impact,” the report said. It also pointed out how the right investments, made in the right way could have positive and significant results and offset many of the potential disasters. With the proper allocation of resources in infrastructures, stronger efforts at poverty reduction, and more technological transfer and advancement in the developing world, those of us in the developed world could go a long way towards counteracting the various issues leading to uncontrolled CO2 emissions and pollution in general.
And if maintaining the global status quo and wanting everyone to live in a future world much like it is today isn’t enough incentive for the leaders of the developed nations maybe the bottom line is. It’s been theorized global warming and the disruptions it will likely cause could drop the world’s GDP 20% or more, that’s not just recession or depression that’s outright economic disaster. So what can we do? A fundamental change in thinking about the world and our place in it would be a good start. The impact of just living a normal everyday American existence is such a burden on the environment it is staggering and most of us don’t even own a chemical factory or paper mill. An oversized and wasteful house, lawn, and car are enough. There are ways to have your house and heat it too without leaving a Paul Bunyan sized carbon footprint everywhere you go.
Sustainable development as a concept has had a “rapid and complex evolution” since it was introduced in the early 1970s. Especially so in the past decade as it has become abundantly clear, to most, we cannot maintain the current course and pace of human development. Suburban expansion is slowly paving over valuable farm land and other areas of unique biodiversity that once gone, are gone forever. The San Joaquin Valley is home to some of the most fertile, productive farm land anywhere in the world and is effectively the grocery store to the entire nation. Yet hundreds of acres of this irreplaceable land are lost permanently each day to the blitzkrieg of suburban sprawl. There are ways to keep growing without devouring all that surrounds, to integrate neighborhoods with farmlands and green space cohesively and ultimately create a more pleasant world for all the flora and fauna involved including ourselves.
Individually we can have some impact but for any substantial change to occur it will take the power, influence, and wealth of the superpowers of this world. Governments need to lead way and as the most powerful, richest, and advanced country on Earth it’s up to the U.S. to do its part. We have a moral responsibility to use our geopolitical clout and cultural influence to steer the world towards a safer more stable future. Europe is in many ways already on the right path. Our leaders need to implement the regulations necessary to give big business the incentive to go green in this country. And they shouldn’t need much convincing because going green ultimately means frugality across the board which is better for everyone’s bottom line. Sustainability equals self sufficiency and that is always economically advantageous.
The Bush administration is supposed to be overly concerned about national security, so much so we are waging war to maintain that security. Yet the biggest potential danger facing this country is a world completely destabilized by environmental disasters unseen in human history. With economies ruined, refugees and disease everywhere, and resources scarcer then ever, a future decimated by climate change is much scarier to me then any terrorist attack. But what is our President’s policy on the environment? Apparently it’s every man for him self and that includes Mother Earth. They have rolled back over 30 years worth of environmental policy change that was too slow in coming in the first place. And with over 400 measures directly assaulting the environment and the laws protecting it so far and the appointment of officials to seemingly contradictory positions (over 100 representatives from polluting industries oversee the administration’s various environmental policies) they don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. For a bunch that’s supposed to be making us safer they don’t seem to have the best interests of our future generations in mind, only those of the large corporations paying to get them elected.
One hand washes the other in politics but that won’t be nearly as easy in coming years as fresh clean water becomes a scarcer and scarcer commodity. A crisis is looming and it has nothing to do with terrorism or Iraq. Other then the fact this “war on terror” is causing us throw hundreds of billions into a quagmire of corruption and ineptitude. It’s a shame because that money could be so valuable if properly allocated elsewhere. Bush did at least admit recently the world was under threat from global warming but words are meaningless, action is the only thing that will save us now. The IPCC report is frightening and it is not a group known for hyperbole, their 2001 report’s worst-case scenario numbers turned out to be remarkably accurate, so this isn’t easily dismissed science. Hopefully the wake up call is heard and a new dawn rises before it’s too late because no one want to have to answer to their grandchildren about why we left them the world we did.