7/31/08

Index of Posts for July 2008

Index of Posts for July 2008

Eco-terrorism, not


The photo, uncredited, was posted at GaMoonbat and shows the Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) protest at Dominion Resources headquarters on June 30, the day Dominion started construction of its proposed new coal-fired plant in Wise County, Virginia.

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I wouldn't have suspected the folks, pictured above, were considered eco-terrorists, had not Don Thieme at GaMoonbat linked to my June 30 blog post on their sit-in. Thieme, a self-described geologist, archaeologist, and college science teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, tagged his entry "eco-terrorism."

As I noted in my post, opponents argue that the Wise plant would serve to accelerate mountaintop removal and its problems, so eloquently outlined by Jaculyn Hanrahan and other Wise County citizens in their testimony before the Air Board.

Before undertaking the sit-in, BREF! activists joined many of us throughout Virginia in signing petitions, testifying in state hearings, sending letters to the editor and to Governor Kaine to oppose the plant. In fact, the last time I heard from Marley Green, one of those arrested, was July 5, when he emailed all his contacts to ask that we sign another petition--this one in support of the wind power initiative started by folks in WV's Coal River Mountain Watch. Coal River. (Coal River Mountain is another area being destroyed by MTR. Marley, Holly Garrett--another arrestee--and I were all among the first 16 signatures. This petition is so-mainstream that I received a second request to sign it last night from an anthropology research scholar.)

So what is mountaintop removal (MTR)? What is ecoterroism? And should the term apply to these folks?

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MTR, as practiced in Appalachia has been called, as I wrote for LLRX.com, "Strip Mining on Steroids." Coal companies denude mountains of their trees and topsoil, drill holes to insert AMFO (ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil--a combination similar to that used in car bombs), and after detonation tear down the mountains, removing the coal and dumping the refuse to bury headwater streams. In the process, drinking water is poisoned, communities destroyed. And when folks who have lived in these mountains for years question the process, they receive threats to themselves and their families. For several examples of the latter, consider this description from the Washington Post about Larry Gibson and this piece from the Bristol Herald about Larry Bush. And many people tell me that complaining to the sheriff in rural counties does no good, and that in some cases deputies even serve as enforcers of the coal companies' will.

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Eco-terrorism occurring within the U.S. is a subset of domestic terrorism. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52), according to the American Civil Liberties Union, [my emphasis added]
expanded the definition of terrorism to cover "domestic," as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act "dangerous to human life" that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States...
In testimony before Congress, the FBI defined ecoterrorism as [my emphasis added]
the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.
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The problem for our democracy comes with expanding the application of the term terrorism to embrace non-violent civic protest. Sourcewatch reports in an article I'd recommend reading, that Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has been instrumental. [my emphasis added]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word 'terrorism' has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage - which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists - and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled "eco-terrorism expert" Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Apparently Arnold et. al's efforts are succeeding. Take the definition of eco-terrorism promoted by the National Forum for State Legislatures, which has the slogan "The Forum for America's Ideas." NCSL's annual legislative summit, which finished up last week in New Orleans is
an opportunity for state lawmakers from around the country to exchange ideas and debate issues being considered in Washington that will affect state public policies. The resolutions enacted will guide NCSL’s lobbying activity in Washington over the next several years.
Denver staff member L. Cheryl Runyon (email) wrote a piece posted at the group's site entitled "Eco-terrorism-A New Kind of Sabotage"which ranks towards the top of a Google search on the word "eco-terrorism." Her second sentence is:
Eco-terrorists commit arson and burglary, trespass, issue death threats, and engage in malicious destruction of property and vandalism-usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, researchers, manufacturers or home builders.
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I find conflating trespass and death threats alarming, especially in an official paper by a group that lobbies Congress. How are a misdemeanor involving civil disobedience and death threats in the same category? And, if Runyon prevails, how will that affect legislation and thus our civil liberties?

In re-defining terrorism so broadly, we risk losing the First Amendment rights so important for a democracy.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In the most recent legislative iteration concerning eco-terorrism, Jane Harman's (D-CA) H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 204 to 6, on October 23, 2007. The measure would have amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to
add a new section concerning the prevention of violent radicalization (an extremist belief system for facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change) and homegrown terrorism (violence by a group or individual within the United States to coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or a segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives).
One wonders, just exactly violent radicalization might be identified and what measures will be allowed to prevent it. The only six voting against the measure were: Abercrombie, Costello, Duncan, Flake, Kucinich and Rohrabacher. The Senate has not acted on the measure to date.

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There was no violence in Richmond, nor even property damage, in any of the other activities by BREF!, who have done things like sing Christmas carols w. new lyrics protesting coal investments by the Bank of America. This time, seven had been standing with a sign "No New Coal Plant in Wise County" or a banner "It's Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy." The seven were arrested despite disbanding upon request. The prosecutor told their attorneys that if all of them did not accept the plea bargain, she would withdraw it for everyone. Five accepted the plea, to allow the blockaders to avoid trial. But, when two women refused, the prosecutor allowed them go to trial separately on September 18, while accepting the other pleas, despite her threats to do otherwise.

