Thursday, November 30, 2006

Emergency Preparedness - Part Two

[Update: Fixed some formatting and spelling errors, and deleted a duplicate post}

In Part One, we examined a very good article by Dr. Eric Taylor and his take on the FEMA emergency preparedness manual. In Dr. Taylor's view, the manual falls short in many critical areas. In this part, we'll take a look at what other emergency response professional think of our state of preparedness.

James M. Shannon, president of the National Fire Protection Association, writing in the current issue of the NFPA Journal, has this to say about preparedness as it affects the fire service:

Let me be blunt. Most American communities were not prepared to cope with a homeland security event when 9/11/2001 occurred. Most are not prepared now. And most will not be prepared in the future at the pace we are moving.

Shannon is reporting on a recent study completed by NFPA for the U.S. Fire Administration, which is part of FEMA. Here are some of the points he makes: [All emphasis added]

For instance, there was some improvement in planning by fire departments to coordinate the use of outside personnel and equipment in a homeland security response for a wildfire or terrorist attack. But the study found that most departments still do not have written plans for these kinds of incidents.

There has been some progress made in providing SCBA [Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, or "Scott Packs"] and PASS [Personal Alert Safety System, which emits an ear-splitting tone of a firefighter does not move for a predetermined period of time - ie, if he's unconscious or trapped, - which assists other firefighters in finding their fallen comrade] devices. But even after all of the attention that has been paid to improving preparedness, 60 percent of departments do not have enough SCBAs and 48 percent do not have enough PASS devices to equip everyone on a shift.

The number of firefighters with insufficient training or certification has declined, but even for something as fundamental and near-universal as structural firefighting, more than half of departments still do not have all involved firefighters formally trained.

Overall, in area after area, the second needs assessment shows that there has been little or no progress, not because the grants program has been misdirected or ineffective but because the needs are so great relative to the size of the program.

How does this affect the preparedness efforts we as citizens must make? If the fire service -- for whatever reason -- is unable to respond in the event of a major emergency, we are on our own.

This is why it is so critical for all citizens to have at least a few fire extinguishers around the house, and the knowledge of how and when to use them... and more importantly, when not to use them and get the hell out instead. Your local fire department can supply a huge amount of useful information (and maybe even training) in home fire safety, as can NFPA and USFA. reporter Zack Phillips wrote about emergency preparedness exercises, and how they may tend to provide artifically rosy results. Beginning with FEMA's now-infamous "Hurricane Pam" exercise in 2004, Phillips examines the strong and weak points of drills and exercises and cites Michael J. Hopmeier, who:

...points to the example in September of joy-riding teenagers driving past the guard posts at the Miami military base that houses U.S. Central Command, and a retired police officer using fake identification who entered Homeland Security Department headquarters in June. "When it wasn't a test, when it wasn't the [inspector general] going through, when it wasn't an assessment; when it was a real-world event, it turned out the security failed," he says. [Emphasis added]

Phillips also notes how the costs associated with exercises have skyrocketed: TOPOFF1 ("Top Officials", the granddaddy of all exercise programs), in 2000, cost $3 million, 2005's TOPOFF3 cost $12 million.

Phillips goes on to point out the effects of pre-planning in an exercise: the advance notice to participants may result in overly-prepared responses, rather than the spur-of-the-moment actions that actually occur:

"If you know there's going to be a test of everything, then you've already bought the answer, or you've excluded a lot of the problems," says William Bicknell, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health and a former Massachusetts public health director.

Its similar to knowing there is going to be a fire drill at work at 9:30 AM on Thursday: you're going to keep your coat handy, you'll make sure you're not on the phone, and so on. Yet, in a real fire, smoke may obscure the path to an exit, especially if you're forced to use an exit other than your normal one. In some ways, a drill or other emergency exercise presents a "best-case" scenario, rather than the "worst-case" that always seems to develop in a legitimate emergency.

Phillips' conclusion appears to be that exercises do offer concrete opportunities for improvement, but there are some deficiencies that need to be rectified to achieve full value from the programs.

Emergency Preparedness - A Review of the Literature

[Update, 12-01: fixed a couple of formatting errors. I'll have to make my way through Drak Wraith's "HTML for Bloggers" course...]

Note: This is Part One of a multi-part series examining the state of emergency preparedness in the United States, especially as it affects ordinary citizens.

I’ve been bitching a lot recently about DHS (Department of Homeland Security), its subordinate agencies and directorates, and the generally poor state of emergency preparedness. It occurred to me, however, that I might have been alone in those estimations, so I decided to undertake what the academics refer to as “a review of the current literature”, to see what other practitioners had to say.

First, in the current issue of The Internet Journal of Rescue and Disaster Medicine, Eric R. Taylor, Ph.D. (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) examines the two versions of FEMA’s much ballyhooed citizen’s disaster manual, Are You Ready? Both editions – the original, and an updated “In-Depth” version – claim to provide definitive information for citizens in the event of technological or natural disasters. [All emphasis added]

I will follow Taylor’s headings in this article, just in case the reader wants to verify quotes, etc.

From the abstract to Dr. Taylor’s article:

The FEMA document for terrorism preparedness intended for use by the public does not offer useful information the public can use to actively take steps in their own defense and protection against weapons agents that may confront them in an active terrorist attack. The public remains unprepared to act on their own behalf, and by the time official notice of an attack in determined and announced, many people may suffer injury or die for lack of realistic preparation.

This, despite FEMA’s exhortation:

“... don't wait until disaster strikes before you tell the people what to do. Your motto should be the same as the scouts. You want the people to BE PREPARED!”


Dr. Taylor asserts that the American populace has been conditioned to that the government can “care for them, defend them, assist them in virtually any phase of social and natural disasters and assaults that come their way”. He adds, however, “It should be painfully clear now that government cannot do so” and that “the primary document advanced by FEMA does a poor job of educating the public on terrorism related preparedness.

U.S. Terrorism Preparation

Taylor initially discusses the overall terrorism preparedness posture, making the following points:

  • “It is the public that is now in need of useful, do-able information for preparing and responding to a terrorist attack, especially WMCD [1]”
  • “What is needed is a single source of information written in a form and at a level of technical depth designed for the general public in a single source document from a single federal agency.”

Taylor further cites the testimony of government officials before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings in February, 2005. Vice Admiral Lowell E. Jacoby, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) addressed al Qaeda’s capability to employ and deliver unconventional weapons, saying, “Because they are easier to employ, we believe terrorists are more likely to use biological agents such as ricin or botulinum toxin or toxic industrial chemicals to cause casualties and attack the psyche of the targeted populations.” This is particularly disturbing in light of the repercussions of several recent haz-mat (hazardous materials) incidents recently, such as the Apex fire or the Graniteville train derailment, both of which resulted in fatalities, wide-spread evacuations, release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, and significant property loss.

Porter Goss, Director of the CIA, said, “al Qaeda is intent on finding ways to circumvent U.S. security enhancements to strike Americans and the Homeland [sic].” As I have pointed out (along with many others), the “security enhancements” to which Goss refers are virtually non-existent. Rail yards full of toxic chemicals are left wide open and unguarded, less than six percent of the freight containers entering the county from overseas are inspected [2], the food chain is virtually defenseless, the public water supply ditto. The screw-ups at TSA can catch nail clippers and shampoo, but manage to miss bombs (fake, thank God) in carry-on luggage.

Nature of the Threat

Taylor posits, however, that “nothing offers a greater long-term hazard and threat on a more likely level of occurrence than bioterrorism….”, adding, “If the technical know-how, or the actual agent samples fall into the wrong hands (such as rogue states and/or through them, terrorists), our safety is seriously compromised by these “artificial” and virulent agents for which no human has any natural resistance and no medical practitioner has the means to fight.”

