Sunday, August 31, 2008

Democratic National Convention

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 28th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Tonight I will be in the crowd of 80,000 US citizens, along with other media representatives from around the world, witnessing history in the making at Denver Colorado’s Mile High Stadium. Senator Barack Obama will be giving his Democratic Party Presidential nomination acceptance speech before the largest audience to ever attend such an event. The only other time a United States (US) Presidential candidate has given an acceptance speech at an outdoor arena was back on 15 July 1960, when John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination before an estimated 50,000 Americans at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.
But five long weeks ago, Senator Obama spoke before a much larger crowd from the base of the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park in Berlin; a crowd consisting of over 200,000 Germans and citizens from every other country in Europe as well as many other countries in the rest of the world. In fact, this was Senator Barack Obama’s largest audience yet as a US Presidential candidate. As such this huge crowd of non-US citizens stands as a testament to the fact that, despite the well deserved battering my country’s image has taken over the last six years around the world, America is still regarded as the world’s best hope for leadership in solving the many problems which stand before us.
But if one closely listened to the substance of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, you would have noticed that he was not only also speaking to Americans back home in the US, but that Obama was also outlining his vision of future American foreign policy positions that many here in Europe would disagree with. While Senator Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war and his plan to withdraw American forces from that country after he is elected draws broad support from Europeans, Obama’s position on the conflict in Afghanistan is another matter.
Senator Obama spoke eloquently of the need for the US and Europe to stand together against Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons and asked for both Europe and Germany’s help on the frontlines of the global “war on terror” in Afghanistan. He did so knowing full well that German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes sending more German troops to Afghanistan because many if not most Germans are against the idea. Senator Obama sought to remind his German audience that the harsh reality of the world today is that no country can escape the dangers posed by pseudo-religious terrorism nor can any single country defeat this threat. Obama noted that “None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them. Yet, in the absence of Soviet tanks and a terrible wall, it has become easy to forget this truth.”
Senator Obama then pointed out that the end of the Cold War that was symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall had given rise to new dangers that were not constrained by national borders or even by oceans. Obama reminded his German hosts that the September 11th terrorists hatched their plot in Hamburg and then trained for their mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan and across the border in Karachi, Pakistan. Then in an acknowledgement of another borderless global problem, Obama noted that it was a combination of CO² emissions from cars in cities like Boston, Massachusetts along with factories in Beijing, China that were melting our polar ice caps.
Unfortunately, in the minds of many Germans and Americans as well as citizens of other countries, President Bush’s illegitimate war in Iraq has become intertwined with legitimate efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan. The fact that this misconception has been embraced by so many people means that President Bush and his political hacks have largely succeeded in their attempts to link their Iraq war with the global “war on terror.” While I expect there are many who would disagree with me, I continue to believe that the US led multi-national invasion of Afghanistan was justified as a necessary measure to thwart the threat posed by pseudo-religious Islamic inspired terrorists.
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan provided both a government sponsored sanctuary as well as training bases for Osama bin laden’s al Qaeda terrorist organization. The initial US military response involved the use of a small number of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan in recognition of the fact that you don’t attack a network like al Qaeda with a field army. It took fewer than 200 US Special Forces A-team troops to effectively topple the Taliban regime and put bin laden and al Qaeda on the run.
But then President Bush took the heat off of bin laden and al Qaeda by deciding to finish the job his Daddy didn’t by invading Iraq and falsely justifying his actions as a necessary response to the terrorism threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The decision to turn what was essentially a Special Forces counter-terrorism guerrilla operation in Afghanistan with little or no media publicity, into a headline grabbing conventional war in Iraq helped Bush win political re-election, but at a horrendous cost in terms of American lives in addition to our economic, military and political power.
. Many Europeans see the second coming of John F. Kennedy in Obama. Many also believe that Obama is the antidote for the disease of unreasoning fear that the Bush administration has been spreading for the last 6 years in the US and the rest of the world. But I would caution all of those who feel this way to be careful and not “put the cart before the horse.” Granted, Barack is a breath of fresh air and a source of hope and inspiration for millions of Americans and others around the globe. But he is still only one man and America is only one country.
