Index of Posts for December 2008

Hentoff Canned in Further Decline of Village Voice

Photo of Nat Hentoff from The Gothamist.

I last wrote about the sad case of the Village Voice under its new ownership on February 9, 2006. January 1, 2008, The Villiage Voice ran a column by Nat Hentoff, "Nat Hentoff's Greatest Hits: Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice" Evidentally, it will be his final fifty years. The civil liberties and jazz reporter learned by telephone call from the publisher that the paper no longer required his services, according to the NYT.

Now Hentoff told the NYT,

I’m 83 and a half. You’d think they’d have let me go silently. Fortunately, I’ve never been more productive....With all due immodesty, I think it doesn’t help to lose me because people have told me they read The Voice not only for me, but certainly for me.
Hentoff plans to continue to write a weekly column for the United Media syndicate and contribute pieces to The Wall Street Journal. He is working on a book At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene.

The Moderate Voice, The Raw Story, and Gothamist are the only stories Memorandum picked that have any new content.

See also, Louis Menand, “It Took a Village,” The New Yorker, January 5, 2009, p. 37 (abstract--the magazine now requires a sub or purchase for this articles online--not sure but it might be available after the publication date for free?)


Laila El-Haddad's insider take on Gaza

Photo of Laila El-Haddad from her blog, Raising Yousuf and Noor.

Today, as you consider the doings in Gaza, you might want to read read Gaza emigre Laila El-Haddad's "Still as death, dark is life." This poignant piece is from a longer version at The Guardian's Comment is Free (a 2008 Weblog awards finalists as announced yesterday):

My mother was in the Red Crescent Society clinic near the universities, where she works part-time as a pediatrician. Behind the clinic was one of the police centres that were levelled. She said she broke down at first, the sheer proximity of the attacks having shaken her from the inside out. After she got a hold of herself, they took to treating injured victims of the attack, before transferring them to Shifa hospital.

Now, three days later, they are trapped in their own home....

My mother comes to the phone. "Hello, hello dear," she mutters, her voice trembling. "I had to go to the bathroom. But I'm afraid to go alone. I wanted to perform wudu' before prayer but I was scared. Remember days when we would go to the bathroom together because you were too afraid to go alone?" She laughs at the thought. It seems amusing to her now, that she was scared to find her death in a place of relief; that she is now terrified of the same seemingly ridiculous scenario. It was really the fear of being alone. When you "hear" the news before it becomes news, you panic for clarity – you want someone to make sense of the situation, package it neatly into comprehensible terms and locations. Just to be sure it's not you this time.... It is Noor’s one year old birthday January 1. She will turn one. I cannot help but think- who was born in bloodied Gaza today?
Amid others' hype, posturing and pontificating, I find this effective because the author so quietly reports details of the daily life of her family and former neighbors during the current Israeli raids on Gaza and thus puts a human face on war.

If you're interested in the author, here is "Disengagement from Justice," an article she wrote for the July 28, 2005 WaPo. "A Mother Under Occupation" is an interview from the June 9, 2006 broadcast of Democracy Now. You can also watch a video Tunnel Trade that she made in collaboration with filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky's (email) independent documentary production company Tourist with a Typewriter. She also made a film with that company on the Rafah playground, but I couldn't find a copy available online.

As my friend Betsy in KY said,
unbearably sad. I am terrified that US won't start moving towards more sane Mid East policy...I can't see any justification for the disproportionate force Israel is using!
New story recommendation of the day:
  • "Don't Believe the Hype: The press bought into the $700 billion bailout, hailing it as a necessity. Why so many got it wrong—and how Paul Krugman got it right," Howell Raines, Portfolio
  • "Cash For Trash," Paul Krugman, NYT, September 22, 2008: And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to—a share in ownership, so that if the rescue plan works, all the gains don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.
  • Katrina and Bush", Paul Krugman, NYT, December 30, 2008: what happened with Katrina wasn’t that the administration started to fail; what happened was that for the first time its failures were visible to all.
  • "Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House," Cullen Murphy, Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair, February 2009.

Site recommendation of the day:

The Consumerist, a soon-to-be former Gawker blog sold to The Consumer Union. Check out its guide to reading food expiration codes.

What I did today in addition to blogging:

Signed up to volunteer at the Lyric for the film Sllumdog Millionaire.

Who is reading my blog today:


OSHA Compromised Under Bush

Photo of Peter Infante from Bill Moyer's 2001 program, Trade Secrets (transcript) about the compromise of health by the chemical industry.

One wonders about due diligence of the mainstream press, when we have an example of the Bush Administration pandering to industry in 2001 and 2002 appearing today in the Washington Post. In case you missed the significance of the chronology, that's over two years before Mr. Bush won re-election to his second term. Of course, as Bill Moyers showed in his 2001 program, "Trade Secrets," the dangers posed by the chemical industry was nothing new. What was new was the that political appointees
ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.
This according to "Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction" by the WaPo's R. Jeffrey Smith.

In fact, the agency's first director under Bush, John L. Henshaw,
startled career officials by telling them in an early meeting that employers were OSHA's real customers, not the nation's workers. "Everybody was pretty amazed," one of those present recalled. "Our purpose is to ensure employee safety and health. ... He just looked at things differently."

Within two years, Henshaw, an industrial hygienist who had worked for Monsanto and another chemical firm, withdrew 26 draft regulations on OSHA's public calendar, including rules meant to limit workplace exposure to air contaminants, highly hazardous chemicals, and shipyard and scaffolding hazards.