Unfortunately, we may ourselves be supplying the technical know-how to those who wish us harm. Thousands of international students – many from Muslim countries – study at American universities. Obviously, the vast majority of these students are simply interested in learning and bettering the world as a whole. But there is a small percentage – certainly less than 1% overall – who want to use our knowledge against us (witness Atta and his cohorts taking flight lessons in American flight schools). And don’t think that immigration and border control authorities are doing anything to stem the flow. I used to work for a university police department, and I can tell you from experience, visa control and enforcement is a joke. The federal agencies have neither the manpower nor the budget to effectively track the thousands of alien students, while the universities turn a blind eye in the interests of tuition income.

FEMA’s Public Terrorism Education

In reviewing the first edition of Are You Ready?, Taylor highlights many problems:

  • The initial guide “was fraught with brevity that bordered on uselessness for the technological material, especially the terrorism and WMCD It also overlooked more commonly useful items for implementation of its recommendations for action, and in some cases offered potentially hazardous information if carried out by the public.”
  • “A comparison of the two different versions reveals the overall inadequacies of the approach FEMA took, and retained in the latest version available to the public.”
  • “The Shelter section advised making an emergency toilet if necessary. It suggested sprinkling a household disinfectant such as household bleach into the container to reduce odor and germs. As anyone who has read the label of a bleach bottle (or an ammonia bottle) knows, the warning is quite specific and emphatic: DO NOT MIX BLEACH with AMMONIA. Human urine contains ammonia and will generate more on standing. The bleach added to ammonia- generating materials can produce any one or all of several poisonous chemicals (chlorine, nitrogen trichloride, or hydrazine) depending upon the proportions and concentrations of bleach and urine-based ammonia, mixture temperature and standing time. The recommendation served to replace the obnoxious with the noxious. These poisonous by-products are potent respiratory irritants. This problem is increased by many people utilizing the same receptacle repeatedly over time in a presumably confined, unventilated space. The fumes can build up very quickly.”

The last emphasized portion deserves repeating:

The recommendation served to replace the obnoxious with the noxious.

Back to Taylor’s review of the first edition:

  • “The same section of the initial guide also notes that water can be purified by distillation. The means suggested– placing a cup under an inverted lid within a pot of boiling water– seems clumsy, probably hazardous to perform, but certainly inefficient, not to mention energy and time consuming for very meager returns. The last thing those in an emergency situation need is a second or third degree burn from distilling water. Distilling enough water this way for a few people to serve their minimum daily needs is doubtful. If you lose electricity or natural gas through the incident, you can't distill anyway.”

The In-Depth August 2004 Guide

Moving on to the second, “in-depth” 2004 edition, Taylor notes: [Citations omitted]

  • “The Chemical Threat section of the In-Depth Guide does not even mention the four types of lethal chemical weapons. It does not indicate the relative rapidity of action of one class to another. It does offer a string of signs or symptoms of lethal chemical weapons employment in a terrorist attack. But the string of symptoms are generic, could be in some cases those of allergic responses, and suggests by its manner of presentation that they may all become present. There is no elaboration of any kind to offer agent class specificity. This in what is called an In-Depth guide. And the same cite makes the statement, while potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations. This is an unjustified generalization that is disarmingly misleading and false. Both the original Guide and the In-Depth Guide state that chemical agents are difficult to produce. This is patently false. Chemical agents were originally made and used in WWI and they were made and used specifically because they were made from exiting industrial chemical precursors, cheap to make and within handling safety considerations, easy to make and use.”
  • “The section [on biological threats] refers the reader to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website ( for specific information. . . . . Much of the available information is primarily for professionals rather than lay people and may be rather technical for them. The problem with referring readers of the In-Depth guide (hardcopy) to a website is that many people may not have web access.”
  • “[E]xposure to levels of chemical agent that may be sublethal to adults may well be lethal to children and pets as lethal dose is body weight dependent (LD50). This of necessity brings into play the need and concern for personal residences decontamination and especially surfaces outside that are frequented by all, especially children and pets. FEMA's In-Depth guide offers no advise on how to deal with this likely problem, much less how to undertake necessary hasty decontamination of residential exterior surfaces and what to use for doing so.”
  • “The current FEMA In-Depth guide does avoid the technically overwhelming feature. It also avoids the completeness, the thoroughness, the robustness required of a document purported to be In-Depth….”
  • “Many people bought “gas” […] masks as respiratory protection during the anthrax-mail attacks. […] The typical American has no idea of how to assess the appropriateness or serviceability of the mask or the filter elements.”

Perhaps Dr. Taylor’s most telling comment is this:

“After tens of billions of dollars spent on terrorism preparedness, with hundreds of expert chemists, biologists, physicists, and physicians on the government payroll, FEMA's In-Depth Guide is the best the federal government can offer the public? The public may face serious trouble ahead.

In subsequent parts of this series, we’ll look at what others in the emergency response community have to say about the overall preparedness posture.

[1] Taylor prefers the term “weapons of mass casualty and destruction”, over the government’s preferred “WMD” or CBRNE, which stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive.
[2] Anderson, Teresa. “Cargo Security: Containing Cargo Risk” Security Management, Sept, 2005

Update: Lojack® and the NFL

I've been getting a lot of hits to two pieces I've posted, so I thought a little clarification might be in order.

First, in the piece entitled "Love Thy Brother", I mentioned the case of the St Louis Rams drafting a college player, Ryan Tucker, who was awaiting trial on some very serious assault charges. The piece generated about 50 hits from an NFL discussion group at While this may be considered apostasy, I know next to nothing about football. My point was that the Rams -- and the NFL in general -- need to stop rewarding such anti-social behavior (and that Texas Christian University should have thrown Tucker's ass out). Not that the NFL is the only sports organization with law-breakers in its ranks, of course: baseball has its share of troublemakers (Darryl Strawberry's drug problem, and Pete Rose's gambling), boxing has been infamous for years for its thuggery (Mike Tyson playing Hannibal Lecter on whats-his-name's ear a few years back), the basketball players accused of rape (although I wonder how much of that was racially motivated).

In a similar vein, the entertainment industry has to stop rewarding anti-social acts. Rappers involved in shootings should have their recording contracts voided, and actors who act out should also be punished. I'm not saying we should go back to the blacklistings of the 1950's (which were, after all, about Communism), but it's insane that people like Chris Noth and Robert Downey, Jr, continue to get high-paying, high-profile gigs for behavior that would leave the rest of us incarcerated.

And don't even get me started on the politicians who get in legal trouble...

Another piece, "Hojack, Lojack®, and SVU" also generated a ton of hits (at least, a ton by my modest standards), including a couple of visits from Lojack's corporate headquarters in Winchester, Mass.

I have mentioned that I was a police officer for many years on the East Coast. While I had no direct experience myself with Lojack, the anecdotal history within the law enforcement community was almost invariably positive. The system allows cops to track stolen vehicles using a radio transmitter concealed in the vehicle (even the owner doesn't know where it is, and I've been told Lojack installers are evil geniuses at hiding the things). The primary advantage is that the thief does not know he's being tracked, and hence is less likely to strip or torch the car, and is more likely to be caught in possession of the stolen vehicle.

Coincidentally, the same evening the SVU episode aired, I had also watched a rerun of "Cops" on CourtTV, in which the Jersy City, NJ, police picked up a Lojack signal and followed it to a construction company garage. The stolen vehicle in this case was one of those honking great air compressors -- the trailer-mounted ones -- used to power jackhammers, etc, so you can see the use of a Lojack is not restricted to cars and trucks.