Obama noted the real solution to the world’s problems in Berlin; “Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice. It is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Has the Republican Party developed a thin skin or what?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 21st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column by questioning the Republican National Convention’s decision to deny Metro Éireann’s request for press credentials for this columnist. I view the GOP’s decision to deny our request as just another example of various attempts still being made by the Bush administration and its allies to protect the image they wish the general public to see by censoring the perspectives, pictures, statements or words and or restricting the access of those who disagree with them.
But facts are facts and the truth is the truth no matter how hard one may try to put a happy face on your shortcomings as a leader. It is a fact that in a truly unbelievable reversal of long standing Republican Party commitments to fiscal conservatism, President Bush and his administration, along with his Republican cronies in Congress, has presided over the most fiscally irresponsible period in our nation’s history. When Mr. Bush took office, he predicted that federal debt held by the public (the amount borrowed by the US government to pay for past deficits) would shrink to just 8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009. But Bush now estimates that it will amount to 40 percent in 2009 and the worst may be yet to come. Denying a Republican Party member, who is critical of this track record of fiscal irresponsibility, press credentials for your Presidential National Convention isn’t going to fix this problem or make it go away any time soon either.
But the current Republican presidential administration has actually gone far beyond telling political appointees to retract Court ordered proposals, such as the EPA report I mentioned in previous columns, or denying media access to critics of its policies. I will now point to some other recent instances where I believe Bush and his minions have crossed the line in their vain attempts to cast themselves and or their policies in a more favorable light. A recent case in point involves media coverage of the Iraq war.
An American freelance photographer in Iraq named Zoriah Miller, was recently barred from covering the activities of US Marines in Iraq after photos of several US Marines killed in a 26 June suicide attack were posted on his website. Not satisfied with forbidding Mr. Miller to work in areas of Iraq controlled by the US Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the Marine commander in Iraq, is now seeking to have Mr. Miller barred from all United States military facilities throughout the world.
Civil liberties advocates and journalists as well as members of the American public who oppose the war in Iraq argue that this is simply one more example of the great lengths to which the Bush administration has gone in an effort to sanitize public portrayals of the war and its human costs in American lives. In a marked contrast with the Vietnam War almost 40 years ago, only about a half dozen photos of a few of the over 4,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq have ever been published during the last five years.
From the very beginning of this misguided war to bring democracy to Iraq and remake the country in the image of the United States, the Bush administration has sought manipulate US public opinion about the war. At the start of the Iraq war, it would only allow journalists and photographers it approved to accompany US forces on their combat missions. But now that the war has become increasingly unpopular with most Americans in spite of the Bush administration’s attempts to sanitize media coverage of it, journalists say it is has become that much harder to accompany troops on combat missions in Iraq.
Furthermore, Iraqi prisoners who were often photographed during the first years of the war are now off limits for such photos. The Bush administration claims that this is because “they are concerned about these prisoners’ rights.” Hmmm, I wonder what the detainees in Guantanamo Bay would have to say about the Bush administration’s new found concern for the “rights” of its prisoners of war. Would you like to hazard a guess?
Nor has the Bush administration been content to only censor photos taken by imbedded war photographers. It has also banned both photos as well as the filming of the flag draped coffins of American’s killed in Iraq arriving at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and now routinely makes memorial services for these soldiers off limits as well. That is also the reason why Bush’s officials in the Pentagon told Obama he could only visit US soldiers wounded in Iraq at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, if he went alone and without his military adviser, retired Air Force Major General Scott Gration.
But the Bush administration isn’t just concerned about the US public’s perceptions of its misguided policies; believe it or not President Bush is also concerned about the views of citizens of other countries too. That is why the Bush administration banned US Embassy staff and State Department personnel in Germany from attending the speech Barack Obama delivered 24 July in Berlin. Shortly after hearing about Obama’s plans to speak in Berlin, he U.S. Embassy instructed all Foreign Service personnel stationed there not to attend Sen. Barack Obama's speech, which it labeled a "partisan political activity” prohibited under its regulations for those serving overseas.
But others dispute this unprecedented interpretation of the US Foreign Affairs manual. The diplomatic corps union, American Foreign Service Association objected to the ruling, saying it was an “unnecessarily narrow interpretation” of the Foreign Affairs Manual and “The fact that you are working for the U.S. government overseas should not preclude political activity that you could engage in the United States.”