Smith tells of Peter Infante (bio, Moyers interview, email), an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (actually, although Smith doesn't mention it, the Director of the Office of Standards Review) who tried to publish a bulletin
warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day's exposure at the agency's permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.

Political appointees at the agency gave his copy to a lobbying firm for the country's principal beryllium manufacturer. Infante made what he deemed reasonable changes only to have the th elobbyists complain again. Eventually, despite objections from the senion staff, the politicos decided to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

At that point Infante wrote the agency's director of standards in March 2002:
In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay
Infante ended up resigning in protest. Smith writes that that the result is
a legacy of unregulation common to several health-protection agencies under Bush: From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton's tenure, according to White House lists.
White House officials say their "objective is quality, not quantity," and that heavy restrictions on corporations harm economic performance.

Robert Harrison, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association disputes this:
The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction....like turning a ketchup bottle upside down, banging the bottom of the container, and nothing comes out. You shake and shake and nothing comes out.


Sandra Day O'Connor

From the archives, I came across this reportage of Sandra O'Connor's speech at Georgetown University shortly after she stepped down from the Supreme Court. What a gal: "Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship: Sandra Day O'Connor warns of rightwing attacks--Lawyers 'must speak up' to protect judiciary"

I'll try to find a transcript later. I've gotta run.


Myth of Clean Coal

Photo of Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University's website.

Mark Z. Jacobson, (email, bio) a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of the university's director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program recomments wind, water and solar energy over biofuels, nuclear and coal for clean energy, after conducting

the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.

The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants.

And "clean coal," which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all....[O]ptions that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

Mark Jacobson presented his research at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San FranciscoDecember 19, during the session "Evaluation of Proposed Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security" (abstract)


Belated Update: Gene Nichol and return to NC

Photo of Gene Nichol (r) from a video of a panel, Rights in Conflict: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Religious Liberty at the 2008 American Constitution Society for Law and Policy(ACS) National Convention.

When I found Nichol identified as a Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law I decided to research when this move occurred. March 28, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that

Mr. Nichol, 56, has accepted an offer to rejoin the law faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, beginning on July 1. His wife, Glenn George, a professor of law at William and Mary, will return with him....

Mr. Nichol did not respond to requests for an interview about his new position. Matt Marvin, a spokesman for the North Carolina law school, said that any controversy surrounding Mr. Nichol was irrelevant because he would be coming back to the university only as a faculty member, not as a campus leader. He added that the return of Mr. Nichol and his wife was a "coup" for the university that helped fill crucial gaps in the faculty. Mr. Nichol's specialty is constitutional law, and Ms. George's is civil procedure and labor law.
The "not a leader" quote, if accurate, seems a bit ham-handed for a university spokesman. And inaccurate, after UNC School of Law Dean Jack Boger tapped Nichol as director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity
developed in 2005 to address the pressing needs of those currently living at or below the poverty level, to provide a non-partisan interdisciplinary forum to examine innovative and practical ideas to move more Americans out of poverty, to raise public awareness of issues related to work and poverty, and to train a new generation to
Nichol writes of his position:
In recent weeks, for example, we have heard much of the interests of Wall Street and Main Street. These likely represent short hands for "middle class" and, perhaps, the wealthiest among us. But even in such economically-driven conversations, we've had little discussion of the far tougher circumstances faced by the poor in this country. Almost twenty percent of American children - and numbers far higher for black, Latino and Native American kids - live in wrenching poverty. Over thirteen percent of all Americans. And in October, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the gaps between rich and poor are growing markedly in the world's wealthiest countries - particularly the United States. We now have, it reports, the highest economic inequality of any major industrial nation. We may talk the most about equality. But our record doesn't match our rhetoric. It is not enough to simply turn our gaze away from those locked at the bottom of American life. I am confident that the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity will continue to make a powerful contribution to the University's efforts in outreach, teaching and research on this vital front.
Nichol also teaches courses in constitutional law, federal courts, civil rights and election law.

BTW, others panelists at ACA were:

* Moderator, Preeta Bansal, Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom LLP
* Jeremy Gunn, Director, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
* Steve Aden, Senior Legal Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund
* Lara Schwartz, Legal Director & Chief Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign

You can listen to the video and also peruse other sessions from this and past years' conferences at this landing page.


Happy holidays?

For a morbid holiday image here's a photograph by J. Miles Carey of the Knoxville News Sentinel which accompanied December 25's NYT story by Shaila Dewan, "Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards." Note the wreath. Another along the same theme, but a closeup showing a mixture of fly ash and mud on the side of Perry James' home decked in wreath and pine garland is here. Other photos are at the paper's gallery here.


December 22, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge ruptured a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA's Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.Here's a video of the initial news conference.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

It was good to see the national coverage of the fly ash spill in Tennessee in today's NYT. In the case of Martin County, the NYT first reported on the October 11, 2000 sludge spill was also on Christmas, with Peter T. Kilborn's story, A Torrent of Sludge Muddies a Town's Future. Five years later, things looked normal, but they were not. And yet, because of the whitewash demanded of Jack Spadaro which cost him his job, no one prevailed in court. (See the bottom of this post, which also contains a chronology of national coverage). Pretty bad when The New River Free Press, a Blacksburg all-volunteer alternative monthly, can scoop the paper of record (and just about everyone but the AP and the local KY papers.