The sign holders and the blockaders who accepted the plea bargain are willing to work in Richmond, VA for 200 hours with no pay. That's five weeks, if they can find a full-time assignment, which will require a temporary move across state. Marley, who was hanging from the bridge, was originally to have been required to work an additional 50 hours with the option to go to jail for the weekend and reduce his hours to 200. Without a guilty plea, that seemed legally problematic and thus the prosecutor changed her offer to 25 extra hours. I find it exceptional that the community service would be required to take place in Richmond, entailing an extended period of work without pay, necessitating travel expenses and/or housing costs for a second location.

I ran a community service order program for 17 years in Virginia, supervising both misdemeanants and felons--including one man transfered to my caseload after being found guilty of major drug possession in another area. The current sentences, based on my experience, appear to be more severe than for many felonies and thus may have been invoked against expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speakers.

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The Richmond Times Dispatch story of July 1 quoted Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring as saying,
I have no doubt that the city will be asking to recover the money, whether by criminal penalties or civil action remains to be seen.
Then on July 2, that paper quoted Richmond police spokeswoman Karla Peters as saying there were no estimates of their costs and that police and fire departments would not pursue recovery because,

We don't want to give them that much credit.

After the plea agreement, the Richmond Times Dispatch coverage yesterday cited Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Toni M. Randall as saying the arrangement respected the activists' right to protest but required community service because of the disruption they caused.

And, yet, although the amount of community service is on a par with that assigned to felons, s
ome of those who hold BREF! in contempt have commented at the paper's website with vitriol, one saying that allowing community service would somehow lead to riots.

I'd ask such critics to remember that the founders of our nation embodied in the
spirit of our Constitution the notion that "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. " They designed a government based on free speech, a free press and access to the courts. Thomas Jefferson wrote James Madison from Paris in 1787, saying,

A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
He also wrote in 1808
The liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties.
There are so many communities besides ours here in Appalachia who have had to fight for the health and welfare of their families and their neighborhoods. Whether at Love Canal or or in Times Beach, Missouri, they would not have been able to do so, without free speech and access to the courts.

Yet, in both of those cases, the affected area was relatively small, the remedy evacuation. Here we face almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains leveled, half of them in West Virginia, alone. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood and the courts have held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable.

When I think of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City Bombing comes to mind, or the Ku Klux Klan or the Army of God. For eco-terrorism, maybe the Earth Liberation Front, although its targets have not been as widespread and have involved serious property damage rather than human lives.

But Blue Ridge Earth First! activists as eco-terrorists? Five folks who blockaded Dominion Resources for a couple of hours on June 30 after that company had succeeded in convincing the State to let it build a new coal fired electric plant, which will serve to accelerate the blowing of of mountains? Another five who held signs and banners and disbanded upon request and still got arrested and have agreed to performing 200 hours each of unpaid labor for the City of Richmond hundreds of miles from their homes? Another two, who did who held the signs and disbanded, but are asking for a trial?

Just who are the eco-terrorists here? Those who engage in civil disobedience and are willing to take their punishment or those who perpetrate the destruction of our mountains and our way of life?

7/30/08

Artic Ice Crack

According to the AP, Derek Mueller, a researcher at Ontario's Trent University says a seven-square-mile ice chunk broke off the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf last week,on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's arctic region.

7/29/08

Hardball: Fox commentators and their White House Talking Points

According to the July 25 transcript posted 7/28, Scott McClellan admitted to Hardball host Chris Matthews that the Bush White House issued "talking points" to "commentators and other, pundits at FOX News, that were useful to the White House.

MATTHEWS: So, you wouldn’t use Brit Hume to sell stuff for them, but you’d use some of the nighttime guys?

MCCLELLAN: Yeah, I would separate that out, and certainly I, you know, they’ll say, that’s because they agree with those views in the White House.

MATTHEWS: Well, they didn’t need a script though, did they?

MCCLELLAN: No, well, probably not.

For more, see the discussion at Think Progress.

7/28/08

Domestic Terrorism in Knoxville



Photo from the News-Sentinel shows folks before the start of a candle light service at the outside Second Presbyterian Church Monday in response to the previous day's shooting at the Unitarian Church next door.

The congregation of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was enjoying a children's musical Sunday, when Jim David Adkisson allegedly attacked, murdering two and wounding six others. According to court records, he wanted to kill liberals "who are ruining the country."

Hayes Hickman (contact form), Don Jacobs (contact form) of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on the results of a police search in their July 28 story, "Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity on accused shooter's reading list: 4-page letter outlines frustration, hatred of 'liberal movement' " In addition to right-wing political books, they found
brass knuckles, empty shotgun shell boxes and a handgun.
If Mememorandum is accurate, I have where's the coverage of this hate crime in the right wing media? There seems to be only Michele Malkin (quoting Confederate Yankee, who emphasized it was an attack on churchgoers, not liberals) and one oddball, I'll not link to, who opined at Calvinists 4 Conservatism,
If he really hated liberals and gays, he would have gone to either a college campus or an Abercrombie & Fitch store, respectfully. However, he went to a church. This leads me to believe that the note about hating liberals and gays was forged, perhaps by some Marxist wanting attention.