Lojack's website also points out the possibility of a significant reduction in your auto insurance premiums if you install a Lojack. This is because it is much less likely the insurance company will have to pay out on a major loss (ie, the insurance company pays for the tow from the scene, instead of replacing your 2006 Expedition).

Since, as I've mentioned before, bloggers are held to very high disclosure requirements, I am not now, nor have I ever been affiliated with the Lojack Corporation. In fact, I've never had a vehicle worthy of being protected by Lojack. I did, however, pick up a Lojack baseball cap somewhere along the line (probably at a yard sale).

But, brother, if I ever do get a decent ride, I'm slapping a Lojack in that sucker so fast, it'll make your head spin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Terrible's Terrible Post

Terrible has a post up over at Anntichrist's, which is richly deserving of a spanking.

"And after the spanking........"

Not from me, of course.

Mongo straight.

Hojack, Lojack®, and SVU

I was watching last night's "Law and Order: SVU" with the lovely yet talented Mrs 618. The episode featured the terminally unfunny Bob Saget as the murderer, the ever-luscious Katherine Bell as Saget's wife, and the incredibly-underrated Bernadette Peters as the defense attorney. The episode also marked the return of Mariska Hargitay, back from maternity leave.

At one point in the investigation, Stabler (Christopher Meloni) discovers Saget had implanted an RFID chip in his wife's shoulder (probably inspired by this story from earlier this year) to track her suspected infidelities.

Stabler comments, "He invented a Hojack."

We both fell out laughing.

For those who are fortunate enough not to have to know what a Lojack® is, it's a "stolen vehicle recovery system", in which a transmitter is concealed in a vehicle. If the vehicle is stolen, police can track the vehicle to its location, enabling much faster recovery. Lojack says, on its website, that 1.2 million vehicles were stolen last year, or about one every 25 seconds. Once the transmitter has been activated (remotely, of course), cops in specially-equipped cruisers can perform, in effect, radio-frequency tracking and locate the car. One can readily spot the equipped cruisers: those are the ones with the four 18" inch antennas in a square on the roof of the car.

I can tell you, the Lojack® system works every bit as well as the manufacturer says it does.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blue Gal Opens the GIANT Can of Whup-Ass

Blue Gal has an amazing piece up at her blog, ripping into the mouth-breathers for their condemnation of a woman who will not allow military recruiters to talk to her son. [Original emphasis].

These same people attacking Ms. Feigenbaum for adequate parenting conveniently fail to acknowledge that a military enlistment is the only legally binding contract a minor can enter into. A seventeen year old can join the Army, but they can not legally join the Columbia Record and Tape Club. Think about that one for a minute before you fetch the petrol and torches to burn this woman at the stake. You can commit to die for your country, but you can’t commit to purchase three CD’s at regular club prices? And which decision has the greatest impact on your life?


I am not a veteran, I did not serve during wartime and I was never active duty. But I fulfilled my obligation to the best of my physical ability, and I will say any damned thing I believe to be true and I will give no quarter. I earned the right to exercise my free speech. You have it too, because we paid for it for you. So do not ever try to deny me or anyone else that right to free speech, or the right to decline to serve. Not when me, and people like me, and people like my brother and sister and father and husband and nephew and cousins and uncles and aunts are why you enjoy the rights you enjoy as American citizens.

And do not dare question my patriotism or motivation for questioning this war and this president, I earned that right in a much more profound way than most of you can even comprehend, much less make honest claim to. I have put up, so yes, I will absolutely tell you to shut up when you are talking out your ass, and I will do so without apology. I earned that right, too. For me and for you.

Read the whole thing.

Without being familiar with her neighborhoods, I assume she referring to the typical rich, white, upper-class that thinks war is just hunky-dory... as long as someone else's kids do the fighting, and especially the dying.

By taking on the 101st Fighting Keyboarders (®TBogg), she has probably left herself open to all sorts of "Swift-Boat" vilification.

But I think we all owe her a debt of gratitude.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bars and Bar Codes

Associated Press reported* last week that some bars in New Jersey (and probably other locales) are using a new bar-code scanner technology to capture information from driver's licenses. The captured information includes name and date of birth, of course, but also address, sex, height, weight, and eye color.

This has good and bad connotations.

From the bar's point of view, it is a way to have positive proof of the data on a license shown as proof of age. As a former cop, I can tell you many kids are geniuses (genii?) at changing the date of birth on the front of the license, but it's a lot harder (but by no means impossible) to change the information encoded in the barcode. If, for instance, 19-year-old Cindy Lou Who uses 21-year-old Mindy Sue Who's ID to get in, the bar has proof that she showed an allegedly-valid ID (why the doorman accepted the ID is another matter, if the two girls don't look all that similar).

From a police perspective, the program has some advantages, as well. In case of trouble at the bar, for instance, the police would be able to download the information and have at least a pretty good idea who was at the bar on a given night.

From a privacy point of view, however, this program is fraught with peril (God, don't I wax lyrical at times?).

First, whose business is it what bars a person goes to? If Joe Zlotnick visits a gay bar, would he want that info recorded someplace, especially if he's a homo-hatin', mouth-breathin', Bible-thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idjit? Would Father O'Leary want it recorded that he was at the KitKat Klub? Hell, would Sam Schlub want it on file he was at Tony's Roadhouse when he told his wife he was working late?

More to the point, would you want the local pub -- whether it's Archie Bunker's Place, the KitKat, or even Chez Pierre -- to have a permanent record of all your personal information? Remember, a driver's license has virtually all the information an identity thief needs to swipe your name and credit. It's nice to say bars are allowed to collect and store this information but they are not allowed to sell or share it. You really think the bar owner isn't going to share the info with someone, even if its just his beer wholesaler to get a better price on Heinekin? And how can we be sure the bartender (or even the system administrator) isn't s crook?

The worst-case scenario, of course, would be the gummint getting ahold of the info and using it for their own nefarious purposes. Can you imagine what the Rethuglicans would do if they could "prove" John Kerry -- even if it's not "the" John Kerry -- was in a strip joint? Or some mobster deciding to use your drinking habits for a little creative blackmail? (And yes, many bars still are affiliated with a certain Italian-American social group that makes decisions like who lives and who dies.)

Yes, I can see the advantages of a system like this. But I can also see the disadvantages.

And believe me, the bad outweighs the good.

*I can't find a functional link at present.

RECALL: HoneyBaked Ham and Turkey

HoneyBaked Foods Inc. is voluntarily recalling approximately 46,941 pounds of cooked ham and turkey products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Friday, November 24. The ham and turkey products were produced between September 5 and November 13, and were sold at the company's retail stores and kiosks in the Toledo, OH, region, as well as through Internet and telephone catalogue sales nationwide.

Consumption of food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract listeriosis.

However, listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. Listeriosis can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Okay, Yeah... I'm Gloating...

Courtesy of the Dark Wraith, who blogrolled me (doesn't that sound obscene?) at both his blog and Big Brass Blog, Anntichrist S. Coulter, Badtux, and Firestarter5, I've had 100 visitors in five days. This is for the same blog that went from February 4, 2005 all the way to October 6, 2006, to hit 1000 visitors.

At this rate, I should Kos' traffic in... oh,... 500 years.

Some of the highlights from Sitemeter:
  • Visits from Germany, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Singapore, Australia
  • Lots of hits a while back from various Red Cross chapters
  • Someone from the Library of Congress spent some time visiting
  • Several visits from different military units (bless you folks!)

Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Hope you like what you see, and I hope you come back.

And please feel free to comment. But keep it semi-clean, okay?

Yeah, What Atrios Sez...

Simple Answers to Simple Questions

Hilzoy asks:

I just have to ask: is there anything this administration does competently?