And this was actually the second story by the writer. The first, "Water Supplies Tested After Tennessee Spill," was published December 24.

On a lighter side, for my favorite holiday image, take a gander at David Horsey's cartoon from December 23.



Illustration by William Duke accompanied Benedict Carey's December 22 NYT article "Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain’s Subconscious Visual Sense. "

Mysterious stuff, blindsight. The (poor quality) film on Dr. Beatrice deGelder's (email) site shows a patient whose visual lobes in the brain were destroyed able to navigate an obstacle course. deGelder, head of the cognitive and affective neurosciences Laboratory at the University of Tilberg in the Netherlands, is principal author of a paper, "Intact navigation skills after bilateral loss of striate cortex" in the deceember 23 Current Biology.

Carey writes,

The man in the new study, an African living in Switzerland at the time, suffered the two stroke in his 50s, weeks apart, and was profoundly blind by any of the usual measures. Unlike people suffering from eye injuries, or congenital blindness in which the visual system develops abnormally, his brain was otherwise healthy, as were his eyes, so he had the necessary tools to process subconscious vision. What he lacked were the circuits that cobble together a clear, conscious picture.

The research team took brain scans and magnetic resonance images to see the damage, finding no evidence of visual activity in the cortex. They also found no evidence that the patient was navigating by echolocation, the way that bats do. Both the patient, T. N., and the researcher shadowing him walked the course in silence.

The man himself was as dumbfounded as anyone that he was able to navigate the obstacle course.


New Jobs: Green, "Shovel Ready" or Military-Industrial?

As the economy continues to sputter, the WaPo's Paul Kane and Michael D. Shear front-page "Green' Jobs Compete for Stimulus Aid: Obama Weighs Them Vs. Traditional Projects" contrasts with "Defense Spending Would Be Great Stimulus: All three service branches are in need of upgrade and repair" by WSJ board of contributors member Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan and a professor at Harvard. I've got to wonder about the latter, as Lawrence F. Skibbie paraphrased an observation by one of the members of his National Defense Industrial Association in his June 22, 1998 testimony to the Commission to Study Capital Budgeting:
it is unclear that a meaningful assessment can be made of the economic return on investment for resources committed to military capital assets
Kane and Shear write,
environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create "green-collar" jobs.
That's drawing flack from the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative House Democrats. Congressman Baron P. Hill (D-IN), incoming co-chairman told
If we're going to call it a stimulus package, it has to be stimulating and has to be stimulating now. I think there are members of our caucus who are trying to create a Christmas tree out of this
The Post paints this as "shovel-ready" union construction job v.s. green-collar job competition and in an example of stating opinion without supporting facts says the latter,
often have the long-term potential to revolutionize the economy but tend to lack the short-term bounce of old-fashioned infrastructure work
Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, a union group is quoted as saying,

In fact, we do have crumbling roads and bridges that need to be repaired. It's not about pitting one against the other. It's about how we find a sustainable economy.
Terence M. O'Sullivan, head of the Laborers' International Union of North America, adds
We're committed to green jobs and rapid transit and all the rest of it.
Senior aides in the new administration and the congressional leadership
suggest that there have been delays in identifying enough of the environmentally friendly projects to reach a dollar level that will truly jump-start the economy.

Democratic negotiators plan to reconvene around New Year's Day to try to hash out the final details of the plan before the 111th Congress starts Jan. 6, with a goal of passing a bill out of the House and Senate shortly after Obama is sworn in Jan. 20. At a meeting of Obama's transition team yesterday, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed that the proposal would not become a "Christmas tree" for lawmakers' policy earmarks. He defended it against the criticism on the left that too much of its focus would be on old-fashioned projects.

"We've let our infrastructure crumble for a long, long time from water to roads to bridges. It makes sense to invest in them now," Biden said.

Colin Peppard, a transportation expert for Friends of the Earth was not as deferenital:

They're going to put a bunch of money through a broken system to stimulate the economy. That doesn't make sense to me....One minute they want to spend it quickly, the next minute they want to spend it well.
FOA has begun a Road to Nowhere campaign, saying that new roads would lead to "new pollution -- keep the economic stimulus clean." But what about existing roads that need repair?

Meanwhile, speaking of economic stimulus, you gotta laugh to keep from crying. Check out Chuck Collins's & Nick Thorkelson's Economic Meltdown Funnies from Jobs with Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.Check out Chuck Collins & Nick Thorkelson Economic Meltdown Funnies from Jobs with Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.


Obama's Peculiar Preacher Penchant

Yup. The pastor giving the prayer at the inaugeration is Pastor Rick Warren, who like others, thinks that you can say things about homosexuals that you wouldn't dare say about Blacks. You can watch the interview of the Prop. 8 supporter "Rick Warren Interview: On Gay Marriage and Divorce" by Steve Waldman at BeleifNet.
I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

Waldman then asked,

Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

Warren's answer:

Oh, I do.

Wapo Writer Richard Cohen, who's lesbian sister has been in a committed relationship for nineteen years titled his column today, "Warren On? Party Off." It's a barn burner. He writes,
He likens my sister's relationship -- three children, five grandchildren, so loving as to be envied and so conventional as to be boring -- to incest or polygamy.

