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  • Monday, October 31, 2005

    It's firing time, Mr. Bush. Or were you lying?

    From American Progress:

    BUSH PROMISED TO FIRE ANYONE INVOLVED: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid noted this weekend, "The president said anyone involved would be gone." Now, "we now know that Official A is Karl Rove. He's still around. He should be let go." But if Bush sticks to his word, Rove is just the beginning. Podesta added, "we know that senior Presidential aides National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan were either complicit in the leak and the cover up, or grossly negligent in their duties." Also, "Chief of Staff, Andrew Card has presided over a White House staff that is guilty of a disservice to the President and the country," and should also resign.

    A look at Bush's new Court pick Samuel Alito

    From American Progress:

    ALITO WOULD OVERTURN ROE V. WADE: In his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito concurred with the majority in supporting the restrictive abortion-related measures passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1980s. Alito went further, however, saying the majority was wrong to strike down a requirement that women notify their spouses before having an abortion. The Supreme Court later rejected Alito’s view and also voted to reaffirm Roe v. Wade. [Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1991]

    ALITO WOULD ALLOW RACE-BASED DISCRIMINATION: Alito dissented from a decision in favor of a Marriott Hotel manager who said she had been discriminated against on the basis of race. The majority explained that Alito would have protected racist employers by “immuniz[ing] an employer from the reach of Title VII if the employer’s belief that it had selected the ‘best’ candidate was the result of conscious racial bias.” [Bray v. Marriott Hotels, 1997]

    ALITO WOULD ALLOW DISABILITY-BASED DISCRIMINATION: In Nathanson v. Medical College of Pennsylvania, the majority said the standard for proving disability-based discrimination articulated in Alito’s dissent was so restrictive that “few if any…cases would survive summary judgment.” Summary judgment allows a case to be dismissed before it goes to trial. [Nathanson v.Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1991]

    ALITO WOULD STRIKE DOWN THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT: The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) "guarantees most workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one." The 2003 Supreme Court ruling upholding FMLA [Nevada v. Hibbs, 2003] essentially reversed a 2000 decision by Alito which found that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law. [Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, 2000]

    ALITO SUPPORTS UNAUTHORIZED STRIP SEARCHES: In Doe v. Groody, Alito argued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip-searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home. [Doe v. Groody, 2004]

    ALITO HOSTILE TOWARD IMMIGRANTS: In two cases involving the deportation of immigrants, the majority twice noted Alito’s disregard of settled law. In Dia v. Ashcroft, the majority opinion states that Alito’s dissent “guts the statutory standard” and “ignores our precedent.” In Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, the majority stated Alito’s opinion contradicted “well-recognized rules of statutory construction.” [Dia v. Ashcroft, 2003; Ki Se Lee v. Ashcroft, 2004]

    White House halts royal visit to New Orleans to 'save face'

    From The Observer:

    The crisis engulfing the White House has forced the Prince of Wales to alter his plans to visit hurricane-ravaged New Orleans over the next week.

    A visit to the city was planned by Clarence House and Downing Street to display the compassionate side of the Duchess of Cornwall.

    However, the trip has been put on hold by the White House, which is anxious that it may draw attention back to President George Bush's much-criticised response to the Katrina victims.

    Dumped U.S. WMDs now threaten U.S. coast

    From The Daily Press via Common Dreams:

    In the summer of 2004, a clam-dredging operation off New Jersey pulled up an old artillery shell.

    The long-submerged World War I-era explosive was filled with a black tarlike substance.

    Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base, Del., were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured - one hospitalized with large pus-filled blisters on an arm and hand.

    The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.

    ...

    The Army now admits that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste - either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.

    A Daily Press investigation also found:

    These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off at least 11 states - six on the East Coast, two on the Gulf Coast, California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.

    The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined only a few of its 26 dump zones and none in the past 30 years.

    The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.

    Got Gas?: Waiting for Winter

    Peak oil is something that I've only ever talked about in comments. It's past the time that it should be a regular news item on the main page. That said, most of our readers live in the temperate climates where up to 20% of the economy is devoted to staying warm. The following story from Energy Bulletin looks at how peak oil may affect the north and how Katrina will give us an early taste of that this winter. The Peak Oil Crisis: Waiting for Winter

    In the fourth quarter, worldwide demand for oil goes up by 2.5 million barrels per day over summer demand to keep the northern latitudes warm during the winter months. Given that we might have an unusually cold winter this year, the demand increase might be conservative.

    ...

    [Oil] prices have dropped some 15 percent since the Katrina peak of over $70 dollars. Wall Street oil traders and analysts are starting to tell financial reporters that the hurricane dislocations are over for a while and the good times may roll for a while longer. Indeed earlier this week the Dow flew up 170 points on the idea that our oil problems no longer look as bad as they did a few weeks ago.

    Where did all this optimism come from? Is it justified? The root cause, of course, is that the securities industry is based on eternal optimism and growth. Few have grasped, or are willing to admit, how close we are to the final oil crisis of all time.

    ...

    [I]t seems our domestic refineries are still deferring maintenance and are still cranking out gasoline rather than switching over to more heating oil production at the end of the summer driving season. It is this combination that has kept us going.

    The IEA, however, has already voted to stop letting us have world reserves beyond what was voted immediately after Katrina and the advent of colder weather will quickly force a choice between driving and staying warm.

    Sunday, October 30, 2005

    Bush on America's double standard

    With respect to "Scooter" Libby's overdue indictment, Bush had the following to say: "Each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial." Well, each individual unless they happen to be Jose Padilla or any one of the detainees at Guantanimo Bay.

    Friday, October 28, 2005

    Prison Fire Kills at Least 11 in Amsterdam

    From Democracy Now!:

    This news from the Netherlands. A fire in a detention center for suspected drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants at Amsterdam's airport has killed at least 11 people. It took the fire squads three hours to bring the fire under control at the detention center that holds some 350 prisoners. One detainee told a Dutch radio station that the fire broke out in one of the cells and that when the prisoners cried out in alarm, they were not taken seriously.

    Hunger in America rises by 43 percent over last five years

    From Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University via EurekAlert!:

    Hunger in American households has risen by 43 percent over the last five years, according to an analysis of US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data released today. The analysis, completed by the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University, shows that more than 7 million people have joined the ranks of the hungry since 1999.

    The USDA report, Household Food Security in the United States, 2004, says that 38.2 million Americans live in households that suffer directly from hunger and food insecurity, including nearly 14 million children. That figure is up from 31 million Americans in 1999.

    "This is an unexpected and even stunning outcome," noted center director Dr. J. Larry Brown, a leading scholarly authority on domestic hunger. "This chronic level of hunger so long after the recession ended means that it is a man-made problem. Congress and the White House urgently need to address growing income inequality and the weakening of the safety net in order to get this epidemic under control."

    Arctic undergoing broad climate-change response

    From the University of Alaska Fairbanks:

    From glaciers to caribou, rivers to roads, Arctic climate change is having a broad effect on almost every aspect of life in the North. That’s the conclusion University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers and others outline in a paper to be published in the October 2005 issue of the journal “Climatic Change.”