7/27/08

McCain and the Timetable

After saying that Obama and other Democrats were accepting defeat in calling for a timetable for removal of troops from Iraq, McCain has apparently reversed himself. You can read about how he tries to extricate himself from this apparent reversal in this transcript of his 7/27/08 conversation with George Stephanopoulos on This Week. For coverage, see Memeorandum.

7/26/08

Sharon Olds

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe accompanied the July 26 Guardian article, "Olds' worlds" by Marianne Macdonald.

I like Olds's poems quite a lot, ever since reading the Gold Cell (Knopf, 1987), especially the chilling poem, "I Go Back to May 1937 " which I've reprinted below. A measure of that poem's impact can be found in the use of an image from that poem for the title of her collected works through 2002, Strike Sparks(Knopf, 2004).

You can find other of Olds's poems online at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's terrific resource, Modern American Poetry, as well as at her exhibit at the Adademy of American Poets. Olds had wanted to come to Split This Rock Poetry Festival, but ill health at the time prevented her.

I was glad to see "Olds' worlds" in The Guardian (see link accompanying her picture above) , but Mcdonald's introduction strikes me as odd, starting with the hype that "many regard" Olds as "America's greatest living poet." Why let the knowledgeable reader debate the list of "greatest living" rather than concentrate on Olds. I'm not sure about which Marianne Macdonald wrote this piece, as it's a common name and there might be several candidates.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

7/25/08

Laurie Anderson's Homeland

Reuters photograph with photographer uncredited, as it appeared with the The Independent's art and media correspondent Ciar Byrne's "Laurie Anderson's anti-American attitude sparks walkouttour" on May 3, 2008.


Oddly, the art correspondent for The Independent concentrated on the walkout and some gossip about Anderson, covering the show as it closed.

It may be three decades since Laurie Anderson reached No. 2 in the UK singles chart with her eight-minute experimental epic "O, Superman"– which was a haunting indictment of Cold War American foreign policy – but the New Yorker reminded British audiences this week that she has lost none of her radical fire.

A performance of her latest show, Homeland, at the Barbican in London on Thursday prompted a walkout by some audience members who were enraged at her criticism of her fellow Americans and over her condemnation of the US invasion of Iraq.

I say oddly because Joy Godwin at the conservative New York Sun (a paper which called Iraq protesters treasonous) concentrated on the show and wrote a rave 7/24.
Laurie Anderson calls it a "concert poem." Depending on your point of view, you might categorize it as an art-rock song cycle or a spoken-word performance set to music.

But whatever you term it, Ms. Anderson's "Homeland," which opened on Tuesday in its Lincoln Center Festival incarnation, is the work of a consummate artist at the highest level of her craft.

This is one of those times when I wished I lived in NYC for the show, which continues through July 26. Youu casn read a transcript of a 7/23 interview with Anderson at Democracy Now.

By the way, Anderson awarded the lifetime achievement Webby to David Byrne. His five word speech:
Mr. DJ, can you play another song?
The Telluride Film Festival has selected Anderson to design its poster this year, shown below.



7/24/08

Obama's speech at the Victory Column in Berlin


Cartoon 7/24/08 by the Toronto Star's Patrick Corrigan (email, website, bio) of Obama's Thursday speech (transcript, video and what others are saying about it, via Memeorandum.

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Oddly, some Germans seem to be more sure of the outcome of the election than even U.S. Democrats. Gerhard Spörl, chief editor of Der Spiegel's foreign desk, enthuses in "No. 44 Has Spoken."
Europe is witnessing the 44th president of the United States during this trip.
I'm not sure his opinion will serve to win Obama favor in the U.S.

Spörl assessment interests me, given arguments that Obama's naivety in foreign policy bodes poorly for international respect (a Clinton meme since adopted by McCain and others such as Townhall's Dennis Prager):
hard-nosed Europeans will hope and pray that the future President Obama isn’t really all that serious about the saving the world of tomorrow, the polar caps, Darfur and the poppy harvest over in Afghanistan....we will have to quickly get used to Barack Obama, the new leader of a lofty democracy that loves those big nice words -- words that warm our hearts and alarm our minds.

7/23/08

Elaine Chao, "Friend" of the Worker on Toxins

Anyone doubting the industry tilt of the Department of Labor under the Bush administration should read the WaPo's Carol D. Leonnig 7/23/08. In "U.S. Rushes to Change Workplace Toxin Rules," she reports of a proposed toxin rule that
The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May. Instead, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao's intention to push for the rule first surfaced on July 7, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted on its Web site that it was reviewing the proposal, identified only by its nine-word title.

The text of the proposed rule has not been made public, but according to sources briefed on the change and to an early draft obtained by The Washington Post, it would call for reexamining the methods used to measure risks posed by workplace exposure to toxins. The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals.

The rule would also require the agency to take an extra step before setting new limits on chemicals in the workplace by allowing an additional round of challenges to agency risk assessments.

7/22/08

Carbon in Oz


Oz = Australia, for those of you who don't have Australian friends who use the slang term. I first encountered "Oz" in an email from SourceWatch editor Bob Burton (bio) who hails from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and home of the prize-winning poet Kathryn Lomer (pictured above) . To see how the internet distracts for one's intended post, go to bottom of this entry to read more about her. And I've also got a brief mention of some news on ethnic journalism from Dan Kennedy.