The conventional thing to say is that Obama has a preacher problem -- first the volcanic Jeremiah Wright and now the transparently anti-gay Warren. But the real problem has nothing to do with ministers and everything to do with Obama's inability or unwillingness to be a moral leader. Sooner or later, he just might have to stand for something.


Can You Spell P O N Z I?

Cartoon by Mike Lane, Baltimore, Maryland --(archives at the Sun, where he took a buyout, email)


No Strings Attached at Contra

Photo of Wes, Pete, Randy and Bob by Jesse Chappell.

No Strings Attached (email, facebook) will be playing tonight at the Blacksburg contra dance with Rob Harper. One of my favorite bands, NSA (odd to think they share an acronym with the warrentless wiretappers) consists of:
  • Wes Chappell on hammer dulcimer, mandolin, mandola, guitar, pennywhistle and percussion (since 1978)
  • Pete Hastings on guitar and harmonica (since 1978)
  • Randy Marchany on hammer dulcimer, synthesizer, piano, percussion (since 1980)
  • Bob Thomas on anything bass--upright, clarinet, sax (since 1984)
Their newest album is "Old Friend's Waltz."
This will be the first time I get to try out the Y's new dance floor. And I always love to hear the guys play.

Upcoming Blacksburg dances are:

Gypsy Meltdown, by the way,includes Keith Gillis, whom I got to meet when he and his wife potter Leigh Partington stayed with Rob and Sue at the Charlottesville Fall Festival (see bottom of the entry.)


Mike Leigh Misses with Happy-Go-Lucky

I'm not saying there weren't enjoyable moments (the Tango lesson, the driving teacher) but the rave reviews for Happy Go Lucky seem undeserved for this slight slice of life. Truthfully I had to look up Leigh at IMDB (Ebert, Travers) to make sure that he was, indeed, the writer and director for such pieces of substance as Secrets and Lies (1996) and Vera Drake (2004).


Another 11th Hour Gift: Bush EPA guts CO2 emissions for new coal plants

Photo from Repower America's campaign to encourage the public to comment on its CO2 rulemaking encouraging regulation.

November 28 marked the EPA's deadline for public comment on "Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions under the Clean Air Act" (EPA-HQ-OAR-2008-0318), notice of which was filed July 11, 2008. NRDF had a similar campaign for regulating greenhouse gasses. Meanwhile, the Citizens Against Government Waste opposed EPA making a finding. While I haven't seen notice of a final rule, we can can probably guess which side won.

First, the Bush Administration gutted MTR rules. Then today, it gave a new parting gift to coal, saying that new power plants will not be required to install technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. You can find this latest in "EPA's Interpretation of Regulations that Determine Pollutants Covered By Federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permit Program", a memo issued December 18 by EPA Chief Stephen L. Johnson.

David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson wrote about the memo in "EPA Eases Emissions Regulations for New Power Plants" which will appear in tomorrow's WaPo. (Since the internet version is available before the print version, I can tell you that the paper will bury the item on the third page of the D section.)

Johnson's memo, according to the reporters
turns on a seemingly arcane regulatory question that could govern the future of new fossil fuel-burning buildings and power plants under the Clean Air Act.
Readers here know that the Bush EPA has flat-out ignored the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide should be regulated under the Clean Air Act just like other kinds of air pollution such as soot. The current memo is the latest in a Sierra Club legal challenge to the 2007 permit for a new coal-fired power plant in Bonanza, Utah that included no requirements to control carbon dioxide emissions.

The club argued before EPA's Environmental Appeals Board that given the Supreme Court ruling, the EPA must follow its own rule which required plants to use the best available technology to control all "regulated" pollutants. November 13 the Board held that the rule was unclear.

The Board denies review of the Region’s alleged failure to consider alternatives” to the proposed facility, but remands the permit to the Region for it to reconsider whether to impose a CO2 BACT limit and to develop an adequate record for its decision....

The administrative record of the Region’s permitting decision, as defined by
40 C.F.R. section 124.18, does not support the Region’s view that it is bound
by an Agency historical interpretation of “subject to regulation” as meaning
“subject to a statutory or regulatory provision that requires actual control of
emissions of that pollutant.” The Region did not identify in its response to
comments any Agency document expressly stating that “subject to regulation
under this Act” has this meaning.
Robert Meyers, the head of the EPA office of air and radiation, said in an interview with the reporters,
That is our established interpretation....We've been applying it that way for 30 years.
Meyers said he does not know if plants are positioned to receive final approval before President-elect Barack Obama takes office on Jan. 20. Officals "close to the president-elect's team, according to the reporters,
say that the Supreme Court ruling and the EPA's power to regulate carbon dioxide can serve as powerful levers to bring corporations and other parties to a bargaining table about broad framework for controlling greenhouse gases.
That's a little vague for me. I'd much rather hear that permits will not be granted under the new administration without emission controls.


DC Poet Judith Harris

Photo of Judith Harris from her website.

From Ted Kooser, D.C. poet Judith Harris (website, see also her work at Beltway Poets of which I am also a member,

Gathering Leaves in Grade School

They were smooth ovals,
and some the shade of potatoes—
some had been moth-eaten
or spotted, the maples
were starched, and crackled
like campfire.

We put them under tracing paper
and rubbed our crayons
over them, X-raying
the spread of their bones
and black, veined catacombs.

We colored them green and brown
and orange, and
cut them out along the edges,
labeling them deciduous
or evergreen.