    The paper is a result of decades of research by dozens of scientists in multiple disciplines, said Larry Hinzman, a research professor with UAF’s Water and Environmental Research Center and the paper’s lead author. It is one of the first of its kind to present a comprehensive examination of the broad array of effects attributed to a changing climate within the Arctic and shows that warming has a cascading effect on the land, vegetation, animals, weather and human systems.

    “This paper looks at how changes in one component can reverberate through an entire system,” said Hinzman. “It really makes the point that you can’t look at individual components; you have to look at the system as a whole.”

    Those effects tend to be more obvious in the Arctic.

    “We are so close to the freezing point of water,” Hinzman said. “When you change a system from frozen to unfrozen it has dramatic impacts and dramatic consequences.”

    Fun: If Fox had been with us through history...

    Thursday, October 27, 2005

    US top court nominee steps down

    Ha ha. Sorry Bush, you have to find another way to destroy the U.S.

    Former Head of Abu Ghraib, Admits She Broke the Geneva Conventions

    Col. Janis Karpinski tells her shocking story of events at Abu Graib. Listen or read the transcript.

    In April 2004, a secret Pentagon report concluded that U.S. soldiers had committed "egregious acts and grave breaches of international law" at Abu Ghraib. Since the photos first appeared, no senior Bush administration officials have been reprimanded for what happened at Abu Ghraib. Seven soldiers have been convicted for their role in the detainee abuse. Last month Lynndie England was sentenced to three years in prison. In January, Specialist Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years. The highest ranking military officer reprimanded was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski who was commanding officer at the prison. She was demoted to colonel in May. She oversaw all military police in Iraq and was the first female ever to command soldiers in a combat zone.

    Lobbying for Sudan

    From PR Watch:

    While human rights groups denounce the Sudanese government's "condoning of the action of a violent militia which is raping and killing innocent women, men and children and pillaging villages in Darfur," a U.S. firm is lobbying for Sudan. Representative Frank Wolf said he was "shocked" that the State Department granted C/R International a waiver "from an order barring U.S. companies from doing business with Sudan." Rep. Wolf wrote Secretary of State Rice that the waiver "conflicted with the administration's push ... to tighten sanctions" on Sudan. Sudan hired C/R, at $530,000 per year, "to promote the country's north/south peace agreement, and highlight Sudan's role in fighting terror," reported O'Dwyer's PR Daily. C/R head Robert Cabelly is "a former Fleishman-Hillard and State Dept. official who has repped Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and the South Africa Foundation."

    Monsanto: deceitful as always

    From PR Watch:

    "One large and important producer of genetically modified (GM) crops - Monsanto - has engineered public opinion to reduce critical scrutiny," writes a group of South African, Mexican and American academic researchers. Monsanto has followed "a tried-and-true set of PR tactics designed to tie GM crops to the question of hunger, to silence debate on the topic, and to challenge critics as technophobic. This PR strategy removes debate that is vital for public and environmental health." In portraying GM crops as a "solution" to hunger worldwide and promoting company defenders from developing countries, Monsanto has positioned itself "as a development partner, as a benevolent philanthropist who has technology to 'share.'" This PR strategy is "seductive," the researchers explain, in that it suggests easy answers to complex problems. It also "attempts to depoliticize; the public relations machinery, through active co-optation, becomes an 'anti-politics machine.'"

    Well, Monsanto is a publicly-traded corporation meaning that they are legally required to do what is necessary to generate the maximum profits. In other words, it is against the law for them to be a "benevolent philanthropist."

    The liariffic Horowitz's campaign to crackpotize U.S. universities

    From PR Watch:

    ...Horowitz has repeatedly told the story of a student at the University of Northern Colorado who, he says, contacted him after she was forced to "Explain why George Bush is a war criminal" on a criminology exam. The student suspected that her professor [who is a registered Republican] punished her with an unfair grade because of her political beliefs. When the student answered the question by writing about how Saddam Hussein was a war criminal, she said she received an "F." This incident, Horowitz claimed, demonstrated the extent of "leftist indoctrination" on campuses and demonstrated why he was campaigning for "academic freedom."

    Had this actually happened, it would have been prefectly ok to flunk the student for her total non sequitur. This, however, is not what happened at all.

    In reality, Horowitz's version of the story is, at best, a manipulative distortion of facts. In March 2005, the liberal watchdog group, Media Matters for America, began raising questions about the story, which by then had been cited in publications ranging from the Christian Science Monitor to the Wall Street Journal. They noted that Horowitz had written an article for his website, FrontPageMagazine.com, in which he claimed that the student's story was discussed during a December 2003 hearing before the Colorado state legislature. Media Matters reviewed the transcript of the hearing and found that there was no mention of any such incident. Subsequent phone calls to various officials at the University of Northern Colorado also turned up no traces of an incident resembling Horowitz's story.

    Pressed to substantiate his claims, Horowitz was forced to admit that he had gotten a few details wrong:

    • The question on the exam did not ask the student to "explain why Bush is a war criminal."...
    • The question was one of two essay questions from which the student could choose to answer, so the student was not required to answer it at all.
    • The student did not receive a failing grade... She ended the course with a "B."

    ...

    Horowitz says he began his official campaign for "academic freedom" and "intellectual diversity" after several conservative students approached him with stories of liberal professors attempting to indoctrinate their students, dismissing or publicly humiliating those who disagreed with their "leftist" views....

    In 2002, Horowitz founded Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) to manage his academic freedom campaign...

    Students for Academic Freedom is not alone in its quest. Several other conservative organizations tout "intellectual diversity" and "academic freedom" among their issues, including Young America's Foundation, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Lynne Cheney's American Council of Trustees and Alumni. However, SAF is the only organization dedicated solely to the proliferation and publicity of ABOR.

    It really is very, very odd that Horowitz wants to totally destroy higher education in the U.S., which would be most likely happen when not even a Republican professor is safe from his witch hunt. Any foreign professor worth his salt would refuse any offered position at a U.S. university for fear of inquisition from some finger-pointing kid who thinks she (or he) knows how the universe works. Furthermore, does the quest for "diversity" (a word Horowitz consciously took from the Left) include wasting time in physics and biology classes offering creationist theories for life and the universe? What will happen to the state of higher education in the U.S. when, as the auther says, faculty are " forced to justify their fairness and integrity before a conservative inquisition that is itself anything but fair"?

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005

    Biodiversity May Help Slow Disease Spread

    Ftom Reuters via Common Dreams:

    Better protection for the diversity of the planet's creatures and plants could help shield humans from diseases like AIDS, Ebola or bird flu and save billions of dollars in health care costs, researchers said on Tuesday.

    They said human disruptions to biodiversity -- from roads through the Amazon jungle to deforestation in remote parts of Africa -- had made people more exposed to new diseases that originate in wildlife.

    "Biodiversity not only stores the promise of new medical treatments and cures, it buffers humans from organisms and agents that cause disease," scientists from the Diversitas international group said in a statement.