This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Okay, so Atrios has been around a while, and obviously has the kind of mind that can reduce complex word problems to simple math.

But, damn.....

His "simple answers to simple questions" belongs on TV.

Love Thy Brother. Riiiiiiight.

Via 42's blog Weapon of Mass Disturbance, I found this article on the NFL , the thugs the league employs, and a quote on just how "Christian" the Christianists really are:

The authors point out several examples of the NFL's acceptance of off-field violence. In April 1997, the St. Louis Rams selected Texas Christian University center Ryan Tucker in the fourth round of the NFL draft. At the time, Tucker was awaiting trial for an assault that left the victim paralyzed and brain-damaged. When asked about Tucker's legal difficulties, coach Dick Vermeil replied, "He can finish a fight. That's a positive."

Okay, Texas CHRISTIAN University, check. Assault that left the victim "paralyzed and brain-damaged", check. "He can finish a fight", check.


A "Christian" university, and they didn't throw his ass out?

Give me a frickin' break.

Smirkmonkey To Congress: "Cheney You"

Today's New York Times has a story with some real money quotes about the george w bush administration. [All emphasis added]

“I expect real answers, or we’ll have testimony under oath until we get them,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who will head the committee beginning in January, said in an interview this week. “We’re entitled to know these answers, and in many instances we don’t get them because people are hiding their mistakes. And that’s no excuse.”

Leahy describes the administration as having been "obsessively secretive", an obsession that John Dean, Nixon's counsel, describes as "worse than Watergate".

The article also quotes DoJ spokesdrone Brian Roehrkasse:

“The department will continue to work closely with the Congress as they exercise their oversight functions, and we will appropriately respond to all requests in the spirit of that longstanding relationship,” said a department spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse. “When making those decisions, it is vital to protect national security information, particularly when they relate to sensitive intelligence programs that are the subject of oversight by the Intelligence Committees. We also must give appropriate weight to the confidentiality of internal executive branch deliberations.”

In other words, f*ck you, Congress.

Thus far, the administration has "work[ed] closely" with Congress only when it was in the interests of the administration; otherwise, the bushies have told Congress to go Cheney themselves. And bush has already decided (remember, he's "the Decider") that he and only he has the "right" to determine what affects "national security." And as far as "the confidentiality of internal executive branch deliberations" goes... well, Cheney's energy policy, anyone?

I am constantly amazed that anyone in the bush administration can utter total lies like this without choking... or bursting into hysterical laughter. The bush cabal has carried "secrecy" to lengths that could only have been dreamt of in the old USSR.

"Yeh, we'll deal with Congress in a full spirit of cooperativity. Sure. We will. Yup. Heh, heh. Jes' the same way we dealt with Congress on Afghanistanistan and Eye-raq's nukular weapons. An' if they don't lahk it we'll ship their butts to Gitmo. Heh, heh."

And this website has a chilling comparison:

The guy on the right is serial killer Ted Bundy. A reader comments: "But you know what's even creepier? It's not even a physical resemblance. It's an aura, it's a glow, it's the creepy madman glowing out of the smirk."And here's a plug for the best ever article about Bush.

And if you want to read more about Bundy, try here.

Norovirus in Iowa

Nearly 1,000 Iowans have gotten ill in the last several weeks due to norovirus.

At least seven outbreaks have occurred in a wide variety of settings such as social receptions, long−term care facilities, a gaming facility, business functions, restaurants and schools. The outbreaks have no common links, but are spread by people failing to wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before preparing food, as well as working in food preparation while ill with vomiting and diarrhea. [Now there's a mental image I didn't need...]

While norovirus outbreaks can occur throughout the year, it is unusual to see this number of them in a short period of time, prompting concerns that more disease will spread as we go into the holiday season.

Live in WA State and Drink Eggnog? Read This.

Creamery recalls improperly pasteurized eggnog.

Golden Glen Creamery in Skagit County, WA, has agreed to a voluntary recall of its eggnog because of potential health problems related to improper pasteurization.

The Washington Department of Agriculture says the eggnog was bottled in quart−size glass containers and had a pull date of November 28 on the cap. The product was distributed at groceries in Bellingham, Issaquah, Seattle, Langley, Bellevue, Bremerton, Silverdale, Everett, Kent and Redmond.

Getting A Passport? Do It NOW.

In a variation on the "Friday Afternoon News Dump" -- where a press release is issued late in the day, hoping the importance of the story will be lost over the weekend -- our friends at the Department of Homeland Security announced the official requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere beginning January 23, 2007.

If you've been thinking about getting a passport, now is the time to do it. Starting in (I believe) mid-2007, new passports will include an RFID chip (radio frequency identification), the same technology used to prevent theft of small-package, high-ticket retail items like CDs and DVDs. One of the security experts (probably Bruce Schneier) pointed that that the current RFID technology potentially allows these "tagged" passports to be read by unauthorized devices (leaving the holder open to really horrendous ID theft problems). Schneier (assuming it was he) recommended that passports be obtained now, before the RFID requirement kicks in, adding that by the time the passport needs to be renewed (ten years after issuance), the RFID technology -- and security of the data on the chip -- should have improved considerably.

TBogg and the "Unfriendly Skies"

Yesterday, TBogg commented on the recent foofaraw about the six Muslim clerics flying from Minneapolis to Phoenix. In his post, he mentions -- in passing -- the one and only (thank God) Annie Jacobsens, she of "Terror in the Skies" fame (or infamy, as you will).

Since I hadn't read Snopes' take on the matter, I followed TBogg's link, and came across this paragraph from the report on the incident issued by the Federal Air Marshals service:

The source said the air marshals on the flight were partially concerned Jacobsen’s actions could have been an effort by terrorists or attackers to create a disturbance on the plane to force the agents to identify themselves.

This makes a lot of sense. No one has ever said the terrorists are stupid (misguided, maybe; animals, yes; but stupid, no).

I think if I were planning to highjack a plane [note to TSA: I'm making a supposition here, not a confession; I'm not OJ Simpson], it would probably be nice to know if there were Air Marshals on my flight, and if so, who and where they were. Since one can't very well stand up in the middle of the flight and ask the marshals to identify themselves, having a sympathetic (to the cause) yet obviously Anglo woman start trouble would be one way to get the info I want.

And Anglos do sympathize with al-Qaeda and the rest of their ilk... for instance, (left to right, above) John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Jose Padilla (okay, Padilla isn't Anglo, he's Hispanic, but you know what I mean). None looks particularly "Muslim", yet all were "fighters for the cause", at least in their own minds. So it wouldn't be impossible for al-Qaeda to recruit a non-Arabic-appearing woman for the purpose.

A propos of nothing, while I was searching for the picture of Lindh, I ran across an outfit called FrontPageMag (no link, cause they seem to be even more rabid than Malkin); Lindh's picture was in an article entitled "The Ten Most Dishonorable Americans"; in addition to Lindh (who certainly is dishonorable), the list includes Michael Moore, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, and US Reps James McDermott (D-WA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). As I say, more rabid than Malkin.

Pupils Evacuated After Warning at Nuclear Plant

The New York Times reports:

In the first nuclear-related evacuation since the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, a Tennessee school district sent all 1,800 pupils home on Tuesday morning [618: Nov 21] because operators at a nearby nuclear reactor believed they might have had a leak of radioactive cooling water inside the plant.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) operates the Watts Bar nuclear plant, about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville. Operators at the plant observed indications of a possible leak and declared an "unusual event", which is the lowest alert level.

Robert W. Greene, superintendent of schools in Meigs County, made the decision to close the schools and send the children home, while the school buses were still on duty (the incident occurred around 6:15 AM and was cancelled at 7:35).