All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom,
with its cockeyed globe,
and nautical maps of ocean floors,
I watched those leaves

lost in their own worlds
flap on the pins of the bulletin boards:
without branches or roots,
or even a sky to hold on to.


Thomas M. Tamm: Wiretap Whistleblower

Photo by Nigel Parry.

Check out the December 13 Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff. And Isikoff has an interview on Democracy Now today.


Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon

Alastair Muir's photo accompanied the NYT review of Frost/Nixon when it opened as a play.

Ron Howard is bringing to screen the performances of Michael Sheen(previously seen Tony Blair in The Queen) and Frank Langella, pictured above, from their staged version of Frost/Nixon, Peter Morgan’s presentation of the back story of the David Frost television interviews with Nixon in 1977 which opened April 22, 2007 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.) Morgan wrote the screenplay.

No word yet on whether this is coming to the Lyric, but I'd love to see it. Ron Howard was on Democracy Today December 15.


Publish2: A Streamlined NewsTrust with Venture Capital?

Image from Publish2.

I was wondering who was behind Publish2 whose slogan is "Link Journalism Made Easy" and ran into this post and this one on GigaOm, Om Malik's blog.

Publish2 writes,
Link journalism is linking to reporting or sources on the web to enhance, complement, or add more context to original reporting. Link journalism can also be a topical news aggregation, with links to interesting and important stories from any source on the web.

gives some articles to read:

and provides examples of link journalism:

Interestingly, environmental writer Peter Fairley, who I've cited before and met at the SEJ conference is using a Publish 2 rss feed to power a recommended reading list on his blog Carbon Nation.


Obama's Transition Site

Two pieces on the site:

The site evidentlly uses the comment engine, Intense Debate.


The Senate Torture Report

Cartoon by Simanca Osmani, Brazil.

I've written before about the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training techniques, originally designed to help captured members of our military withstand torture, which were then used as "agressive" interrogation techniques of detainees in U.S. custody.

Well, yesterday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) released a report, "Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (executive summary and conclusions)" which in major part looked at the influence of the SERE techniques.

The Committee concluded that the authorization of such techniques by senior officials was both a direct cause of detainee abuse and conveyed the message that it was okay to mistreat and degrade detainees in U.S. custody.

Levin said,

SERE training techniques were designed to give our troops a taste of what they might be subjected to if captured by a ruthless, lawless enemy so that they would be better prepared to resist. The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody.

Senator McCain added,

The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated....The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable. The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees. Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.

Kinda nice to have McCain2K back, now that he's no longer running for prez and needs to kowtow to Mr. Bush in photo-ops where the later says he's "wink" against torture, while issuing signing statements to the contrary.

In "Pack of Liars," Dan Froomkin does a nice job over at the WaPo of summarizing the report, ading some additional background and linking to other coverage. As he writes,

Yesterday's bipartisan Senate report on the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere doesn't just lay out a clear line of responsibility starting with President Bush, it also exposes the administration's repeated explanation for what happened as a pack of lies.
See also:


Broken Government

Cover Art for Broken Government: An assessment of 128 executive branch failures since 2000, issued December 10 by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Center for Public Integrity blog for December 9 announces its new report, "Broken Government" with a formal publication date of tomorrow. For those of you unfamiliar with the center, it produces "original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable." Its newest report
tell[s] the story of what has gone wrong with our government over the last administration — and what needs to be fixed by the next one.
The Center asks that go to this form and add additional examples of
an important failure in a federal department or agency. Tell us why this is important, how it happened, and how it has directly affected citizens. And please tell us how you learned of the failure. If you can point us to any documentation, public or private, that would help make our coverage even stronger.
Here's a complete list of links to problems already enumerated in the report. You can also look up the failures by agency or by the categories of
Josh Israel (email) the project coordinator, also authored the September 2008 report, "Two-Party Debates: A Corporate-Funded, Party-Created Commission Decides Who Debates — and Who Stays Home," which was part of the Center's protect, The Buying of the President 2008.

In his introduction to Broken Government, Israel writes that
the pendulum appears to be swinging the other way in regard to regulation and the role of government, among Republicans as well as Democrats. It is thus an opportune moment to provide an inventory of just what’s broken — and perhaps a bit of a blueprint for just what needs fixing.
He outlines
examples of government breakdown in areas as diverse as education, energy, the environment, justice and security, the military and veterans affairs, health care, transportation, financial management, consumer and worker safety, and more — failures which adversely affected ordinary people and made the nation a less open or less secure place to live. While some are, by now, depressingly familiar, many are less well known but equally distressing.