    "Preventing emerging diseases through biodiversity conservation is far more cost effective than developing vaccines to combat them later," it said ahead of a November 9-10 conference of 700 biodiversity experts in Oaxaca, Mexico.

    U.S. government alone in justifying abuse

    From AFP via Common Dreams:

    Human Rights Watch said that under President George W. Bush, the United States has become "the only government in the world to claim a legal justification for mistreating prisoners during interrogation."

    "The administration is setting a dangerous example for the world when it claims that spy agencies are above the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

    ...

    "While many other governments practice torture and other forms of mistreatment and have records of abuse far worse than the United States, no other government currently claims that such abuse is legally permissible," Human Rights Watch said.

    ...

    The US Congress should reject a Senate bill if it includes a White House-proposed amendment that would allow the CIA to abuse prisoners during interrogations, a human rights group said.

    ...

    "Congress should reject this proposal outright. Otherwise, the United States will have no standing to demand humane treatment if an American falls into the hands of foreign intelligence services," [Malinowski] said in a statement.

    The US Senate recently approved 90-9 a bill sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham banning military and Central Intelligence Agency use of any "cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment."

    However, the Bush administration has approached members of Congress to place a waiver in the bill that would allow the CIA to use cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment on foreign detainees in US custody outside the United States, Human Rights Watch said.

    Gaza withdrawal?

    From Democracy Now!:

    [T]he international Middle East envoy, James Wolfensohn, has accused Israel of behaving as if it has not withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, by blocking its borders and failing to fulfill commitments to allow the movement of Palestinians and goods.

    Cheney lobbies for tortute

    From Democracy Now!:

    The New York Times is reporting Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss met with Senator John McCain last week to urge him to back exempting CIA officers from a proposed Senate ban on torture. Three weeks ago the Senate voted 90 to 9 to ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the government. Cheney reportedly said the CIA needed to be exempt because the president needs maximum flexibility in fighting the so-called war on terrorism. Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, responded to the news by saying "They are explicitly saying, for the first time, that the intelligence community should have the ability to treat prisoners inhumanely." Meanwhile the American Civil Liberties Union announced Monday at least 21 detainees have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ACLU reached that number based on released Pentagon documents.

    Activist Rosa Parks

    Civil rights activist Rosa Parks dies at the age of 92. From AP via Common Dreams:

    DETROIT - Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the modern civil rights movement, died Monday evening.

    She was 92. Parks died at her home during the evening of natural causes, with close friends by her side, said Gregory Reed, an attorney who represented her for the past 15 years. Parks was 42 when she committed an act of defiance in 1955 that was to change the course of American history and earn her the title "mother of the civil rights movement."

    At that time, Jim Crow laws in place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction required separation of the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations throughout the South, while legally sanctioned racial discrimination kept blacks out of many jobs and neighbourhoods in the North.

    The Montgomery, Ala., seamstress, an active member of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was riding on a city bus Dec. 1, 1955, when a white man demanded her seat.

    Parks refused, despite rules requiring blacks to yield their seats to whites. Two black Montgomery women had been arrested earlier that year on the same charge, but Parks was jailed. She also was fined $14 US.

    Scowcroft Assails Neo-Cons

    From IPS via Common Dreams:

    "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism," Scowcroft told [The New Yorker] magazine, adding that the war risked moving public opinion against any new foreign policy commitments for some time, just as the Vietnam War did during the late-1970s and through the 1980s.

    ...

    Of Cheney, who worked closely with Scowcoft as secretary of defence under Bush I and White House chief of staff under Ford, Scowcroft expressed bewilderment. "The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney," he said. "I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

    Cheney, he said, appeared to have been taken with a presentation by Bernard Lewis, an octogenarian [crackpot] Middle East scholar from Princeton University, who had been invited to the White House soon after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. According to Scowcroft, Lewis's message was, "I believe that one of the things you've got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power."

    ...

    When a frustrated Scowcroft published his warning against invading Iraq in August 2002, Rice telephoned him and asked, according to another source, "How could you do this to us?"

    "What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling at him was the fact that here she is, the national security adviser, and she's not interested in hearing what a former national security adviser had to say," according to the source.

    ...

    "We always made sure the president was hearing all the possibilities," he told The New Yorker, a view that was implicitly endorsed by the former president himself. In an email message, the elder Bush described Scowcroft as being "very good about making sure that we did not simply consider the 'best case,' but instead considered what it would mean if things went our way, and also if they did not."

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    Bush: Child-like hissy-fits galore

    From the NY Daily News via Common Dreams:

    WASHINGTON - Facing the darkest days of his presidency, President Bush is frustrated, sometimes angry and even bitter, his associates say.

    ...

    "He's like the lion in winter," observed a political friend of Bush. "He's frustrated. He remains quite confident in the decisions he has made. But this is a guy who wanted to do big things in a second term. Given his nature, there's no way he'd be happy about the way things have gone."

    Bush usually reserves his celebrated temper for senior aides because he knows they can take it. Lately, however, some junior staffers have also faced the boss' wrath.

    "This is not some manager at McDonald's chewing out the help," said a source with close ties to the White House when told about these outbursts. "This is the President of the United States, and it's not a pleasant sight."

    ...

    "The President is just unhappy in general and casting blame all about," said one Bush insider. "Andy [Card, the chief of staff] gets his share. Karl gets his share. Even Cheney gets his share. And the press gets a big share."

    ...

    Bush is so dismayed that "the only person escaping blame is the President himself," said a sympathetic official, who delicately termed such self-exoneration "illogical."

    U.S. Prison Population 2.3 Million, Largest in World

    From Democracy Now!:

    And new Justice Department statistics show the U.S. prison population grew by nearly 2 percent last year to nearly 2.3 million. According to the International Center for Prison Studies in London, there are more people behind bars in the United States than in any other country. Federal prisons in this country are now at 40 percent over capacity.

    Tropical Storm Alpha

    From Democracy Now!:

    Tropical Storm Alpha has hit Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Sunday. Alpha was the 22nd named system in the Atlantic Ocean this season making 2005 the most active hurricane season in 150 years. For the first time ever, weather officials had to turn to the Greek alphabet for a storm's name.

    Monday, October 24, 2005

    Proving ignorance

    Isn't it a good idea to get a clue about what you are talking about before calling for the deaths of thousands of innocent people?

    Top Ten Fun

    Top Ten Thoughts Going Through George Bush's Mind

    Avian flu: Taiwan takes the smart course of action

    From the BBC:

    Taiwan has responded to bird flu fears by starting work on its own version of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, without waiting for the manufacturer's consent.

    Taiwan officials said they had applied for the right to copy the drug - but the priority was to protect the public.

    ...

    Taiwan will produce six kg of its version of Tamiflu - enough, according to the government, to renew its stocks.

    The government has said it will not market the drug commercially.

    Production of the drug on a small scale has already started.

    A top health official said Taiwan had demonstrated its goodwill to Roche in talks - and the country hoped it would eventually secure permission to copy the drug.

    "We have tried our best to negotiate with Roche," Su Ih-jen told Reuters news agency.