I think Greene made the right decision.

Certainly, it entered into his considerations that the school buses were already available, so there would not be the logistical nightmare of trying to round up transportation once the drivers were off futy for the morning. The Times article also indicated that many parents had heard the alert on police scanners and were understandably concerned. These factors merely made his decision easier.

Granted, the Watts Bar plant is the youngest in the nation (it commenced operations in 1996), and is of a much better design than the TMI plant (and light years ahead of Chernobyl). But given the reckless lack of oversight of corporate America -- particularly the energy sector -- by the current administration, one really cannot blame the superintendent for erring on the side of caution (although given the political climate in Tennessee, I doubt the political aspects entered into it). The man was primarily concerned with the safety of his students, which is the important thing.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" Revisited

One of the best explanations I've run across for the whole "Christmas versus Holiday" brouhaha comes from -- of all places -- FireRescue Magazine. Author Nick Brunacini (whom I suspect may be related to Phoenix Fire Chief and fire service legend Alan Brunacini) writes:

Christmas is right around the corner. If this year brings the same “what are we supposed to call the holiday” confusion as last year, let me make a suggestion: Quit whining about the big retailers renaming “Christmas” to “Holiday” and get over it. These companies are in business to sell you stuff, and they’ll eliminate anything they perceive as getting in the way of the bottom line.

Brunacini, in discussing the "... politically correct homogenization overtaking us...", which, he points out, "... is obscuring our sense of perspective" goes on to say:

To be heard in today’s world, one must be a zealot, a criminal or an idiot. It doesn’t matter which side of an issue you take, as long as it is fundamentally fanatical and in direct opposition to the group of lunatics living on the polar opposite side. As a result, much of center mass of our civilization is forced to hide behind the skirt of political correctness in an attempt to avoid drawing the wrath of the xenophobes currently in charge.

I think Brunacini hits the nail right on the head here.

Some more quotes from his piece:

  • I suppose intolerance is a family-learned trait that doesn’t discriminate based on skin color, gender or sexual preference.
  • As a culture, we spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy being offended by inconsequential BS.
  • Perhaps he [618: the Battalion Chief faced with a discrimination complaint over a petty matter of lemonade and Kool-Aid] was thinking to himself, “My God! The inhumanity of man against man,” or maybe it was more along the lines of, “You’ve got to be kidding me—these morons called me for this?”

While these paragraphs appear in the middle of the piece, I believe they sum up his argument rather nicely:

Most of us go out of our way to get along with others. The reason for this is pretty simple—you’ve got to go along to get along. When we allow people their differences, they allow us ours. This is the glue that holds society together. In the close-knit quarters of fire departments, the leeway we allow one another becomes the ultimate factor in how good a place it is to work.
Fire departments that strive to make everyone the same end up with very large volumes of rules and regulations that pertain to personal conduct. These same places almost always come equipped with large personnel divisions that are kept busy with investigations, enforcement and dealing with the avalanche of lawsuits that stems from trying to make everyone the same. I am not advocating total anarchy, merely suggesting that the few rules we do maintain be developed around what we do for a living, with some of the U.S. Constitution thrown in for good measure. A rule that says we will come to a complete stop at a negative right-away makes a lot of sense. We are a public safety response agency and shouldn’t kill the motoring public as part of our standard response.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could apply the same logic outside of fire departments?

TSA Up To More Sh*t...

Associated Press reported on Nov 17 that TSA officials and a private security company at San Francisco International Airport cheated on undercover tests of screeners at passenger checkpoints.

A report from the DHS Office of Inspector General said:

Security officials would notify screeners as the agents approached checkpoints, radioing in their physical descriptions and sometimes even the agents' methods for concealing contraband.... The TSA last month awarded Covenant a four-year contract worth more than $300 million to continue screening at the airport.

Covenant Security, based in Illinois, claimed the initial whistle-blower complaint was '"unsubstantiated" and the product of one "disgruntled employee.' Turns out that quote was, to remember the Nixon era, "inoperative". The OIG investigation clearly demonstrated that Covenant and TSA officials were conspiring to cover up the cheating.

Given the fact that the word "covenant" is generally used these days in terms of its religious meaning ("a solemn agreement between the members of a church to act together in harmony with the precepts of the gospel")*, I would tend to believe that the company is another one of the fundie wingnut corporate crowd cashing in on george w bush's "faith-based" operations.

The Transportation Security Administration was the first agency set up in response to the 9-11 terror attacks, and was later subsumed in the creation of DHS. I've cited before TSA's remarkably poor performance, especially in the integrity area; this is just one more shining example of how they are keeping us safe. Not.

In all fairness, however, I do have to credit the DHS OIG for, first, investigating these complaints, and second, for releasing the results. We've all seen how bushco suppresses findings that aren't favorable to the administration, and here is their 'brightest star' in the GWOT (Global War On Terra) criticizing its 'brightest child'.

*See, for example, Covenant Transport, a "Christian" trucking company based in Chattanooga, TN. Covenant, despite claiming adherence to "Christian" principles, has a crappy reputation among truckers. Just one more example of Christianist hypocrisy.

Marginalizing george w bush

While I was posting a comment on the Dark Wraith's post (excerpted below), I decided to follow in the steps of Pissed-off Patricia and Skippy*, and to attempt to marginalize as much as possible the BlunderBoy preznit, by refusing to capitalize either his name or initials.

Thus far, all of the comments on DW's post has been positive, and pretty much all said -- in effect -- add my name to the list.

And, of course, DW is right. We, as liberals, should be grateful for george w. bush, as his arrogance, stupidity, laziness, and greed have energized what had been a semi-comatose electorate. As DW said:

I don't mean you, personally, but you as an attitude, a posture, a way of Americanism that had been lurking in the shadows all the years I was becoming complacent, all the years I was imagining a world becoming better. It was not; and it was not because you as a face of America had always been there waiting to return from the receding memories of Vietnam, Central America, and other places most people don't even know about.

I almost forgot, as I drifted into this century in a sort of self-assured, half-slumber of comfort about America's future.

You reminded me that my America is not everybody's America; and if I should want my America, I must be forever diligent, eternally at the guard, and permanently ready to fight for it, perhaps even with my life, which you, I am most certain, would be willing to take if I were to become too much a vexation to you and your kind.

The man is almost too good.

*Although in Skippy's case, I don't know if it's marginalizing commander codpiece or just a permanently-missing shift key...

The Dark Wraith on GW Bush

Even for the Dark Wraith -- as talented and gifted a writer as any best-seller -- this is impressive... and quite moving:

Even from the tiny hill upon which I stand here in cyberspace, I can see thousands upon thousands who share my revulsion at you. Not merely at your policies, Mr. Bush, but at you: you as a coward, you as a liar, you as a manipulator, you as a torturer, you as a breeder of death, you as a destroyer of America's future, you as a taker from the poor, you as a giver to the rich, you as a phony from the day you set foot on this good earth.

Have you any idea how grateful the world will be when you are finally removed from the stage and sent back to the shadows whence you came? Have you any idea, sir, how many people around the world will celebrate, certainly with great caution, the return of hope that this nation can lead by moral principle and not by incompetent violence?

Amen, brother. Amen.