But back to what I want to write about: carbon in Oz. While Al Gore got most of the attention in this country regarding his July 17 proposal that the U.S. commit to producing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and other clean sources within 10 years, Oz had its own debate last week, as I learned while compiling the Saturday feed for NewsTrust.

Australia just presented its attempt at a nationwide scheme to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 60% by 2050: Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Greenpaper by the Australian Department of Climate Change. The Sydney Morning Herald's Stephanie Peatling, in "The Missing Numbers in the Emissions Equation," does a pretty good job of pointing out the weaknesses of the working paper on cutting carbon emission. I recommend her piece as part of a series of articles the paper has published from all points of view this week--the government, scientists, business. You might also want to check out the opinion piece from The Australian by its national affairs correspondent Jennifer Hewett, "Carbon Play an Act of
Belief
."

The Canberra Times chief political correspondent, Phillip Coorey has a piece dated 7/23/07 (due to international time zone differences, perhaps) "Union wants money, jobs for carbon reduction," which raises a point I believe I saw mentiioned by Gore at Netsroots Nation, as covered on C-SPAN. When asked about mountaintop removal, he said he was agin it and that a portion of the revenue from any carbon tax should go to displaced coal miners. I'll try to find it.
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By the way, for those of you interested in ethnic reporting, Dan Kennedy sent me the article he wrote for Commonwealth Magazine about the New England Ethnic Newswire. For another source, see New America Media. My favorite writer found though Dan's articles is Aswini Anburajan who blogs at Feet in Two Worlds. Here's the July 21 piece in the aftermath of Postville.
http://thepoliticalcarnival.blogspot.com/


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How I distracted myself from carbon footprints by researching Kathryn Lomer:



  • [1] the prize she won for her second book recored @ 4:39 p.m.

  • [2] a review of the second book (not third as he states,at least according to the intro...) @ 4:50

  • [3] a good review of the first poetry collection. The more I read, the more I think she deserves a first-rate article on Wikipedia, rather than a stub. @ 5:11

  • [4] an interview w. a good quotation about what she likes best about writing here, although the quilt image is overused, however true. @ 6:17


You become interested in everything, or everything becomes interesting – I’m not sure which. And you can create something from all those otherwise useless odds and ends you accumulate in life - memories, experiences, overheard conversations, dreams, anecdotes; it’s a bit like making a quilt from leftover scraps of material.




































































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7/21/08

Al-Maliki's Texas Two-Step

After U.S. diplomats in Baghdad weighed in, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh issued a statement that al-Maliki’s words in Saturday's Der Spiegel interview had been “misunderstood and mistranslated” sans any specifics. Sabrina Tavernise and Jeff Zeleny at the NYT provide a transcript and note

the interpreter for the interview works for Mr. Maliki’s office, not the magazine. And in an audio recording of Mr. Maliki’s interview that Der Spiegel provided to The New York Times, Mr. Maliki seemed to state a clear affinity for Mr. Obama’s position, bringing it up on his own in an answer to a general question on troop presence.
GW prof Marc Lynch author of Voices of the New Arab Public (Mother Jones interview) weighs in on the "mistranslation" of Maliki's endorsement of a withdrawal in Iraq.

7/20/08

Kay Ryan to be U.S. Laureate

Photo of Kay Ryan from the Library of Congress.

Today, being as I was off work, I searched on "poetry" at Google News. Lamentably, poetry is more of a metaphor than an actuality in the news, as the list, sorted by relevance for the top three entries was:

  1. "Dylan Thomas pure poetry," a story in The Australian about " Encosta de Lago, Coolmore Stud's busiest stallion"
  2. "Poetry in motion," (already a dead link) Stephen Ripley's story in the Winnipeg Sun about Ashley Harkleroad, the 72nd-ranked player on the WTA; and
  3. "Finding poetry in animal migrations," Tom Henry's review in the Toledo Blade, of Princeton University ecologist David S. Wilcove's new book out from Island Press.
It is only on the fourth entry that we read that Kay Ryan has been named Poet Laureate. (
Heidi Benson's July 18 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "POET LAUREATE OF THE UNITED STATES: Kay Ryan, Poems that turn ordinary things grand.")

In checking out what might be available online, I enjoyed reading Richard Halstead (email) "Kay Ryan rises to the top despite her refusal to compromise" from the 9/27/07 Marin Independent Journal. There's already a good piece up at Wikipedia that Eric Schiff (email), a physics professor started in September 2006. And of course, there's the exhibit at the Library of Congress and at the Academy of American Poets.

7/19/08

News I found 7/19/08

My job on Saturdays is to prepare the feed for NewsTrust. All links are for the reviews at there, where you will find a link to the original stories.