    "It means we have shown our goodwill to Roche and we appreciate their patent. But to protect our people is the utmost important thing," he said.

    A generic version of the drug produced by the island's National Health Institute is said to be 99% akin to the Tamiflu produced by Roche.

    Officials say they can make their version of the drug more quickly - and at a lower cost - than Roche does.

    Sunday, October 23, 2005

    Hyper rich proving their taxes are too low

    From BusinessWeek Online via Yahoo:

    The superrich are increasingly buying widebody planes, remodeled to their own preferences for luxurious living aloft.

    ... Increasingly, the world's superrich are buying big, big planes -- the same kind of widebody Boeing and Airbus jets the airlines use on long-haul flights -- and outfitting them with everything from his-and-hers bathrooms to onboard movie theaters...

    These airborne penthouses cost plenty. New widebodies, such as the Airbus A340 and the Boeing 777, list for well over $100 million. Even the oldest secondhand widebodies cost at least $10 million. A customized interior adds $25 million to $30 million, says Edése Doret, a New York-based designer who has outfitted several big planes for private use.

    Most overly rich people are content proving that they have too much and don't know how to spend it by buying some ridiculous sports car for the price of a house. This is an order of magnitude beyond.

    Saturday, October 22, 2005

    EPA: Love that pollution

    What is the argument to be used? Is it that the U.S. economy is so bloody fragile that industry needs to be allowed to destroy our future (real) wealth? Is it that we need to kill the planet as fast as possible so that, during the second coming of Jesus, God will send us all to hell for proving what piss-poor stewards of the land we are? Is it a love of disease? A love of destruction? From American Progress:

    Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quietly issued a draft of new regulations that would further relax pollution controls on power plants. The EPA currently assess a power plant's annual pollution emissions; under the new rules, the EPA would instead judge plants by their hourly rate of pollution. That means plants can pollute more just by operating longer hours. Both "environmentalists and some of the EPA's own lawyers said the move will undermine one of the agency's most effective means of forcing aging utilities to install new anti-pollution technology when they expand or modernize." This new action is only the latest effort by the Bush administration to roll back pollution standards at the expense of clean air and water.

    The new emission rules will also "undercut lawsuits aimed at forcing companies to comply with the Clean Air Act." The new EPA draft regulation, for example, would make it almost impossible to enforce the rule that requires older power plants to install cleaner technology when they expand. In an August 25 memo leaked to the Washington Post, the EPA's air enforcement division director warned the new rule would "adversely impact our enforcement cases and is largely unenforceable as written."

    The EPA allowed the power plant industry to draft entire sections of the rules which were supposed to regulate them. In April 2003, the Washington Post did a side-by-side comparison of the EPA's new pollutions rules and two memos written by the law firm Latham & Watkins, which represents industry. The paper found at least a dozen paragraphs in the newly relaxed EPA regulations which had been lifted word-for-word from the industry suggestions.

    Allowing power plants to pollute the air has a steep price, paid for by the public in asthma attacks, mercury poisoning and even premature death. For example, Mercury harms the nervous system of infants, causing serious birth defects and learning disabilities. The EPA's own Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee reported last year that the industry-friendly EPA mercury rules do "not sufficiently protect our nation's children." A recent study by a different team of EPA scientists "nearly doubled the estimate of newborn children at risk for health problems because of unsafe mercury levels in their blood."

    "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

    From Democracy Now!:

    More details have emerged depicting the extent of the neglect and irresponsibility of former FEMA Director Michael Brown in his roll in the scandal of the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina. On Thursday, FEMA official Marty Bahamonde testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He was the first official from the agency to arrive in New Orleans ahead of Katrina. In the midst of the chaos and horror of the hurricane's aftermath, Bahamonde sent a dire e-mail to Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying. No response came from Brown. Instead, less than three hours later, an aide to Brown sent an e-mail saying her boss wanted to go on a television program that night. But first, the aide said, Brown needed at least an hour to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant, writing, "He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes." Some 19 pages of internal FEMA e-mails revealed Thursday show Bahamonde gave regular updates to people in contact with Brown as early as August 28, the day before Katrina hit. They appear to contradict Brown, who has said he was not fully aware of the conditions until days after the storm hit. Bahamonde arrived on Aug. 27 and was the only FEMA official at the scene until August 30. Subsequent e-mails told of an increasingly desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where tens of thousands of evacuees were piled in. Bahamonde spent two nights there with the evacuees. On August 31, he e-mailed Brown saying, "estimates are many will die within hours." He described the situation as "past critical." It was just moments after that email that Michael Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner. Worthy wrote, "Restaurants are getting busy...We now have traffic to encounter to go to and from a location of his choise (sic), followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you."

    Friday, October 21, 2005

    Fisk on the colluding of media and government

    From Democracy Now! :

    ...In 1991 I was driving up the main road towards Basra, the so the-called highway of death, further up, with a crew from ITV, British commercial channel. And we stopped at a place where there were large numbers of Iraqi soldiers dead in the desert. And hoards of desert dogs had appeared. And they were ripping the soldiers to pieces and eating them. Dragging off an arm here with its hand cruelly going along through the desert, eating through stomachs, gnawing away at cheekbones of dead soldiers. The ITV crew got out and started filming. I said, “What are you filming this for? You'll never get it on air.” He said, “No, it's just for the archives.”

    This, you see, was the problem. The war was over then. We're talking about the 1991 Gulf War, the liberation of Kuwait. When journalists had been put in pools, which was then the equivalent of embedding. And they chaffed that they wanted to report real war, weren't being allowed to, that they were being censored. But when the war ended and they were allowed to drive up the highway and film anything they wanted, they censored themselves. Far too sensitive. Can't receive this sort of thing at breakfast what about the children? And in London, and in Washington, and in New York, and everywhere else, Paris, the television directors and the editors said, “We can't show that.” Impossible. Many of the worst pictures taken in the invasion of Iraq in 2003: a man holding a kid out like a piece of pancake. A beautiful girl in the arms of a man, we have to lop it off here because we didn't want to see the bones of the foot sticking out. She was dead, wounded in many captions. Never saw the light of day. They couldn't be shown. They could-- but they were not. Because sensitivities. Mustn't show this at breakfast time. It's irresponsible to show the dead like this, it's disrespectful.

    I tell you, if you saw what I saw when I go to wars when I’m on the front line with or without soldiers or with civilians or wounded in hospitals, if you saw what I saw, you would never, ever dream of supporting a war again. Ever in your life. It's a remarkable thing that the cinema, the commercial cinema, feature films can now show the bloodiest, goriest themes which are quite similar to what we see in real life, "Saving Private Ryan," the guts spilling out. And yet real war cannot be shown without censoring pictures which in many cases are exactly the same as what you see when you go to the cinema. Or when you watch a war movie on television. It's remarkable. And only when you're there do you realize -- and I have an editor in London who shakes his head in disbelief and when I say this over and over again. If you go to war, you realize it is not primarily about victory or defeat, it is about death and the infliction of death and suffering on as large a scale as you can make it. It is about the total failure of the human spirit. We don't show that because we don't want to. And in this sense journalists, television reporting, television cameras are lethal. They collude with governments to allow to you have more wars because if they showed you the truth, you wouldn't allow any more wars.