While government employees in the US are not permitted to give money or work on behalf of political candidates, they are permitted to attend campaign events, political rallies and speeches made by candidates because they are still entitled to vote for them. But Republicans have suddenly developed thin skins.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Due to the overwhelming interest in the Republican National Convention

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 14th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I want to offer a bit more in the way of commentary on the current Republican administration’s attitudes regarding the environment as well as members of my own Republican Party’s noticeably thin skin as their time in office grasping the levers of power in Washington DC slowly dwindles away.
Regarding the environment, I should note that the United States EPA report on the effects of global warming due to green house gases emissions that I referenced in previous columns was generated in response to a 2007 US Supreme Court ruling against the Bush administration. In response to a lawsuit by state governments, the Bush administration had originally told the US Supreme Court that the EPA would not set standards for CO² emmisions even if was supposed to do so under the US Clean Air Act. When the Court finally ruled on the states’ lawsuit it came as no surprise (to anyone except for Bush and his political hacks) that the US Supreme Court doesn’t like being told that a government agency won’t do what it is mandated to do under US law.
That is why the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to issue a report about the effects of these emmisions on public health and to develop standards to regulate such emmisions. But the Republican led Bush administration effectively controls the EPA, which is supposed to “independently” establish regulations and enforce the US’s air quality standards, because it is an agency run by Bush presidential appointees. So what do you think happened when the EPA complied with the US Supreme Court ruling and issued its health report and a proposal to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act?
Well the EPA e-mailed the health report and its proposal to regulate CO² emmisions to the White House Office of Management and Budget which was supposed to review it on behalf of the President before it was delivered to the Court and then released to the general public. So what did the White House then do with this report?
The White House never even bothered to open the documents, much less review them, and instead instructed the EPA to retract it. So EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson backed off from the “independent” conclusions that he and the EPA staff had reached and instead decided to issue an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” that invited public comment on the question of how the EPA should regulate the CO² emissions that cause global warming. The EPA then issued the report the Court ordered it to in answer to the question “Does global warming pose a threat to human health or public welfare?”, but took no stand on the issue even though the EPA report clearly showed that global warming was a threat to both US human health and public welfare.
I have to tell you, this current Republican President and his lackeys beat anything I have ever seen. Whether its through sheer arrogance, stupidity or both, this bunch is bound and determined to do nothing to protect the American public or risk offending the US automotive or fossil fuels industry interests that they answer to during the waning days of the Bush administration. Maybe I shouldn’t be so amazed by such manipulation, but in all honesty President Bush and company continue to amaze me with their antics.
On a more hopeful note, two weeks from today I will be at Mile High Stadium in Denver Colorado listening to Senator (and soon to be President) Barack Obama deliver what I think will be a truly memorable and historic Democratic National Convention acceptance speech as the Democratic Party’s nominee to become the 44th President of the United States. In fact I was lucky to get press credentials to cover the Democratic Convention because of the overwhelming demand for credentials from media figures both at home and abroad.
On the other hand, I wasn’t worried about press credentials for the Republican Convention because I’m a registered member of the Republican Party and had previously attended conventions. I also knew that the Republican National Convention had received only a third of the number of requests for press credentials that the Democratic National Convention had so I knew granting Metro Éireann’s request wouldn’t be a problem at all. Or so I thought.
So I’m waiting to receive my press credentials for the Republican Convention, when I received this unsigned email on July 21, 2008.
Dear Special Press Credential Applicant:
Thank you for applying for credentials to cover the 2008 Republican National Convention. We appreciate your interest in covering this historic event. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming interest in covering our convention, we are unable to accommodate your request for Special Press Credentials. We hope you choose to follow our proceedings through other means, including our live-stream at
Sincerely, Special Press Credentials Office 2008 Republican National Convention.
I sent the following reply to Hayden Pruett, the gentleman who we had been corresponding with regarding Metro Éireann’s request for my press credentials to cover the Republican Convention.
Dear Hayden, You refused our request “due to the overwhelming interest in covering our convention”? Surely you jest! Sorry Hayden, but I know better. Even though I'm a life-long Republican and still registered as such in Texas, I guess I should have expected this kind of media snub from my Republican co-horts though. Well I will still wish you all the best with the convention in St. Paul anyway. Take care now. Best Regards, Charles Laffiteau
While I could be wrong, I am fairly certain that the Republican Party has identified this columnist as someone who is not interested in furthering their interests. If you consider the Republican Party’s interests and the current Republican President’s interests to be one and the same, then such sentiments would be accurate. But if you place the interests of your nation and the traditional values of the Republican Party ahead of the President’s own interests, then this would not be accurate. What do you think?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Water Ireland?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 7th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

I closed last week’s column with a promise to discuss why a wetter Ireland could also be facing water shortages in the very near future. I don’t blame you for finding such a prediction hard to believe, but if you will bear with me I think you will understand why this is a distinct possibility by the time you finish reading this week’s column.