  1. What about punishment?--Running a hospital This is interesting because a large Boston Hospital, one of whose surgeons committed a error, has already been covered in the Boston Globe...now the CEO weighs in on the internal debate
  2. Acceptance of Gay People in Military Grows Dramatically—WaPo
  3. Gramm's Out: Minsk or Bust--Newsweek
  4. The missing numbers in the emissions equation--Sydney Morning Herald-- Australia just presented its attempt at a nationwide scheme to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 60% by 2050...The paper analyzes the working paper as part of a series I've linked to.
  5. Carbon play an act of belief--The Australian –an editorial on the same topic
  6. A Detailed Explanation Of How The BSA Misleads With Piracy Stats--TechDirt
  7. Prosecution of Bear Fund Managers Gets Underway in Brooklyn—WSJ
  8. Political harmony v. the rule of law--Salon (Greenwald)
  9. Across China, Security Instead Of Celebration—WaPo
  10. Uncomfortable Answers to Economic Questions—NYT
  11. Africa's Last and Least—WaPo--This is the latest in a series of articles that the Post has been doing on the Global Food Crisis.
  12. Flip-Flop Flap--New Yorker
  13. Obama Travels to Afghanistan--WaPo
  14. McCain to Focus On Domestic Issues—WaPo
  15. Iraqis Differ on Obama's Plans—WaPo
  16. U.S., Iraq Agree To 'Time Horizon'—WaPo
  17. Self-Interest Is Bad?--Weekly Standard
  18. Crisis? What Crisis?--Time
  19. How to Save Afghanistan—Time
  20. Watching TV in Kabul—NYT
  21. The Next Kind of Integration—NYT
  22. Salafi Jihadists in Gaza: 'Compared to Us, Hamas Is Islamism Lite'--Der Spiegel
  23. 'As Soon as Possible'—Der Spiegel
  24. 'The Tenure of Coalition Troops in Iraq Should Be Limited'—Der Spiegel
  25. Tim Duy: Not So Bad?--Economist's View
  26. The Economy--Washington Monthly
  27. Bin Laden's Soft Support--Washington Monthly

7/18/08

POGO takes on the army over luxury capsules for the brass funded against the wishes of congress

Image from the late Walt and wife Selby Kelly's Pogo animation via Mike Lynch. The clip is no longer available on You Tube.

August 29, 2007, the Air Force inadvertently sent nuclear warheads on a flight over the continental United States. Then we found out in late March of 28, that the Air Force had mistakenly shipped nuclear missile fuses to Taiwan when that country had ordered helicopter batteries and not discovered the error until informed by the Taiwanese. And in April came news of the January 2008 Inspector General's report of a corrupt $50 million contract for a Thunderbirds air show. Finally on June 5, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fired the top two Air Force military and civilian leaders, citing defects in their stewardship of nuclear arms.

Now, we learn that the Air Force, despite the orders of Congress to do otherwise, has ordered “world-class” luxury aircraft modules to retrofit military planes for flights for military and senior civilian leaders. And an order to change the color scheMe cost taxpayers over $68,ooo.

So details Washington Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith in his front page story July 18 "Terrorism Funds May Let Brass Fly in Style: Luxury Pods for Air Force Debated," based in copies of Air Force emails he received from the nonprofit federal government watchdog, POGO (the Project On Government Oversight).

POGO announced today that on July 17 its Executive Director Danielle Brian sent a letter to Gates questioning two programs to build :
  • SLICC (Senior Leader In-transit Conference Capsule) and
  • SLIP (Senior Leader In-transit Pallet)
She wrote,
... an egregious failure of leadership has come to our attention that involves breathtaking extravagance when every dollar needs to be wisely spent in a time of war.
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The news release accompanying the letter explains,

SLICCs are two connected chambers with first class amenities such as flat screen televisions and a couch on a pallet that can be loaded onto a C-17, KC-10, C-130 and KC-X aircraft. Requirements documents emphasize the need for “aesthetically pleasing” accommodations. Emails obtained by POGO state that Air Force generals upgraded the leather, carpet, and wood choices, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the program cost.

After the first SLIP was procured, General Robert McMahon expressed dissatisfaction with the color of the seat leather and type of wood used. He directed that the leather be reupholstered from brown to Air Force blue leather and to replace the wood originally used to cherry.

Meanwhile, the conventional seat pallets used to transport soldiers are in a deplorable state. The program to refurbish existing seats has not been given the same emphasis and oversight as SLICC and SLIP. Movement of new and refurbished seat pallets to the field has been extremely slow and convoluted.

Internal Air Force emails make it clear that the Air Force leadership’s overriding concern is SLICC’s level of luxury. “Gen [Robert H.] McMahon’s concern is so significant that we need assurance by the end of the week from AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory] that the SLICC will be ‘World class’ inside,” states one e-mail obtained by POGO. “While we know the requirements document says ‘business class’, we all know there are levels of that.”

The first prototype SLICC has already been funded. The Air Force requested $16 million in the recently passed GWOT supplemental to fund the additional SLICCs, according to a June 2008 Air Force briefing on the program. The estimated cost of the first prototype SLICC is currently $2.735 million, up from an original November 2006 cost estimate of $1.743 million – reflecting a cost growth of 64 percent in less than two years.

A draft proposal for these accommodations tellingly states that these accommodations were even at one point called “Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules” (italics added). “Comfort” was dropped in favor of “Conference,” according to the track changes in a print out of the Word document.