He says that while

the list is diverse, it also reflects some recurring — and troubling — themes. Some of these problems were in place well before George W. Bush’s inauguration, but were exacerbated by his policies or worsened by his administration’s actions (or inactions). Many of the failings are tied to Bush appointees who appear to have been selected primarily on the basis of ideology and loyalty, rather than competence.
Some examples of his list, which he terms "stark" are:
  • a National Aeronautics and Space Administration inspector general who blocked multiple investigations — Republican Senator Charles Grassley said of his leadership: “I thought he’d be gone by now. . . . You’d like to have him get the message.”
  • a secretary of Housing and Urban Development who openly encouraged his staff to consider political affiliation when awarding contracts.
  • a team leading the Department of the Interior that was so flagrantly involved in political activity that the department’s own inspector general noted that “short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.”
He also criticizes the administration for displaying
what’s at best a lukewarm interest in independent oversight, often siding with business over consumers and special interests over the public.
Hre are examples he highlights:
  • an Environmental Protection Agency that largely ignored and underutilized its own office and task force on children’s health, leaving the governmental entity responsible for air quality and other regulations without any “high level infrastructure or mandate” to protect children.
  • a Food and Drug Administration unable to guarantee food and drug safety — causing conservative Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas to repeatedlylast the agency for “stonewalling, slowrolling, and plain incompetency.”
  • a Federal Labor Relations Board that in the past year has been without a general counsel and the required quorum necessary to handle hundreds of complaints regarding unfair labor practices.
He also details how the federal government shifted its functions
from public employees to private contractors, as federal spending on contractors nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006, jumping from $234.8 billion to $415 billion. These contracts often lacked competitive bidding processes and effective oversight and suffered from cost overruns and poor execution.
Another troubling trend, he contends is how
the White House and its political appointees have frequently inserted themselves into matters of science, overruling experts and suppressing reports that did not coincide with the administration’s philosophy. The nonpartisan Union of Concerned Scientists warned that “political interference in federal government science is weakening our nation’s ability to respond to the complex challenges we face.”
He quotes Thomas E. Mann (email, website), Congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution:
I think we’ll look back on this period as one of the most destructive periods in American public life . . . both in terms of policy and process,” , told the Center. “The broken government is not limited to one end of Pennsylvania Avenue; it involves the executive and legislative branches, which both contributed to embracing policies and actions that have come back to haunt us.
He then traces how we arrived at this state, going back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan when the Republican Party, in large part, started to criticize federal government, saying it
operates inefficiently, and is more often part of the problem than part of the solution. That philosophy has underscored a continuing quest to dismantle pieces of the federal government and to regulate as little as possible. Reagan famously joked that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: "I’m from the government and I’m here to help."
Democrats, according to Israel continued the trend:
Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected in 1992 promising to “reinvent government,” eliminate excessive regulation, and cut the size of government. Clinton’s “Putting People First” plan called for a 25 percent reduction in the White House staff and elimination of 100,000 jobs in the bureaucracy, and the 42nd president largely delivered. Amid outsourcing, government shrinkage, and deregulation, Clinton declared, “The era of big government is over.”
George Bush, of course, did likewise:
In his first address to Congress in 2001, Bush declared: “Government has a role and an important role. Yet too much government crowds out initiative and hard work, private charity, and the private economy. Our new governing vision says government should be active, but limited; engaged, but not overbearing.”
And yet, ironically, Cheney also sought to strengthen the presidency:
Behind the limited government mantra was the gnawing perception — pushed hard by Vice President Dick Cheney — that the reforms of the postWatergate era had dangerously weakened the presidency. Cheney and others in the administration thus began advocating a more “unitary executive” — a vision of the president as a singularly powerful chief executive. Over time, Bush enthusiastically bought in. The concept of the “unitary executive” only further empowered Bush and his allies as they plowed forward with their vision of spending cuts, deregulation, and concentration of power within the confines of White House.
Presidential historian Robert Dallek (email, website), professor emeritus at UCLA, told Israel,
In my judgment, there’s a clear connection between the Bush administration’s governing philosophy and the abuse of power we have seen in the last eight years...The Bush-Cheney assumption has been that the post-Watergate reforms weakened the presidency and a president’s ability to deal with foreign dangers. Much of what they have done has been an attempt to right this so-called imbalance. The result has been a resurgence of the imperial presidency.
Brooking's Mann added,
We saw genuine distortion in the constitutional system, an exaggerated sense of
presidential power and prerogative and acquiescence by a Republican Congress in the face of the first unified Republican government since Dwight Eisenhower...That led to abuses. Certainly, it led to bad policies, because Congress wasn’t challenging
the executive along the way and overseeing it. And I think it encouraged a diminution in the capacity of government to deal with important problems.
Israel then traces the effects of 9-11, Katrina, and the current financial melt-down as a
a series of cataclysmic events has started to change the nation’s view of what the government’s role should be — and has necessarily altered some of the administration’s approach to governing. Those events have also put new strains on federal operations and have brought the consequences of federal failure into sharper relief.
Of 9-11, Israel writes,
The Bush administration determined that in order to keep the nation safe from further acts of terrorism, a major expansion of law enforcement, intelligence, and military operations was required. While no major terrorist acts have occurred on American soil since, the dramatic growth of the nation’s security apparatus has been a messy, expensive process involving missteps, bureaucratic turf battles, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security — the largest government reorganization since 1947.
With regard to Katrina in 2005, he adds that the hurricane
which killed a reported 1,698 people — and in the process laid bare a response that was chaotic at best, dysfunctional at worst. The breakdown in emergency response at all levels of government also demonstrated that some catastrophes and crises are so large that they truly require federal government organization and management.
He maintains that that the attempted bail-out of the financial sector the administration has
caused many to conclude that deference to the “trust us” mantra of Wall Street and unquestioned faith in the free market’s ability to selfregulate
required rethinking.
Meanwhile, to all this, he adds the effects of globilization:
Increased trade with other countries has resulted in a flood of new imports that must be monitored for both safety and homeland security. A host of scares involving dangerous food, drug, and toy imports have made clear the need for more oversight of products manufactured overseas. Meanwhile, cargo holds carrying potentially dangerous weapons require port security officials to screen more freight than ever before.