86... 41 and 43... hike

(Yeah, really straining to come up with a pseudo-football-related head on National Eating Day)

Jurassic Pork takes umbrage at those criticizing Dear Leader:

And, after all, how dare any one, especially an unwashed Middle Easterner, impugn the abilities of a person who’s had everything handed to him on a platinum fucking platter by Daddy and his buddies? Just because a man is given a legacy grant to two Ivy League universities, a spot on the Texas Air National Guard protecting the Lone Star State from tumbleweeds blowing across from Oklahoma so he could stay out of Vietnam, an easy discharge with no record detailing said discharge, a start up company that blows up in his face like a chemistry set, is rescued by a fellow Texas Air National Guard fuckup who then gives him an even bigger chemistry set to blow up, more of Daddy’s buddies like Mr. Rove who tell him what to say and how to say it and finally the presidency of the United States with the help of more of Daddy’s friends with the black robes wielding the only votes that matter during an election…

As usual, go read the whole thing.

Populism 101

In a discussion of populism, Blue Gal uses an excellent line:

I've said this before and I'll say it again and again and again...We are not our parents democratic party. We are our Grandparents Democratic Party.

She explains it this way:

Populism scares the hell out of the party apparatchiks because populist issues do not come out of think tanks on the coasts. Populist issues are fostered in Grange Halls and at high-school sporting events; at kitchen tables and in the corner booth of small-town diners throughout the land. In no political area is the saying “all politics is local” more of a truism than in populist movements.

Head on over and read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Minneapolis Muslim Mayhem

(Doesn't that sound like a headline from the Daily News or the New York Post?)

AP has a piece up about the latest bit of "anti-Muslim hysteria": six imams removed from an US Airways flight leaving Minneapolis for Phoenix.

Three of them stood and said their normal evening prayers together on the plane, as 1.7 billion Muslims around the world do every day, Shahin said. He attributed any concerns by passengers or crew to ignorance about Islam.

Excuse me. The concerns were due to ignorance about Islam? Have the imams ever stopped to consider what happened on 9-11? The various highjackers stood in unison, probably said their last prayers, then proceeded to raise hell.

I don’t blame the passengers on that plane one little bit. I would have done the same thing.

Much as I despise preznit, I wish the boy had gone into Afghanistan and completely destroyed al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters. If he had done that – instead of getting sidetracked on his fantasy war in Iraq – we would not now be considered a “rogue nation” by many.

Muslims claim Islam is a “religion of peace.” It’s hard to square that with the daily reports of the latest Muslim atrocities, either against Christians or against their fellow Muslims.

Have all Muslims been given a bad rap by the misguided actions of a few? Hell, yes.

But, given what 19 Muslims did to our country five years ago, Muslims must be nucking futs to think that they’re not going to be watched like hawks. Deservedly or not, Americans are going to view all Muslims with suspicion for many years to come. The Muslims are just going to have to deal with it.

Of course, it would help if the Muslim leaders could get their followers to stop killing everyone in sight…..

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Republican Mindset in a Nutshell:

"But Clinton got a blow-job"...

United States Constitution v. George W. Bush, et al.

Via Kos diarist Vyan and front-pager Georgia10, we find even more evidence of the American way of life being driven into shrill unholy madness by the incompetence, mendacity, and sheer disconnection from reality of the George W. Bush administration [™ Shrillblog].

First, Georgia10:

This demonization of ideas which don't square with the notion of an imperial presidency is a failsafe tactic employed by this administration whenever it happens to find itself on shaky legal and ethical footing--which is to say, it's employed quite often. Criticism of the war was dangerous, as now, the mere idea that the government should be obey [sic] the Fourth Amendment is a "grave threat" to national security.

Read that last sentence again: "the mere idea that the government should [ ...] obey the Fourth Amendment is a "grave threat" to national security."

What kind of lunatic would come up with such a thought? In this case, it was Abu Al Gonzales, he of the torture memo, the guy who said the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" (and I bet you thought I was going to say Bush, didn't you?).

Now, Abu Al is saying that supporting the Constitution of the United States is a "grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people." Which specific part of that "goddamned piece of paper" irked the administration asshats this time? Oh, right, it's that troublesome Fourth Amendment. You know which one I mean:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Yeah, I can see how the Bushies would say that one just causes problems. For them, at least.

Georgia10 goes on to say: [emphasis added]

For them, the greatest impediment to the war on terrorism launched that day was never bearded men wagging their fingers on grainy videotapes and promising streets filled with blood, but a vocal citizenry fiercely dedicated to enforcing the rule of law.

It is that bloc of citizens, those who call out this administration on its illegaties [sic], who are viewed as the enemy, as the "grave threat". It is us, who refuse to give up liberties in a spat of communal cowardice, who scare the shit out of them. For our dissent, our diligence, and sheer strength in numbers operate as the ultimate threat to that which they seek to protect the most: their power.


And the amazing part is that so many people -- so many Americans -- still see these thugs as America's "defenders". They're not defending our country, they're destroying it, and much more surely than bin Laden could ever hope to.

If it hadn't been for the Constitution, the neocons might never have come to power: they might have been silenced themselves, just as they are trying now to silence us. If it hadn't been for the Bill of Rights, Bill Clinton -- had he been as truly evil as the neocons would have us believe -- would surely have sent Lizard Boy Gingrich and the rest to the 90's version of Gitmo.

And they should be careful in pulling this crap now, for the Dems are taking the majority come January. If the Rethuglicans want a "unitary executive", they may rue that... what if the unitary executive were President Hillary Clinton?

I can hear the neocons now: [source: Wikipedia]

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Then, for even more, we go to Vyan:

In discussing Abu Al's feelings on the warrantless wiretapping, Vyan quotes Gonzales: [Emphasis Vyan's]

"We believe the president has the authority under the authorization of military force and inherent authority of the constitution to engage in his sort of program, but we want to supplement that authority," he said.

Vyan then comments:

Both of these men [618: Cheney and Gonzales] took an solemn oath to "Uphold the Constitution", yet both seem hell-bent on violating it's very tenets.

Abu presents a false hobsons choice between the possible loss of "liberty" due to a devestating terrorist attack - which even in the worst case scenario is less likely to be as deadly and damaging as Hurricane Katrina - against the very real fact of lost liberty happening right now as a result of the Bush administrations Imperialist actions.

They claim this type of survellance has been "highly succesful", yet the FBI considers the thousands of false leads and dead-ends they've generated so far to be "a waste" of time and resources. Resources which could and should be better spent on credible leads gained through legal means.

There is also the problem that evidence gathered against real terrorists who are actually captured using extra-legal means - is inadmissable under the fruits of the poison tree doctrine. (Of course this may be exactly why Bush has pushed so hard for the use of Military Commisions and the abondoning of Habeas Corpus)

Newly empowered Congressional Democrats have already found that the Bush Administration has been regularly violating at least 26 Federal Laws - including FISA.

But it has to be said that this type of nonsensical counter-factual politicing by appointed Civil Servants is dangerous to the foundations of our Democracy itself. It is a far greater danger in the estimatation of many legal and constitutional scholars - than anything Al Qaeda has done, or will ever do.

The deepest cuts to liberty are those which are often self-inflicted.

The last link in Vyan's quote leads (via his diary and the "Truth 2 Power" blog) to a chilling article at Talking Points Memo Muckraker, detailing how the Bushistas may have broken over two dozen federal laws and regulations -- some of them multiple times. The article is based on a report (unreleased, of course) from the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. The report quotes Michigan Representative John Conyers:

The laws implicated by the Administration’s actions include federal laws against making false statements to congress [sic]; federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other government employees; executive Orders concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence; federal regulations and ethical requirements governing conflicts of interest; the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; communications privacy laws; the National Security Act; and the Fourth Amendment.

This is similar to something I said a while back:

A couple of people are now starting to start about applying the RICO (Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law to the Bushies. Now, I was a cop, not a lawyer, so I'm not that familiar with the intricacies of RICO, but I remember how quickly it put an end to a lot of groups ranging from street gangs to the Mafia. Maybe it should be considered. Lord knows they're corrupt enough.