The “world class” emphasis also resulted in the costly aesthetic redesign of the interior of an already existing system known as Steel Eagle. Even before the redesign, the capabilities document for the SLICC contains a detailed list of amenities required such as:
  • “The wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor must have a diagonal measurement of at least 37 inches”;
  • “A full length mirror”;
  • “Aesthetically pleasing wall-to-wall carpeting”;
  • “Aesthetically pleasing wall treatments/coverings”;
  • “Aesthetically pleasing ceiling treatments/coverings”;
  • “Internal illumination level will automatically adjust to ambient lighting levels”;
  • “A single remote control unit which controls operation and all functions of the video playback devices as well as the wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor.”

Contract documents obtained by POGO reveal that these accommodations do not provide any additional operational capabilities (e.g. communications advantages) beyond those currently existing.

For more information, contact: Nick Schwellenbach or Marthena Cowart, 202-347-1122

7/17/08

Measuring Well-Being in the U.S.



Map of Jim Moran's (D-VA) 8th Congressional District from GovTrack.us, using data from The Open Planning Project. Virginia-8 is second highest in well-being in the country, according to the American Human Development Project

Note: For my regular readers, thanks for your patience, as I return to daily blogging after taking time out to catch up the entries for June before turning to events this month. Besides my trip to the coal fields, we've been busy at NewsTrust, with two major collaborations--one with Huffington Post on john McCain in June which netted us a huge number of new members and then a two week partnership with PBS and the documentary series P.O.V. on electoral reform, for which I wrote the wrap-up yesterday. Since it's July 17, I'll have some catching up to do for July, also.

*

A poor child born in Germany, France, Canada, or one of the Nordic countries has a better chance to join the middle class in adulthood than an American child born into similar circumstances.
That's just one of a list of distressing "factoids" from the American Human Development Project's The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009 (July 16, 2008, Columbia University Press ), which provides a snapshot by state, congressional district, gender, race and ethnicity. The report includes key social, economic, political, environmental, housing, transportation and military data distilled from an array of primary sources and describes successful policies in America and other wealthy nations.

The research is a national version of the United Nations Development Program's human development index (HDI), published every year since 1990 as a measure of well-being for each country.
HDI provides a composite measure of three dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy), being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrolment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level) and having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income).For years, the United Nations has compiled the Human Development Index, which combines measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and gross domestic product per capita for countries worldwide.
While the U.S. rates twelfth overall (behind Iceland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Netherlands, France and Finland) in the HDI, that score is an aggregate for the whole country. Those of us here in the 9th Congressional District of Virginia, which includes towns as affluent as Blacksburg and as struggling Appalachia, know that even Congressional Districts can vary widely. For instance, according to the Measure of American, , the second highest rating of well-being in the U.S. goes to Rep. Jim Moran's 8th District in Virginia, which includes Alexandria and Arlington County, Alexandria City and parts of Fairfax County. Next to the bottom of the whole list is Harold Rodgers 5th District in Kentucky, which includes Breathitt County, Pike County, Pulaski County, Wayne County, and parts of Bell, Clay, Floyd (including Prestonsburg, which is fairly affluent compared to surrounding areas), Jackson, Laurel, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, Mccreary, Rockcastle, Rowan and Whitley Counties. Having been to both Appalachia, Virginia and to many of the counties in Kentucky 5, I can tell you that Appalachia, Virginia looks a whole lot more like Eastern Kentucky than like Blacksburg. Still, even looking on the scale of Congressional Districts, there are huge gaps.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, co-author of the book explains,

Some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living. For example, the state human development index shows that people in last-ranked Mississippi are living 30 years behind those in first-ranked Connecticut.

Adds co-author Kristen Lewis,

By ranking the fifty states, the 436 congressional districts, and the major racial and ethnic groups, the American Human Development Index allows everyone to see where his or her community fits in terms of access to opportunity and standard of living.

Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, which is a co-sponsor of the report, said in a July 16 newsrelease,

The American Human Development Index is unique because it reveals the interlocking factors that create or deny opportunity and determine life chances... The analysis is particularly revealing in places like the Gulf Coast region, where we work with 34 regional organizations. The report clearly illustrates the conditions residents were struggling with even prior to the hurricanes of 2005—limited access to education, lower incomes, and shorter lives – and argues for a comprehensive solution for recovery.

According to OxFam, here are some of the statistics revealed by the report:

  • In Texas’ 29th Congressional District, the percentage of the adult population with less than a high school degree is at about the level of the U.S. average in the early 1970s.
  • Among the nation’s 436 congressional districts, New York’s 14th District (in Manhattan) ranks first and California’s 20th District (around Fresno) ranks last; the average resident of New York’s 14th District earns more than three times as much as the average California’s 20th District resident.
  • Nationally, Asian males have the highest human development index score and African American males the lowest, with a staggering 50-year gap between the two groups.
  • Despite the fact that the United States spends roughly $5.2 billion every day on health care, more per capita than any other nation in the world, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of every Western European and Nordic country except for one.

Some 140 countries around the world have replicated the human development index for their country, but the U.S. is the first developed nation to do so. Says Eduardo Martins, co-author of the report
The human development index is such an accepted standard that in Brazil, for example, the human development index of each team’s country was flashed on the screen during televised World Cup soccer matches.

Can you imagine the United States television stations covering th eOlympics flashing on their screens, "We're Number 12?"