Coal v. Wind: MTR would lose $600 million over 17 years for Raleigh County, WV

Image adapted from cover design for the new report,"The Long-Term Economic Benefits of Wind versus Mountaintop Removal Coal on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia" released yesterday.
  • When externalities such as public health and environmental quality are factored in, a mountaintop removal mine ends up losing $600 million over it’s expected 17 year life. The costs of these externalities are taken in by the public in the form of health expenses and environmental clean up costs as well as lost resources, like ginseng and wild game.
  • A wind farm would remain profitable over its life, forever.The Raleigh County Government would receive $1.74 million each year from the property taxes on a wind farm, whereas only $36,000 would make its way back to Raleigh County from the severance taxes on the coal taken out of Coal River Mountain. And the money from the wind farm comes in forever.
  • A scenario where a local wind industry came to the Raleigh County was considered. In this scenario, over 1700 people would be employed at a local wind turbine production facility. A facility such as this would only be placed in an area where wind farms were going up.
Also see Grist's November 24 guest post, "An open letter to Al Gore: Speak now against the rape of Coal River Mountain," by author Jeff Biggers (bio, email).


Happy 400th, John Milton

Illustration from Jonathan Rosen's “Return to Paradise”, in the June 2 issue of The New Yorker.

I recommend Rosen's piece. According to NPR :
When Milton began writing the poem in 1658, he had been blind for four years. He recited the entire work to an assistant, 40 lines each morning for five years, says . When the secretary was late, Milton was said to have grumbled around the house, "I want to be milked. I want to be milked."
The Guardian published an editorial December 6, "England's Glory" to honor Milton on the anniversary of his 400th birthday today, December 9. In it, the paper mentioned a new book Britain Since 1918: The Strange Career Of British Democracy by David Marquand
(ISBN:9780297643203) which posits, according to the Guardian, that Milton
shaped three great themes of English popular politics: republican self-respect as opposed to monarchical servility, engaged civic activity versus slothful private apathy, and government by challenge and discussion rather than deference or conformism.


Thomas Lux in the WaPo: Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

Photograph of poet Thomas Lux (email) from Georgia Tech, where since 2002, he has held the Bourne chair and directed the Poetry at Tech program.


December 7, Mary Karr picked this Thomas Lux poem from his "New and Selected Poems" (Houghton Mifflin, 1997) for her column, "Poet's Choice 2008. Here's a 1999 interview with Lux from the Courtland Review.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semitropical reason

when the rains fall

relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise

bright and scary

arachnids. They can swim

a little, but not for long

and they can't climb the ladder out.

They usually drown -- but

if you want their favor,

if you believe there is justice,

a reward for not loving

the death of ugly

and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,

rats) creatures, if

you believe these things, then

you would leave a lifebuoy

or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning

you would haul ashore

the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them

back to the bush, and know,

be assured that at least these saved,

as individuals, would not turn up

again someday

in your hat, drawer,

or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even --

when your belief in justice

merges with your belief in dreams --

they may tell the others

in a sign language

four times as subtle

and complicated as man's

that you are good,

that you love them,

that you would save them again.

"Tarantulas on a Lifebuoy" is from .

Mary Karr has published four books of poems, most recently "Sinners Welcome."


The Secret Life of Bees

From Roger Ebert's October 15 review of Gina Prince-Bythewood's film, The Secret Life of Bees: a photo of Queen Latifah (beekeeper August Boatright, Jennifer Hudson (housekeeper Rosaleen Daise) and Alicia Keys (August's cellist sister and incipient activiest June Boatright).

I'll be seeing the film tonight when I volunteer at the Lyric. It also also stars Dakota Fanning (as Lily Owens, Rosaleen's charge) and Sophie Okonedo (May, the disturbed sister.) Okonedo played the wife of the innkeeper Don Cheedle in Hotel Rwanda (2004), one of my favorite films.

The Secret Lives of Bees is based on Viking's 2002 civil rights-era novel of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd (which we read in our book group.)

Monk explained in an interview at the link above,
In 1964 I was an adolescent growing up in a tiny town tucked in the pinelands and red fields of South Georgia, a place my family has lived for at least two hundred years, residing on the same plot of land my great-great-grandparents settled. The South I knew in the early sixties was a world of paradoxes. There was segregation and the worst injustices, and at the same time I was surrounded by an endearing, Mayberryesque life. I could wander into the drugstore and charge a cherry Coca-Cola to my father, or into the Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to my mother, and before I got home my mother would know what size Coke I'd drunk and what color socks I'd bought. It was an idyllic, cloistered, small-town world of church socials, high school football games, and private "manners lessons" at my grandmother's. Yet despite the African-American women who prominently populated the world of my childhood, there were enormous racial divides. I vividly remember the summer of 1964 with its voter registration drives, boiling racial tensions, and the erupting awareness of the cruelty of racism. I was never the same after that summer. I was left littered with memories I could not digest. I think I knew even back then that one day I would have to find a kind of redemption for them through writing. When I began writing The Secret Life of Bees, I set it during the summer of 1964 against a civil rights backdrop. It would have been impossible for me to do otherwise.
Here's an excerpt from chapter one:

At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin. I watched their wings shining like bits of chrome in the dark and felt the longing build in my chest. The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam.

During the day I heard them tunneling through the walls of my bedroom, sounding like a radio tuned to static in the next room, and I imagined them in there turning the walls into honeycombs, with honey seeping out for me to taste.