If I have ever seen a "corrupt organization", it is Bush's (well, Rove's) Republican Party.

The verdict of this court is in:

We find for the plaintiff, the United States Constitution.

See ya in Gitmo, boys.

Oh, and you guys don't get lawyers, either. You're "enemy combatants", after all.

WMDs and Railroads

In an article in the October issue of Homeland Protection Professional (no link, paid subscription), Technology Writer Douglas Page discusses the January 6, 2005, train derailment in Graniteville, SC. The train was carrying deadly chlorine gas, sodium hydroxide and creosol. One chlorine car ruptured, spewing 90 tons of gas into the atmosphere. Nine died, hundreds were injured, and more than 5000 people were evacuated (many could not return home for two weeks). Page notes that approximately 13 million tons of chlorine was produced in 2004, with most of it shipped by rail.

What does a tragic rail accident have to do with Weapons of Mass Destruction?

What if, instead of derailing in a small South Carolina town at 2:40am, the train had derailed at 3:30pm? What if it happened in Washington, DC, where tracks run less than five blocks from the US Capitol and the National Mall? In the autumn, with the Mall crowded with tourists?

What could happen is this:
  • 100,000 people could be killed or injured in the first 30 minutes.
  • People could die at the rate of 100 per SECOND.
  • A cloud of toxic gas 10 miles wide and 40 miles long could be produced

You think maybe a terrorist might consider that scenario worth considering? Remember, fewer than 3,000 died in NYC on 9-11.

I've been bitching about chemical security for a while. Back in August, I wrote:

Force the chemical and energy industries off their collective asses and start making some serious progress in securing their respective facilities. [snip] Chemical security is a joke: recent articles in the NY Times, for instance, showed open, unmanned gates into freight yards handling hazardous loads.

I'm not the only one, of course. Just about every safety and security person outside of DHS has been screaming about how tempting these targets would be.

The Emergency Response Guide, a cooperative effort of the US Dept of Transportation, Mexico's Secretariat of Transport and Communications, and Canada's Transport Canada, indicates a minimum exclusion area of 100 meters (330 feet) in all directions for most unknown spills. If the spill involves a tank, rail car, or tank truck, the minimum is 800 meters (1/2 mile). The Graniteville chlorine leak required an exclusion zone of one mile.

Just for the hell of it, here are some minimum evacuation distances from the ERG:
  • Chlorine: 0.8 mile
  • Phosgene: 2.6 miles (phosgene is an ingredient in methyl isocyanate)
  • Cyanogen chloride: 1.5 miles
  • Pentaborane: 2.1 miles
  • Liquified gas, flammable, poisonous: 3.2 miles
For acetone cyanohydrin, its so lethal the Feds advise emergency responders not to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to victims who may have come in contact with it.

How close are you to a rail line?

The Department of Homeland Security, of course, is still too busy planning for the last attack to worry about the next attack. The chemical industry sure isn't going to volunteer to implement security procedures on their own: keeping things safe costs money, which could otherwise be put to "better" uses... like stock options, dividends, and executive pay packages.

The industry doesn't even really learn from its own mistakes, either: after Bhopal, Union Carbide did the absolute bare minimum in upgrades in its West Virginia plant (which produced the same methyl isocyanate as the Bhopal plant). Then they sold off the Indian subsidiary that ran the Bhopal plant, claiming that the management in Bhopal had not followed corporate guidelines. [Note: for a really in-depth look at how Union Carbide botched Bhopal, as well as detailed discussions of the Three Mile Island disaster, and two well-handled crises -- Rely tampons and the Tylenol poisonings -- see Steven Fink's Crisis Management: Planning for the Inevitable.)

And Lord knows we can't rely on the Bush administration to protect us. The current crop of politicians (at least until January) is too deep in the pockets of their corporate sponsors to do anything that would reduce profits. Why do you think the Feds are so enamoured of duct tape?

The problems aren't restricted to chlorine, either. There are plenty of other hazardous materials running around the country: anhydrous ammonia (used in commercial cooling systems), propane, gasoline, fuel oil. In fact, the ERG has 70 pages of listings by chemical name... in about 6-point type (about 50 listings per page, or roughly 3500 altogether).

One in six trucks carries some sort of hazardous material.

Okay, this piece isn't going to give you the "warm fuzzies". It's not supposed to. It's supposed to wake you up so you can lean on your Congresscritters to improve our security.

MN Fundie Wingnuts and Hindu Winners

CorrenteWire's Chicago Dyke has a post up, excerpting a letter from the fundie wingnut loser in Minnesota's 50th (State) Senate race. The winner is a Hindu.

As is typical, the fundie wingnut has to inject his obligatory mouth-breathin', Bible-thumpin', hooker-humpin', sister-marryin', rifle-rack-in-the-pickmup neocon wingnut idjit "come to Jesus" moments. CD points out: [emphasis added]

Honestly, it scares me to think of how many of these types are still in government and making policy. I understand what it is to have strong faith, but when you reach the point that you can’t even say “good luck!” without injecting Baby Jeebus into the mix…

We really, really need to do something about the fundie infestation in this country. I’m starting to wonder if we will ever ahem, ‘save’ a goodly portion of the population. Taxing churches seems like a good start to me.

Yeah, what CD sez. I love the phrase "fundie infestation". I hope she doesn't mind if I adopt it. (And as Skippy would say, "Yes! Chicago Dyke coined the phrase"... "y!cdctp")

Go read the whole thing.

Why the Bush Admin is Soooooo FUBAR, Part 93,759,864

Taken from one of Drum's posts at Atlantic Monthly (and totally out of context, at that...):

"...and the CIA's then-Paris station chief, Bill Murray, says, ..."

Bill MURRAY?!?

As CIA Station chief?!?!

No wonder the CIA is so f***ed up...

Meechigan Football - Mrs.618

The past couple of days have been very somber for not just University of Michigan football fans, university staff and faculty, sports writers and family of Bo Shembechler, but for us " old time townies" as well. I say this as someone who grew up with Maize & Blue blood in her veins.

I am not much of a football fan per say, but growing up 6 blocks from the stadium, Saturdays in the fall always meant football...For one reason or another you may not have been attending the games, but you still planned your life around the. I can honestly say there was never a time in my life that U of M football and Shembeckler weren't synonymous. On nice fall days while jumping in the leaves I never needed to have the radio on as I could always tell who was winning by the cheers and jeers wafting down from "The Big House."

I also learned one of my favorite pass time in those Saturdays, one that I still enjoy today, that is people watching. An hour or so before the game my folks would put the lawn chairs out on the front porch and we would watch all the people passing by, some just enjoying a fall day spent at the game others a bit tipsy and rambunctious, some begging to park in our front yard. ( Something my father forbade)

I did how ever pass up the one opportunity I had ever had to meet the man; it was after his wife Millie had taken ill, but was still doing the everyday normal things a wife and mother do, and that was her grocery shopping. As I was walking into the store I saw the coach and he realized he had been reconized... I could tell that he was preoccupied and did not need the hassle of yet another fan, when he looked up and our eyes met I simply nodded and waved , he smiled an appreciative smile and returned the wave. He was a man with a big heart, one that brought many people joy.

While Meechigan may not have one the game today, I think Bo would have been proud of them, it was a well played game in this amateurs opinion, they got out there, they played hard, and they took the loss with the grace and dignity, that real men are taught. I think both Woody Hayes and Bo Shembechler would be proud of their respective teams today.