7/16/08

Lobbying and donations by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Nets Results

The Center for Responsive Politics has an interesting piece up, "Help Is on the Way for Embattled Mortgage Buyers" by Lindsay Renick Mayer.
Freddie Mac has given so much money to federal candidates, parties and PACs, in fact, that the Center for Responsive Politics ranks it among the top 100 donors of all time. ...Although Fannie Mae is not among the top 100 donors, it has given more in this election cycle than its counterpart--nearly $1 million...The companies have also poured money into lobbying efforts, often hiring family members and friends of lawmakers.
Former Congressman Jim Leach (R-IA), one of the liberal Republicans swept from office in 2006 had long criticized the two government sponsored enterprises, saying that they were not subject to the financial standards and tax burdens of their commercial counterparts that the taxpayers would be left holding the bag if they ran into trouble due to government's guarantee to back them up. Now interim director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government (he will be returning to Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School in September and Chairman of Common Cause, Leach issued a statement July 16, reounting

The legislated perks granted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are of a multi-billion dollar yearly magnitude and the regulatory advantages they enjoy magnify the capacity of each to grow. It is no accident that no commercial companies in the past generation have had as muscular a lobbying operation on Capitol Hill. When, for instance, I once introduced a battery of constraining amendments, including a doubling of capital requirements, to legislation favorable to Fannie and Freddie, it took each less than 48 hours to orchestrate both parties’ leadership to weigh in against trimming their wings of privilege.

7/15/08

New York Blog Triumphs against Prosecution

In "At the Uneasy Intersection of Bloggers and the Law," Jonathan D. Glater writes of the outcome of a Bronx prosecutor's attempt to secretly subpoena a NYC political blog Room 8, demanding the identities of Republican Dissident and those making anonymous comments. Oddly, Steven R. Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, told Glater,
The district attorney was not aware that a subpoena was sent nor was he aware of the content of the comments, until after the subpoena was sent. The district attorney reviewed the matter, determined that a subpoena was not necessary at this time, and directed that it be withdrawn.
After detailing Johnson's criminal subpoena and how they fought it, Room 8 founders Gur Tsabar and Ben Smith write,
...the scary reality is that here in the free speech capital of the world, a prosecutor tried both to demand confidential information about an anonymous critic and insisted, under penalty of law, that his request for the information be kept secret. We’re glad he backed down, and confident that the courts would have rebuffed his demands. But not every blogger will be lucky enough to find pro bono counsel like ours, and few can afford to pay for lawyers.
Republic Dissident took down his blog April 15. Perhaps that is waht the prosecutor wanted.

7/14/08

The Politics of Fear--Barry Blitt's New Yorker cover

Barry Blitt's cover art posted today for the July 21 New Yorker. His other covers are here.

The New Yorker and its cover, pictured above, has become the Talk of the Town and beyond, as Jonah Goldberg of The National Review, notes,
What I find interesting about the New Yorker cover is that it's almost exactly the sort of cover you could expect to find on the front of National Review. Roman Genn could do wonders with that concept. Of course, if we ran the exact same art, the consensus from the liberal establishment could be summarized in words like "Swiftboating!" and, duh, "racist." It's a trite point, but nonetheless true that who says something often matters more than what is said — and, obviously, that satire is in the eye of the beholder.
HuffPo asks just why the mag would chose an illustration "that could have run, irony-free" on the NR in an interview with editor David Remmick by Eat The Press editor Rachel Sklar. While Remmick said it was meant to satire the smears, cartoonist Daryl Cagle weighs in on why he found it failed as a political cartoon.
There is no frame of reference in The New Yorker's cover to put the scene into perspective. Following the rules of political cartoons, I could fix it. I would have Obama think in a thought balloon, "I must be in the nightmare of some conservative." With that, the scene is shown to be in the mind of someone the cartoonist disagrees with and we have defined the target of the cartoon as crazy conservatives with their crazy dreams.

Since readers expect cartoonists to convey some truth as we see it, depicting someone else's point of view in a cartoon has to be shown to be someone else's point of view, otherwise it is reasonable for readers to see the cartoon as somehow being the cartoonist's point of view, no matter how absurd the cartoon is. That is where The New Yorker's cover cartoon fails.
Not everyone agrees. One of Cagle's commenters, "Zammer" wrote,
...A frame of reference is usually a substitute for thought and/or unimaginative cartooning.... I'd be greatly surprised if there are many subscibers scratching their heads and saying, "What does it MEAN?"
Seems to me the title is the frame of reference. So, how do you weigh in?


UPDATE: 7/15/08

Cagle has a series of riffs on the Blitt's New Yorker cover at his site. To my lights, TAB's is the most original, and follows Cagle's rule that it reflects (I'd guess) the cartoonists point of view.




Cartoon from 7/15/08 by TAB (Thomas Boldt) of The Calgary Sun, Alberta, Canada (email, archive).

7/13/08

U.S. and Iraqi Negotiators Leave it Up to Next Prez

It will be interesting to see how the Administration describes this in the coming days an apparent need to set a timetable for Iraq. Mr. Bush, to date, has refuse to set a timetable, an official "close to the negotiations" told Karen DeYoung for her July 13 WaPo article, "U.S., Iraq Scale Down Negotiations Over Forces: Long-Term Agreement Will Fall to Next President,"
we are talking about dates...[ Iraqi political leaders] are all telling us the same thing. They need something like this in there. . . . Iraqis want to know that foreign troops are not going to be here forever.
DeYoung writes,

In place of the formal status-of-forces agreement negotiators had hoped to complete by July 31, the two governments are now working on a "bridge" document, more limited in both time and scope, that would allow basic U.S. military operations to continue beyond the expiration of a U.N. mandate at the end of the year.