The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit, and I mean whole new orbit. Looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angle Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I could never have guessed. I know it is presumptuous to compare my small life to hers, but I have reason to believe she wouldn't mind; I will get to that. Right now it's enough to say that despite everything that happened that summer, I remain tender toward the bees.


July 1, 1964, I lay in bed, waiting for the bees to show up, thinking of what Rosaleen had said when I told her about their nightly visitations.

"Bees swarm before death," she'd said.

Rosaleen had worked for us since my mother died. My daddy - who I called T. Ray because "Daddy" never fit him - had pulled her out of the peach orchard, where she'd worked as one of his pickers. She had a big round face and a body that sloped out from her neck like a pup tent, and she was so black that night seemed to seep from her skin. She lived alone in a little house tucked back in the woods, not far from us, and came every day to cook, clean, and be my stand-in mother. Rosaleen had never had a child herself, so for the last ten years I'd been her pet guinea pig.

Bees swarm before death. She was full of crazy ideas that I ignored, but I lay there thinking about his one, wondering if the bees had come with my death in mind. Honestly, I wasn't that disturbed by the idea. Every one of those bees could have descended on me like a flock of angels and stung me till I died, and it wouldn't have been the worst thing to happen. People who think dying is the worst thing don't know a thing about life.


Another Coal-Fired Plant for Virginia?

1921 poster of the Surry Lumber Company.

First there was Wise County. Now it's Surry County, specifically Dendron, Virginia, population 297 souls.

Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network are opposing the Cypress Creek Power Station a new coal-fired coal plant announced this week by Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit utility based in Glen Allen, Virginia near Richmond. Tomorrow's Virginian-Pilot in Tidewater has Scott Harper (email) reporting that "Activists pledge 'all-out war' to block power plant" in Dendron, Virginia in Surry County.

Dendron's been a company town before, for the Surry Lumber Company, hence its name. (Think dendrochronology). In Guide to the Buildings of Surry and the American Revolution (1976) James Kornwolf writes,
By 1906, Dendron had 1513 people, 298 dwellings, two hotels, eighteen Company stores and five churches. By 1928, Dendron's population had reached nearly 3,000 people. In addition to those establishments listed above, there was also a post office, two schools, a jail, two banks, two doctors, a skating rink, a movie theater, and a number of non-company owned businesses; such as a drug store, barber shops, garages, cleaning establishments, a pool room, a restaurant, bakery and ice cream parlor. The Surry Lumber Company shut down on October 27, 1927. Owning most of the Town, they had the legal right to destroy what they owned, and from 1928 until 1930, much of Dendron was dismantled. Left without a Company, a railroad, water system, and electricity, Dendron experienced a final nightmare in February 1931 when fire destroyed twenty-one (21) buildings on Main Street.
ODEC wants to build the plant on about 1,600 acres in the town, about 40 miles west of Norfolk in order to sell power to Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. ODEC generates and transmits wholesale electricity to almost 1.3 million people in these three states and owns 11.6 percent of Dominion Resources' North Anna nuclear power station outside of Richmond and 50 percent of Dominion Resources' Clover Power Station in Halifax County. Makes me wonder, depite the fact it was founded in 1948, what the relationship is between the co-op and the commercial company. The website says it builds and the company manages. Sounds like some kind of tax advantage to me.

Following in Dominion Resources footsteps for the Wise County plant, this one will claim to a hybrid by burning about 3% woody waste along with mostly Appalachian coal to produce 750 megawatts to 1,500 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 400,000 homes. The Dominion plant is slated to produce 585 megawatts and cost about $1.8 billion and is being fought by the same groups in court.

Harper writes,
ODEC announced its plans the same week that the Governor's Commission on Climate Change made final more than 100 recommendations for combat ing global warming in Virginia. Chief among them is reducing greenhouse gases -- most notably carbon dioxide -- by 80 percent by 2050. The commission chairman, L. Preston Bryant, who also is Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's secretary of natural resources, said he knew little about the ODEC plant and that its projected emissions were not part of the panel's calculations.
Noting that coal will continue to be an energy source in Virginia and the rest of the world for decades to come, Bryant said, "We very much want coal to be an increasingly smaller and cleaner part of our energy supply. "I personally look forward to hearing what advanced technologies are being proposed for this plant," he added.

ODEC's spokesman Jeb Hockman told Harper its board of directors has not yet decided yet to build the plant, which is estimated to cost $3 billion to $4 billion but could go as high as $6 billion. The utility also is interested in a site in neighboring Sussex County and will continue to consider it as a Plan B option. ODEC has not applied for permits from the State Corporation Commission or the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, though they will submitted soon. The utility already has sat down with state environmental regulators in a "pre-application meeting" to discuss the said Bill Hayden, a DEQ spokesman.

"We're like the Saudi Arabia of coal," he said of America's reserves.
"It's reliable, consistent, still fairly inexpensive, and we think we
can handle it in an environmentally sensitive way."

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340,

If you have the time and interest, you can vote against the Surry coal plant in this newspaper poll and also register and add a comment. Right now things are not going our way

Should plans to build a coal-fired power plant in Surry County be allowed to move forward?
72% (681 votes)
28% (264 votes)

ODEC is soliciting names of folks who will come out in support of the plant on its website. It also features a toll-free hotline number

(866) 348-9976

but a recording asks for a name and phone number so someone can call you back.