In the United States (US) much of our population growth over the past fifty years has occurred in the south east from Virginia down thru the Carolinas and Georgia into our number one retirement and tourist destination of Florida. The other regions of the country which have grown the fastest have been the south west and the west coast including my home state of Texas as well as points farther west including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and our most populous state of California.
Unfortunately for people living in these regions, there is not an abundance of natural fresh water in any of these states. Out west they have to rely on water stored in the winter snow pack of the Rocky Mountains, while in states like Texas and Georgia they depend on rainwater runoff stored in huge lakes created to supply their growing populations with fresh drinking water. Currently the south east is suffering through the worst drought in memory and this region’s lakes are at record low levels, thus imperilling the supply of drinking water for the residents of large cities like Atlanta Georgia. Out west California is in the midst of the worst fire season in its history thanks to the effects of lengthy droughts and higher temperatures, both of which are linked to global warming.
However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report released on 17 July does not give residents of these areas much comfort regarding the prospects for these current conditions improving anytime in the foreseeable future. The changing weather patterns out west are thinning the snowpack that feeds the region’s lakes and rivers. This in turn affects the electricity generated by hydroelectric dams as well as water supplies for farmers, ranchers and residents of cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
On the east coast rising sea levels have already led to severe erosion of barrier islands as well as the mainland, because the sea eats away at dry land and then storm surges come in and finish the job by washing it away in a flash. Rising sea levels also affect the wells which tap underground aquifers for fresh water, by leeching into the underground caverns and rock formations where this water collects. Cities from Texas to Georgia to Washington DC and New York are also experiencing significantly more “bad air” days, because heat speeds up the process by which automobile exhausts are cooked into smog. The report also found that rising temperatures are likely to mean more periods of sustained summer heat, which threatens the health of the poor and elderly who cannot afford the electricity expenses associated with running air conditioners.
Here in Ireland, the EPA report generated by John Sweeney and Laura McElwain revealed that Ireland’s changing weather patterns were increasing rainfall on the western and northern coasts of Ireland and decreasing in the east. But the more intense and longer periods of rainfall in those areas increases the possibility of floods in the winter and can also lead to water shortages in the summer. Then the twin forces of winter flooding and summer droughts increases soil erosion in Ireland’s interior at the same time rising sea levels and increased storm surge activity are eating away at the Emerald Isle’s edges.
Another important factor cited in the EPA report supports the contention that Ireland will soon be facing water shortages. That’s because Ireland’s population growth over the past thirty years has in many respects been similar to what we have seen in the US. Most of Ireland’s economic and population growth has been occurring in Dublin and the south east regions of the country which, like the American south and west, are the regions of Ireland that have the least in terms of water availability. For example, the EPA report notes that Dublin has only one water source and it is currently running at 99% of its capacity. What will happen when climate change due to global warming and less rainfall in Dublin and the south east regions of Ireland diminish the capacity of that single source of water for Dublin? Can you spell water r-a-t-i-o-n-i-n-g?
Mandatory water restrictions are now commonplace in the south and west of the United States so, even though you may find it hard to imagine such measures ever being introduced here in Ireland; don’t say you were never warned this could happen.
Sweeney and McElwain believe that the urbanization that occurred in Ireland after World War II was probably a factor in why Ireland cooled more slowly than the rest of the world. They also believe the growth in automobile usage and construction activity associated with the economic boom beginning in 1990 has contributed to the higher levels of warming Ireland is also experiencing. There isn’t much we can or should do to discourage construction activity, which has already slowed due to worsening economic conditions, or slow the pace of urbanization in Ireland. But Ireland’s EPA report clearly shows there is a need for much more than what is currently being done to discourage the use of automobiles and encourage the use of public transportation.