    Wilma Watch

    From Democracy Now!:

    And finally the US National Hurricane Center is warning Wilma has become a "potentially catastrophic" hurricane. At one point on Wednesday, Wilma became the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record. It has since been downgraded to a Category 4 storm. A mandatory evacuation order was in effect in the Florida Keys, where the storm is expected to hit Saturday and Sunday.

    Michael Chertoff vs Right-Wing Talking Points

    From American Progress:

    "Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers [Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett], the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina... [by shifting] the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials." -- New York Times, 9/5/05

    VERSUS

    "The Federal Emergency Management Agency's lack of planning, not the failures of state and local officials, was to blame for much of what went wrong with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told members of Congress today." -- Los Angeles Times, 10/19/05

    Aussie guidelines on how to destroy information

    From PR Watch:

    Guidelines issued by the Australian government's Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet advise public servants on how to avoid personal notebook comments being disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. "As some comments included in notebooks may have the potential to cause embarrassment or could be misinterpreted if taken out of context, you should transcribe the information that needs to be recorded into a file note, record of conversation or minute, and ensure it is placed on the appropriate departmental file. You can then destroy the original notes," the guideline says. In 2002 a Senate Committee of Inquiry investigating fabricated claims against a group of refugees perpetuated by a government taskforce complained that a failure to keep proper records rendered "the activities of the Taskforce largely inaccessible to subsequent scrutiny."

    Information that could be embarrassing or taken out of context? The Aussies have some interesting slang (eg. root does not mean "support") but I never knew that "guilty as sin" was expressed as "embarrassing or taken out of context" in Australia. Let's try it out: "Did Judge Redmond Barry find Ned Kelly to be guilty?" "Yes, the judge said he was embarrassing or taken out of context."

    When American corporations come up against inconvenient science

    From PR Watch:

    "When American corporations come up against inconvenient science," writes Bill Hogan, "they call in the American Council on Science and Health." The group's medical / executive director, Dr. Gilbert Ross, has "defended the Wood Preservative Science Council, saying ... the arsenic in pressure-treated wood poses 'no risk to human health,'" and has written "on behalf of the farmed-salmon industry that the PCBs in fish 'are not a cause of any health risk, including cancer.'" And Ross' background is as spotty as his junk science-for-hire. For "his participation in a scheme that ultimately defrauded New York's Medicaid program of approximately $8 million," Ross had his medical license revoked, spent a year at a federal prison camp, and was barred from the Medicare and Medicaid programs for 10 years, after a judge found him to be "a highly untrustworthy individual." Ross regained his medical license last year.

    The Curse of the fake blogs

    From PR Watch:

    Fake blogs—a form of viral marketing in which PR or advertising agencies attempt to generate interest in their client's product by creating a fictional character on the internet—are drawing criticism from real bloggers. The Cohn & Wolfe PR firm had to apologize recently after "using a fictional character to leave a series of thinly veiled advertisements on blogs and other websites. A number of websites were hit last week with messages from Barry Scott," a fictional spokesman for a British household cleaning product. British blogger Tom Coates was especially outraged and called it "a new low for marketers" after he wrote an emotional account of his relationship with his father, and then received comment spam from "Barry Scott" disguised as condolences. Coates replied: "My view was that any right-thinking person would view trying to market your product on such a post as revolting, corrupt, cynical, disgusting, sick and dishonourable." According to some PR people, however, fake blogging is a good idea.

    The Pentagon's broken promise

    I guess you can't believe anything at all the Pentgon says. (Not that you would be likely to anyway.) From American Progress :

    "The Pentagon has reneged on its offer to pay a $15,000 bonus to members of the National Guard and Army Reserve who agree to extend their enlistments by six years," the Takoma News Tribune reports. The bonuses were offered last January "to Active Guard and Reserve and military technician soldiers who were serving overseas" as "part of the Pentagon’s effort to retain Guard and Reserve members at a time of declining enlistments in the regular Army." But in April, the Pentagon quietly ordered the bonuses stopped. According to the office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), no active Guard or Reserve members have received the bonuses.

    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    More Fun

    Hooray for Hurricane Anything!

    It takes a businessman to raze the global village

    From Democracy Now!:

    [I]n the current models in how pandemic flu might spread, most of the research has been on influenza in rural regions and at rural densities. The missing link in all of this is the fact that there are now, according to the United Nations, a billion people living in slums in the mega-cities of the third world. This is, of course, an exponentially larger slum population than existed in 1918. Of course, a large portion of the population of poor, urban people live in appalling conditions of public sanitation. They live with medical and public health infrastructures that have been in many cases devastated by debt and by structural adjustment in the 1980s.

    So this actually offers the absolute optimum situation not only for the rapid spread of an avian flu epidemic or other potential epidemics, pandemics, but also it preserves its virulence. If a virulent virus can easily jump from one host to another and has a large enough supply of hosts, there's no reason for its virulence to be attenuated. In 1918 the influenza pandemic of that time had had to cross a number of fire breaks and gradually lost its virulence, eventually becoming one of the flus that we now get every year. And some researchers fear that because of concentrated urban poverty across the world, combined with rapid air travel, you're treating conditions that would preserve the virulence, that is, the killing power, of pandemic flu. So, in this aspect it might even be worse than 1918.

    ...

    [E]ven in a rich country like the United States, but a country with devastated public health infrastructures with shortages of hospital beds and intensive care facilities would be overwhelmed with the huge number of cases of pneumonia, both bacterial and viral pneumonia. And even more important than possessing stocks of anti-virals or potential flu vaccine really is the basic health of our local hospital system and our public health responders.

    ...

    [W]hat's important to grasp is that this isn't just the return of an old monster, but it is a new disease threat that we've partially attended the birth of. That is, the ecology of influenza, like other diseases, has changed dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years because of economic globalization, because of the breakdown of biological barriers between animal and human populations, because of air travel, because of urbanization, but in this case, above all, because of something called the “livestock revolution.” And that's been the generalization around the world of the American model of poultry production, the Tyson model. Tyson is the giant poultry producer, one of the most exploitative corporations in the United States with just an appalling record of working conditions. Tyson kills several billion chickens a year. It's created huge conurbations of chickens, unprecedented concentrations of chickens.

    Now this model has spread to East Asia. China has become the biggest consumer of poultry in the world, and the leading company involved in China is a Thai-based firm called C.P., which has used the Tyson model, a vertical integration of concentrating poultry in enormous warehouses. And it was directly involved in the Thai government's cover-up of the initial outbreak of avian flu in Thailand last year. That is, the government gave the corporate poultry producers in Thailand time to clear their inventories to slaughter sick chickens to send them to Europe before it notified or was forced to notify the rest of the world that avian flu existed. It also failed to notify the peasant backyard poultry producers whose children then began to die from the avian flu. So the outbreak of avian flu -- and H5N1 is only one of several subtypes that have managed to jump to human beings. There are other cases in Holland two years ago and even in British Columbia last year. All this indicates that human intervention, the industrialization of poultry, above all, has sped up the evolution of influenza. It’s changed the nature of disease by changing its ecology.