The failure of months of negotiations over the more detailed accord -- blamed on both the Iraqi refusal to accept U.S. terms and the complexity of the task -- deals a blow to the Bush administration's plans to leave in place a formal military architecture in Iraq that could last for years.

"Dr. iRack," a Washington, DC-based analyst who works on Iraq issues, weighs in on why the talks failed. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias, over at The Atlantic, asks,
Am I the only one who thinks it's strange that precisely at the moment when we're seeing punditocratic cries for Barack Obama to acknowledge the "facts on the ground" in Iraq, and reject his timetable plan the actual facts on Iraq are developing in the direction of Iraqi insistence on a timetable?

7/12/08

7/11/08

Bush EPA: Let's have more talk, no action on CO2

The Supreme Court says to regulate CO2? Bush sez according to Juliet Eilperin and R. Jeffrey Smith's 7/11/08 WaPo article "EPA Won't Act on Emissions This Year: Instead of New Rules, More Comment Sought":

To defer compliance with the Supreme Court's demand, the White House has walked a tortured policy path, editing its officials' congressional testimony, refusing to read documents prepared by career employees and approved by top appointees, requesting changes in computer models to lower estimates of the benefits of curbing carbon dioxide, and pushing narrowly drafted legislation on fuel-economy standards that officials said was meant to sap public interest in wider regulatory action.

The decision to solicit further comment overrides the EPA's written recommendation from December. Officials said a few senior White House officials were unwilling to allow the EPA to state officially that global warming harms human welfare. Doing so would legally trigger sweeping regulatory requirements under the 45-year-old Clean Air Act, one of the pillars of U.S. environmental protection, and would cost utilities, automakers and others billions of dollars while also bringing economic benefits, EPA's analyses found.

7/10/08

Pew says a likely rise in voter turnout would help Dems

http://people-press.org/report/436/obama-mccain-july

7/9/08

Not everyone in NC honors Helms


L.F. Eason III, age 51, of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, instructed his staff not to fly the U.S. or North Carolina flags at half-staff, defying Gov. Mike Easley's directive to honor the death of Jessie Helms and then quit his job of 29 years, according to the News Observer.

7/8/08

Can you hear me now? McCain and blogs by liberals

TPM notes that the McCain campaign

has reached out to liberal bloggers to go on their calls, though they rarely seem to have gotten their questions through.


In fairness, the blog raises the point that that Obama ain't even making a show of talking to the right.

7/7/08

Dwyer dies after PTSD struggle

Photographer Warren Zinn took this photograph of Army medic Spc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer on March 25, 2003 near the village of Mishkab, over 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Kelly Kennedy writes in the Army Times,

On June 28, Dwyer, 31, died of an accidental overdose in his home in Pinehurst, N.C., after years of struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. During that time, his marriage fell apart as he spiraled into substance abuse and depression. He found himself constantly struggling with the law, even as friends, Veterans Affairs personnel and the Army tried to help him.

7/6/08

The Politico: $3 million ad targets Obama on energy

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0708/11548.html

7/5/08

Greenwald: The political establishment and telecom immunity -- why it matters

The piece that most attracted my attention, as I did the feed for NewsTrust today:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/07/05/monarchy/

7/4/08

Krugman calls Clark's comments on McCain "Karl Rove's Third Term"

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/04/opinion/04krugman.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&oref=slogin

7/3/08

Michael Arrington: Judge Protects YouTube’s Source Code, Throws Users To The Wolves

TechCrunch editor and attorney Michael Arrington has an interesting piece up at TechCrunch today that Louis L. Stanton, the senior judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued an order that Google provide Viacom with every YouTube username, and its associated IP address, as well as the videos that user has watched on YouTube. Google must also provide copies of every video removed from Youtube, whether for DMCA notices or just because the user wanted them deleted.

Google had argued for user privacy, but Stanton said, such concerns are just “speculative.”

7/2/08

Obama to Expand Faith Based Initiatives

The NYT has a transcript of Obama's 7/1/08 speech. What part of separation of Church and State do the Dems not understand in their efforts to our Chirsitian the Repubs.

7/1/08

Federal Freezes Solar


Photo by Steve Marcus of the Las Vegas Sun shows Acciona's Nevada Solar One plant in Boulder City which uses mirrors to channel sunlight into an oil-filled tube to power a steam turbine which produces enough electricity to power about 14,000 homes, according to the New York Times.

Amid the rising cost of oil and complaints about the carbon foot print of coal plants, solar companies have filed more than 130 proposals with the Bureau of Land Management since 2005 to construct utility scaled solar plants, especially in the deserts of
of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. In May, however, according to a June 27 New York Times report, the Bureau f has placed a moratorium on new solar projects on public land, saying it needs an environmental study to determine the effects of large solar plants.

Those in the industry fear the moratorium will stunt their growth.