The recent tax increases to encourage the use of lower carbon emission engines was only a tiny step in the right direction. But Ireland must also undertake massive investments in its public transportation infrastructure to provide its residents with viable alternatives to the automobile. The prosperity Ireland has experienced over the last twenty years is what led to the growth in automobile usage here. But if something isn’t done to discourage it, Ireland will end up choking on the fumes of that same prosperity.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What do the US and Ireland's EPA reports say?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 31st in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last week’s column I began discussing some of the consequences of global warming that residents of a wetter and hotter Emerald Isle will be confronting in the coming years. Today I want to continue that discussion by focusing on the results of some climate change research conducted by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as by John Sweeney and Laura McElwain, who work at the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units (ICARUS) on the National University of Ireland’s (NUI) Maynooth campus.
Sweeney and McElwain conducted their research on behalf of Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has since published their findings in landmark report on how climate change is affecting our island. This report is notable because its findings both preceded and in many respects mirrored those released in my own country on 17 July by the US’s much larger and better funded EPA. Both of these reports also echo warnings from other scientists as well as the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the problems we face due to the negative impacts of global warming on our climate and health.
For those out there who still doubt that global warming poses grave threats to our health and our welfare, I would like to point out that the most recent report issued by my home country’s EPA came about despite the opposition of President Bush’s political hacks, who have consistently resisted any conclusions that increasing temperatures will harm human health. This contention is supported by the fact that the US report was released just days after the same EPA, which is run by Bush appointees, declined to regulate the pollutants blamed for warming. In fact the Bush administration would have never released such a report were it not for a 2007 Supreme Court ruling in a federal lawsuit (brought to court on behalf of a group of US state governments) that instructed the Bush administration to determine whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Clearly the Bush administration is determined to do the bidding of the US automotive and fossil fuel industries for as long as it remains in office, so any US federal government action to deal with the pollutants responsible for global warming will have to wait until after a Democratic President Obama takes office on 20 January 2009. But Ireland doesn’t need to wait to take action like we have been forced to in the US. Ireland’s government ministries are currently run by TD’s drawn from the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Coalition which one would expect to be more sensitive to environmental concerns. I can therefore see no reason why both the Dáil and the Northern Assembly cannot begin to take concrete steps to reduce carbon emissions on the island in addition to becoming international advocates for a cleaner planet within both the EU and the UN.
The urgent need for government action on behalf of all residents of Ireland to deal with the threats posed by global warming is made clear by the conclusions drawn from Sweeney and McElwain’s research. Their meteorological data (which is based on rainfall and temperature measurements collected over the last century) shows that Ireland is not only wetter and hotter than it was 30 years ago, but that the temperature increases we have seen here in Ireland have been double the average increase seen globally. While the rest of Europe is also facing the same negative effects from global warming, Ireland is on the leading edge and will thus be impacted more severely than any of its EU neighbours.
Sweeney and McElwain’s research shows that both the world and Ireland have experienced two periods of global warming over the last century, between 1910 and 1945 and again between 1980 and 2004. But Ireland developed its own unique global warming weather pattern following the end of World War II. When temperatures in the rest of the world began to cool in the mid-forties it took much longer for Ireland’s temperatures to drop. Then when the second period of international global warming began in 1980, Ireland’s temperatures rose at a much faster rate than the average temperature increase for the rest of the world. This faster rate of temperature increase puts Ireland at risk in terms of more frequent and longer lasting heat waves as well as droughts such as those now being experienced in the United States, Australia and other parts of the world.
In their EPA report, Sweeney and McElwain express their concern about future Irish heat waves because they regard them as a threat to Ireland’s “human health, agriculture and water supply”. They also go on to predict that, in future years, Ireland’s heat waves will likely increase in terms of their “severity, frequency or duration”. While some of you might relish the thought of an Irish heat wave while you shiver under your umbrella in the13 C summer “heat”, you will think again once you swelter through a few days at 33 C which, when it’s coupled with Ireland’s high humidity, will feel like 36 C.
The 17 July EPA report paints a remarkably similar picture of the negative consequences US citizens face as my homeland grows warmer. Among other things the EPA report says that “it is very likely” that more people will die during our increasingly frequent heat waves or long periods of high temperatures and that those most at risk of dying will be the inner city poor and elderly people. In other words our society in the US will become one that is increasingly oriented towards the “survival of the fittest.” Is this really what the citizens and residents of Ireland want to see happen to Irish society?
Next week I will conclude my discussion of the impacts global warming is having on Ireland by discussing why a wetter Ireland will not only face more flooding but could also be facing water shortages in the very near future.