    ...

    [T]he people in the greatest danger, of course, poultry workers themselves. The corporate poultry industries have undertaken an international offensive, claiming that the fault resides entirely with the backyard producers, the tens of millions of small farmers across the world who have free-range chickens in constant contact with ducks and wild birds and children playing amongst them. And although this is part of the ecology of avian flu, the thing that has changed the way that flu emerges, that has amplified, I think, the danger and the speed with which it evolves, are these huge industrialized concentrations. Having said all of that, avian flu at this point is still relatively difficult to get. Some people pick it up. Other people can have intense contact with infected birds, don’t seem to get it. Nobody understands exactly why. Pandemic flu would mean a genetic modification or even just the mutation of a few shifts of a few amino acids that would give it the ability to spread as a normal seasonal flu, able to infect, for instance, up to one-third of Americans in a single season.

    ...

    [R]ight now and for the next several years at the very least, where the real attention has to go, and I totally support the generic manufacture of Tamiflu and breaking Roche's monopoly, but where the greatest priority must be is on the detection and monitoring of influenza in countries that presently don't have that ability and directing resources to the grassroots in poor countries to give them just even the most basic means to deal with large numbers of cases of pneumonia and to know what they're fighting.

    The United States and other rich countries have been just scandalously selfish and neglectful in refusing to fund the modest request of Vietnam or the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, just asking basically for a few tens of millions of dollars to reinforce surveillance efforts and to compensate poor peasant farmers for the killing of their flocks. But we've refused to do this. And this is just another one of these, you know, pennywise, pound foolish measures. The Bush administration, where it's proposing to spend billions on buying anti-virals for Americans, but it won't give the aid to Vietnam, a country to which we have the greatest moral debt, which is actually on the front line of avian flu and still the country that I would think that the W.H.O. and the other international organizations must worry about, in terms of the possible center for the emergence of a pandemic variety.

    ...

    Right now, Tamiflu is the major frontline weapon of choice. There's another anti-viral which works on the same principles as Tamiflu called Relenza, which might even be better, but it's a flu, and it’s very difficult to store and use. But we can expect that Tamiflu will work forever. Right now, it is a sensible investment to build strategic stockpiles of it, but somehow the illusion has been created that Tamiflu is really the difference of life and death in case of a pandemic. And the far more important variable here is local public health, is hospital surge capacity, the ability to cope with large numbers of cases of pneumonia.

    And here's where the United States really joins the third world, rather than Europe, because we have lost that capacity. And in city after city simulations or the experience with just even normal seasonable heights and influenza or other respiratory diseases has shown that that capacity doesn't exist. We don't have the hospital beds. We don't have the intensive care facilities. And in large part this is the byproduct, not only of federal and state neglect, but the H.M.O. revolution which works on the principle of increasing bottom lines by reducing the number of hospitals, reducing the number of hospital beds, leaving Americans incredibly vulnerable in the face of any kind of epidemic or pandemic disease.

    ...

    [W]e should begin with the 40 or 50 million Americans who lack health coverage, per se. And my believe is, of course, that there is no fix for this problem within the current market economy and depending on the private provision of medicine, particularly when you read in today’s paper about how yesterday's most powerful unionized workers in America, the auto workers, are now forced to suffer swinging cutbacks in medical coverage. The whole system of workplace-provided, contractually provided medicine and healthcare in America has broken down. We must have some kind of national health system.

    Secondly, we must have adequate, proactive preventative public health, a priority that's consistently neglected despite the fact that administrations, including the Bush administration, has actually thrown billions of dollars in infectious disease but in the wrong places -- hypothetical or imaginary diseases -- and a lot of the money going to big corporate contractors or large labs, big pharma, and not enough of it percolating down to where it's absolutely essential at the local level.

    And thirdly we must increase the surge capacity of medicine at the local levels. We need more hospital beds, more intensive care facilities. This is the only wealthy country I know of where during a pregnancy a woman is sent home within 24 hours of delivering a baby. And we will pay a terrible price for this in the event of a pandemic or an epidemic. What will happen in many American cities, will look more like what's happening in the third world than, for instance, to our neighbor north of us, Canada, which probably has right now the best planning, the most adequate preparation to deal with avian influenza or, for that matter, almost any pandemic.

    [A]s Laurie Garrett and others have been pointing out for years, the combination of economic globalization and a changing world environment demand that preventative medicine and world-scale public health infrastructure must be the number one priority. But, of course, what's happened along with economic globalization is in so many countries been actually the dismantling of the ability to respond to epidemic diseases. The immigration of doctors and nurses. The closure of local public health clinics. This is one of the things, of course, responsible for the human holocaust of H.I.V.-AIDS in Africa.

    So one of the most effective steps you could take immediately in fighting disease and increasing the health of the world would simply to end the debt payments, the tribute paid from poor countries to rich. But it is a global problem. And one of the great illusions that now exists around avian flu is that you can build a national fortress. You can build fortress Britain or fortress America, stockpile anti-virals, work on your own vaccine and not worry about the public health of the rest of the world. This is a total illusion. We may be two humanities, in terms of income and power, but biologically we remain one humanity. And avian flu will be a great equalizer.

    Also see The Meatrix

    Property rights (or how to let a planet die to make a buck)

    From Democracy Now!:

    [T]he U.S. is currently trying to buy large quantities of [Tamiflu], but this is to make up for the delinquency of the Bush administration, which has failed to build adequate stockpiles of Tamiflu. Tamiflu is a anti-viral developed at a hospital, an American hospital and basically public sector or nonprofit sector in medicine, then was developed into a pharmaceutical by a small company in California and now is controlled and monopolized by Roche, the giant French-based pharmaceutical corporation. It manufactures Tamiflu at a single factory in Switzerland. So this anti-viral, which has now become probably the most sought after drug in the world, is an utter monopoly of a single corporation, confined right now to one plant in Switzerland.

    A few months ago an a meeting of the World Health Organization, when Thailand and South Africa raised the question, the urgent need to be able to produce Tamiflu generically in their own countries and for the third world, the United States and France blocked the debate. They actually shut down the debate. And essentially, what's happened is that two deals have been cut. The Bush administration has got Roche to agree to open a plant next year to manufacture Tamiflu in the United States, although Americans should be aware we won't have anywhere near an adequate stockpile of this anti-viral until 2007, that we're essentially naked until then.

    At the same time, the World Health Organization has abandoned support or criticism of Roche's monopoly, in turn for the donation by Roche of three million courses of Tamiflu to the W.H.O., which proposes to use this to douse an outbreak if that is possible, which most researchers doubt. So in a way the health of the whole world right now is held hostage to the corporate property rights of Roche, supported by the United States and other governments like France.