So Coach I raise my glass to you, in thanks for the legacy you have left us, not only a great athletic program at the university, the boys you turned into men, but for all those who's life's you have touched
both on and off the field. And most of all thanks for all the great memories you created for us.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Criminal Justice: The Esperanza Fire

[Second of two articles]

In my previous post, I discussed the shameful Ivan Hill case. This case, however, is somewhat better. Prosecutors in Riverside, CA, have charged a suspect in last month's "Esperanza" fire, which killed five firefighters, along with ten other fires. The prosecutor's office says it has "overwhelming evidence" against Raymond Lee Oyler.

Defense counsel, of course, claims Oyler has an "air-tight" alibi for the fire: he was caring for his 7-month-old baby. The alibi is "confirmed" by Oyler's girlfriend and sister (the article is a little ambiguous here, so I am assuming the grilfriend and sister are two people).

The AP article says:

Arsons are challenging to prove because evidence often burns and suspects can be miles away creating an alibi by the time anyone notices flames.

This is true as far as it goes, but it is also misleading. Certainly, a fire -- especially a wildfire like Esperanza -- creates wide-spread destruction, but -- and this is a crucial "but" -- a properly trained, experienced arson investigator can often determine "cause and origin" where the uninitiated eye sees merely chaos. Arson investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Certified Fire Investigators (through the International Association of Arson Investigators) can have an almost uncanny ability to spot indicators of cause and origin. [As bloggers seem to be held to a much higher standard of disclosure than reporters or White House appointees, I should point out that I am a member of IAAI, but I am not a CFI. Yet.]

At 10 of the fires, investigators recovered remains of incendiary devices: five to seven paper or wood matches wrapped around a cigarette using duct tape or a rubber band. The arsonist lit the cigarette, which slowly burned down until it reached the matches and ignited them, sparking a brush fire. The device allows a time delay of up to 11 minutes that arsonists can use to escape and create an alibi.

Thomas Fee, president of the International Association of Arson Investigators, said the DNA evidence could be key to linking Oyler to the other blazes. That DNA allows prosecutors to focus on the similarities between the cigarette-and-match devices used at the June blazes and the one used at the Esperanza Fire.

The way the incendiary devices were constructed can be used to show that the same person crafted them all — a so-called "arsonist's signature," said Fee, who isn't involved in the Oyler case. The signature can be as subtle as the location of the matches on the cigarette's stem or more obvious, such as the brand of cigarette used, he said.

The description of the 'sets' as given in the article, however, may prove to be a problem. For the layman, "five to seven paper or wood matches wrapped around a cigarette using duct tape or a rubber band" may sound like identical sets, but to a fire investigator, they are as different as night and day: paper matches are not the same as wood matches, nor are duct tape and rubber bands identical. Even a rookie lawyer could wreak havoc if that were the only evidence.

On the other hand, it is likely that either the prosecutor's office released ambiguous information to the press or the reporter -- who probably is not an arson investigator -- did not fully understand the information.

A "signature device" is usually virtually identical from fire to fire. The article mentions the case of former South Pasadena fire investigator John Orr, who as convicted of four counts of murder after a fire at a home improvement warehouse, along with dozens of other fires. Orr's devices consisted of three or four paper matches attached to a Marlboro Light, wrapped in yellow lined paper. Orr used virtually identical devices in almost all of his fires; it was this simularity that helped convict him in (I believe) four separate trials. Of course, the fact that authorities found a manuscript, written by Orr, describing his fires in detail that could only be known to the arsonist, didn't help Orr's defense any. (The history of firefighter arsonists is fascinating, but that is an article for another day). The full story of Orr's descent from respected arson investigator and mentor to convicted murderer is told in Joseph Wambaugh's book, Fire Lover.

At the top of this post, I said that the Oyler case was "better" than the Hill case. It is, but only because the authorities were able to identify and arrest Oyler before he had a chance to start even more fires. Certainly, the fact that five firefighters lost their lives makes Oyler's story anything but pleasant.

Should Oyler be convicted, I would hope that part of the sentence imposed would include psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Serial arsonists are a strange breed, and we know nowhere near as much as we should about these people. Back in December of last year, I wrote about Tookie Williams, founder of the Crips street gang, saying:

I believe that executing people like that serves no useful purpose. In fact, keeping mentally ill murderers alive might actually benefit society, in that -- assuming their cooperation -- medical science might be able to develop treatments that could either restore these people to health, or maybe treat someone else before that person becomes a killer.

The same logic applies to serial arsonists.

Criminal (In)Justice: The "60 Freeway Slayer"

This is the first of two articles dealing with the state of the criminal justice system, at least as it is constituted in California.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office was able to convict accused "60 Freeway Slayer" suspect Ivan Hill in the rape and strangulation murders of six prostitutes during a ten-week period starting in November, 1993. The jury also convicted Hill of “special circumstance” allegations of multiple murders and having a prior murder conviction. The death penalty phase of the trial will begin next month.

At the time of Hill's arrest for the "60 Freeway" killings, he was in prison for robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon (which are all felonies), and was set to be released in three months.

Here’s the kicker: the prior murder conviction was in 1989 – Hill served a maximum of four years, ten months for the 1989 murder conviction.

Murder is generally defined as:

[T]he killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder), and murder by intent but without deliberation or premeditation (second-degree murder).

This means Hill killed someone intentionally; inadvertent killings are (usually) considered manslaughter.

In an interview, LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley said Hill had been convicted of a total of eight killings, implying that (perhaps) the 1989 conviction was for two earlier homicides. If this were indeed the case, Hill would have served two years, five months for each of the killings.

Let’s look at the timeline here:
  • 1989: Hill convicted of murder (possibly two, as noted above)
  • 1993-1994: “60 Freeway Slayer” killings (first body discovered November 1, 1993; last found January 12, 1994); six dead
  • 1994: Hill convicted of robbery, attempted robbery, and assault with a firearm
  • 2003: Hill arrested for “60 Freeway” killings, three months before scheduled release for the 1994 convictions (served approximately nine years)
  • 2006: Hill convicted in Freeway case, penalty phase to begin next month.

If Hill were convicted in the 1989 cases on January 1 and began the “60 Freeway” killings as soon as he got out, he would have served 58 months, for two murders, before being released to kill again.

This is unconscionable.

Given that Hill’s victims in the current case were all African-American prostitutes, it stands to reason that any earlier victims would also have been African-American – serial killers tend to stick within their own race and to chose a specific demographic (or image) for their victims. Could the fact that the earlier victims were black have had something to do with Hill’s obscenely-early release?

British politician William Gladstone once said, "Justice delayed, is justice denied." Justice was not necessarily delayed in Hill's first imprisonment in 1989 (if it was, in fact, his first, which is doubtful), but it was certainly perverted. LESS THAN FIVE YEARS for murder. They've got to be kidding, especially in light of nine years for the 1994 convictions.

Of course, it is possible Hill escaped from prison, but it is much more likely he was paroled. Parole boards, by and large, tend to be made up of well-meaning but incredibly na├»ve people, the ones who want so desperately to believe that “he didn’t kill” because he didn’t want to kill, not because there were no young African-American hookers in the Super-Max cell block with him. Remember the scene in Backdraft, where Robert DeNiro and Billy Baldwin go to Donald Sutherland’s parole hearing? It’s just like that.

This is particularly ironic in view of last night’s episode of “Law and Order”, in which main plot was that the killer had been convicted of two separate strings of murders and escaped to kill five or six young schoolgirls. In the sub-plot, the father of one of the victims gunned down the mass-murderer after McCoy and company were unable to pursue a death-penalty case against him. The father, in his trial, claimed temporary insanity, but – after being cleverly maneuvered by McCoy – blurted out, “I did what needed to be done.” Although I missed portions of the program, it appeared the killer had managed to avoid execution even after having received the death penalty in his earlier trials.