    Record-tying hurricane hits category 5

    Democracy Now!:

    Mudslides triggered by Hurricane Wilma have killed up to 10 people in Haiti. More than 5,000 people have been evacuated from eastern Cuba, where heavy rainfall caused flooding and mudslides. In Honduras, emergency preparations were in place to evacuate 10,000 people from coastal areas. The hurricane has already developed into a Category 5 storm and is projected to hit southern Florida on Saturday. Islands in the Florida Keys prepared to order visitors to leave on Thursday and evacuate 80,000 residents on Friday.

    Meanwhile a new study warns extreme weather is likely to become more common because of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers at Purdue University say the United States will see harsher instances of heat waves, floods and drought over the next one hundred years. The study projects temperatures of up to 18 degrees warmer on the coldest days of the year, and says warmest temperatures currently experienced in just over a half a month today will eventually endure for up to two months.

    As you'd expect, Terror snitches claim people they don't like are terrorists

    From Democracy Now!:

    For the second time in as many weeks, the credibility of an intelligence threat that led to a terror scare in a major metropolitan city in the United States is being questioned. Two major car tunnels were closed in Baltimore Tuesday following information gleaned from an informant in FBI custody. But intelligence officials now say the informant's warning appears to have been an attempt to exact revenge on a Maryland resident he named as one of eight suspects for being involved with his girlfriend. All eight suspects were Egyptian-born Maryland residents. Last week, a terror scare led to a heightened alert and increased security presence on New York City's subways. Officials later conceded the intelligence that led to the threat warning was a hoax.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    Monumental Disrespect

    From the Sydney Morning Herald via Common Dreams:

    US soldiers in Afghanistan burnt the bodies of dead Taliban and taunted their opponents about the corpses, in an act deeply offensive to Muslims and in breach of the Geneva conventions.

    An investigation by SBS's Dateline program, to be aired tonight, filmed the burning of the bodies.

    It also filmed a US Army psychological operations unit broadcasting a message boasting of the burnt corpses into a village believed to be harbouring Taliban.

    According to an SBS translation of the message, delivered in the local language, the soldiers accused Taliban fighters near Kandahar of being "cowardly dogs". "You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be," the message reportedly said.

    "You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Taliban but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are."

    The burning of a body is a deep insult to Muslims. Islam requires burial within 24 hours.

    Under the Geneva conventions the burial of war dead "should be honourable, and, if possible, according to the rites of the religion to which the deceased belonged".

    US soldiers said they burnt the bodies for hygiene reasons but two reporters, Stephen Dupont and John Martinkus, said the explanation was unbelievable, given they were in an isolated area.

    Don't try and enlist. You'll be arrested.

    From Democracy Now!:

    [E]ighteen grandmothers from the Raging Grannies were arrested Monday after they tried to enlist at a military recruiting center in Times Square. The women, ranging in age from 40 to 90, sat down in front of a recruiting booth, chanting "We insist, we want to enlist." The 18 arrested face charges of disorderly conduct.

    A record-tying number of Atlantic huricanes

    From Democracy Now!:

    [A] record-tying 21st hurricane of the season formed in the Caribbean yesterday. Experts say it appears headed for the Gulf of Mexico, which is still recovering from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Stan. Reuters reports storm alerts are in effect for the Cayman Islands and parts of coastal Honduras. Wilma is also expected to dump heavy rain on the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Haiti, and parts of Cuba and Honduras.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Some conservatives losing love for Bush (and getting fired for it)

    From American Progress:

    "In the latest sign of the deepening split among conservatives over how far to go in challenging President Bush," conservative commentator Bruce Bartlett was dismissed yesterday as a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a prominent conservative research group based in Dallas. Bartlett is a former White House aide under President Reagan and the first President Bush, and had been with the Center for 10 years. The dismissal came after Bartlett supplied NCPA president John C. Goodman with the manuscript of his forthcoming book, "The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." In his next column, to be published on Wednesday, "Mr. Bartlett wrote that it is dawning on many conservatives 'that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been,'" the New York Times reports.

    Even the Heritage Foundation Criticises White House on Katrina Handling

    I never thought the day would come when the right-wing Heritage Foundation criticises a Republican White House, But here it is. From American Progress:

    The Bush administration has been ineptly slow to respond to the housing crisis left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Bruce Katz, a policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said, "We could have thousands, if not tens of thousands of families, in stable permanent housing right now." Instead, the administration has "moved hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina into hotel rooms at a cost of about $11 million a night, a strategy local officials and some members of Congress criticize as incoherent and wasteful." FEMA missed its self-imposed deadline to have the quarter-million-plus evacuees in shelters relocated by last weekend; the first of many trailer park towns opened recently. But even the trailer towns are not considered the best way to spend federal resources and help evacuees get back on their feet. Ronald D. Utt, a former senior official at HUD and Reagan administration aide who is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, was left at a loss trying to explain the administration's housing policy: "This is not incompetence. This is willful. That is the only way I can explain it."

    Only 25% of Americans have good jobs

    From the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

    The U.S. economy is much richer today than it was at the end of the 1970s. On a per person basis, inflation-adjusted national income grew from about $24,000 in 1979 to about $38,500 in 2004. As a result, on average, Americans are 60 percent richer today than they were at the end of the 1970s. The main question examined in this report is how well the U.S. economy has done in converting this economic bonanza into good jobs.

    The short answer is “not very well.” If we define a “good” job as one that pays at least $16 dollars per hour, offers health insurance that is at least partly paid by the employer, and provides a pension plan, then the share of U.S. workers in good jobs hardly changed between 1979 (24.6 percent) and 2004 (25.2 percent), despite the 60 percent increase in income per person over the same period. More importantly, if we control for significant improvements in the human capital of the U.S. workforce —today’s workforce is, on average, significantly older and much better-educated than the country’s workforce at the end of the 1970s— the economy’s ability to generate good jobs has actually fallen by about 25 to 30 percent.

    2005 Set to be Warmest on Record

    Temperatures go up high, then come down a bit. Then they go higher, and so on. For a certain past comment made this year that claimed there was no global warming because the hottest year on record had been 1998. From Democracy Now!:

    In environmental news, climatologists are predicting 2005 will be the warmest year on record, continuing a 25-year trend. Researchers at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies say that global temperatures today are about 1.36 degrees Fahrenheit above the average between 1950 and 1980. Last month was the warmest month on record since temperatures were first recorded in 1880.

    Liberty, and justice for those who can afford it

    From Democracy Now!:

    [A] new study from an independent legal-aid agency says 80 percent of low-income Americans in need of legal assistance do not receive any. The government-funded Legal Services Corporation, or LSC, says roughly one million cases per year are rejected due to a lack of available legal aid resources. The study found for every client served by a program funded by the LSC, at least another will be rejected. Data also shows there is only one legal aid lawyer available for nearly every 7,000 low-income clients, as opposed to one lawyer available for every 525 people in the general population.

    Syria as Laos

    This reminds me of another war... From Democracy Now!:

    The New York Times is reporting U.S. troops have been clashing with Syrian counterparts on the border with Iraq over the last year. Officials told the Times U.S. operations claimed to thwart the alleged flow of insurgents into Iraq have spilled over inside Syria's borders. These officials added the military is considering plans to conduct special intelligence operations inside Syria. A firefight this summer led to the deaths of several Syrian soldiers. U.S. officials accuse Syria of harboring insurgent training camps inside its borders, a charge denied by the Syrian government. A recent study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found the percentage of foreign fighters among Iraqi insurgents is "well below 10 percent, and may well be closer to 4 percent to 6 percent."

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Poor and minority neighbourhoods get the hazardous waste

    You didn't seriously think they were going to allow it in rich, white neighbourhoods, did you? From American Progress:

    Being nonwhite and poor in Massachusetts is dangerous. A new study reveals that "24 of the 30 communities with the most environmentally hazardous sites have nonwhite populations of 25 percent or more." Communities with nonwhite populations of 25 percent or more "average about ten times more releases of chemical pollution from industrial facilities per square mile than white communities (less than 5 percent minority)." These populations are also exposed to a higher amount of carcinogens, toxins, and other pollution from environmentally hazardous facilities, putting them at higher risk for related health problems. "The results of this new report just confirm what many communities of color and low income communities have been fighting against for years -- that they host an unfair share of environmental problems," concluded Professor Eric Krieg, one of the study's authors.

    B-b-b-but Condi Rice is African American

    Now, the black population is not stupid. They are not so simple-minded as to believe that just because a man selects a couple of African Americans for cabinet decisions that it therefore means that he is working in their interests and the evidence shows this. From American Progress:

    JUST TWO PERCENT OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS APPROVE OF PRESIDENT BUSH: An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that, for the first time, President Bush’s approval rating "has sunk below 40 percent, while the percentage believing the country is heading in the right direction has dipped below 30 percent." The poll also reveals stunning opposition to President Bush among African-Americans. "Only two percent said they approved of his performance as president, the lowest level ever recorded in that category." Additionally, according to NBC, "strong majorities don’t believe that the recent charges against GOP leaders Tom DeLay of Texas and Bill Frist of Tennessee are politically motivated," and "just 29 percent think Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court."

    Cheyney Profiting privately off the public

    A look into the financial world of the Mr. Potter (the evil banker from It's a Wonderful Life) look-alike. From American Progress:

    IRAQ AND KATRINA HAVE MADE CHENEY RICHER: In 2003, Vice President Cheney asserted, "Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years." That wasn't true in 2003, and it's not true now. In 2003, Cheney still received deferred compensation from the contracting behemoth and possessed more than 433,000 stock options. Those options were worth $241,498 a year ago; they now are worth more than $8 million. With Cheney in office, Halliburton has received more than $10 billion for work in Iraq and received one of the first no-bid contracts for work in the Gulf Coast.

    One in 400 are homeless in U.S.

    This matches a stat I reseached 4 years ago regarding the homeless in the U.S., but it is still staggering. From American Progress:

    USA Today reports that 727,304 people are homeless in the United States. That tally doesn't include the recently displaced population of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which "multiplied homelessness along the Gulf Coast [by] as much as a hundredfold." Phillip Mangano, executive director of the White House's Interagency Council on Homelessness, estimates that approximately 23,000 Katrina evacuees will still be homeless a year from now. Families with children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, which Christine Riddle, director of the Michigan Coalition for the Homeless, attributes to high costs and low wages: "In a low-wage, service economy with manufacturing declining and rents soaring, people can't afford housing." The Center for American Progress will host "Ending Concentrated Poverty" today and will examine a progressive vision for creating housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.

    Friday, October 14, 2005

    Like a kid with chocolate on his face...

    You've gotta love little Scotty McClellan. Just like the kid with chocolate all over his face caught next to the cookie jar, he denies eating the chocolate chip cookies. From American Progress:

    Yesterday, in what was "billed as a conversation with U.S. troops," President Bush spoke via teleconference with a "handpicked group of U.S. troops," asking questions that were "choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday’s vote on a new Iraqi constitution." Following the event, Pentagon communications aide Allison Barber "insisted" to reporters that questions "were not rehearsed," and that no "specific questions" were prepared. Unfortunately, she was caught on tape prepping the soldiers and acknowledging just the opposite — that she had "drilled through" "all six" of the questions that Bush was going to ask. Nevertheless, the Bush administration still refused to admit the teleconference was simply a choreographed photo-op. Asked by a reporter whether the questions to the president were in any way pre-screened, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "No. ... This is a back-and-forth."

    I have a hard time acting surprised that McClellan said this. Sadly, I expect nothing more than bald-faced lies from the man.

    Keeping healthy on a minimum wage in the UK

    From the British Medical Journal:

    The national minimum wage and working tax credits have raised the earnings of the lowest paid workers. However, progress towards a minimum income for healthy living has been slow and patchy. The health community did not participate in decisions on setting minimum incomes and calculations to set the rates did not consider requirements for personal health.

    Arguing that policies on social welfare should take account of the minimum income needed to maintain health, Morris et al have identified several basic needs for health and wellbeing and have calculated a minimum income for healthy living. They based their calculations on the needs of a healthy single man aged 18-30 who has left the family home,7 although a single healthy woman may have been a more appropriate choice because two out of three beneficiaries of the minimum wage in 1999 were women.

    To calculate the minimum income for healthy living, Morris et al derived minimum prices for nutritional requirements from consensus guidelines on diet. They budgeted for physical activity, choosing the least expensive dynamic aerobic exercise but including expenditure spread over a year for items such as training shoes or a bicycle, helmet, and cycling kit. The psychosocial budget covered a variety of expenditures for social participation: on telephone bills, postage, the occasional gift, and subscriptions for clubs and trade unions. For essential items such as clothing and the costs of renting a home the researchers used data from the Office for National Statistics' family expenditure survey on average weekly expenditure by the 30% of the population on the lowest incomes. The minimum income for healthy living was £132.00, but the take home pay of the average young single man working 37.5 hours a week on the minimum wage was £120.00. Hence there was a shortfall of £12.00 each week between what such a man earned and what he needed to stay healthy (April 1999 prices).

    The researchers point out that their budget has some gaps and excludes any allowance for personal choice and development, contingencies, or emergencies. Thus, their budget is an underestimate of the real minimal costs for healthy living. Inevitably too, there are inefficiencies in purchasing. For example William Beveridge, the British economist and social reformer whose recommendations paved the way for the NHS, allowed 6% for inefficiencies when he was setting social security budgets in 1942. Allowing for these margins and bringing the calculations up to date by correcting for inflation, a single healthy man aged 18-21 working a 37.5 hour week (the national median) on the lower rate of national minimum wage currently has £20.00 less a week, on average, than he needs to live healthily. Those aged 22-24 on the main rate may just about manage. A single man aged 25-30, if he gets working tax credits, should receive an income sufficient to maintain health—on average £11.00 above the basic amount.

    Biotechnology has failed to live up to its promises

    From the British Medical Journal via EurekaAlert! :

    Promises of cheaper and better drugs using biotechnologies have not been met, say researchers in this week's BMJ.

    They assessed biotech products approved by the European Medicine Evaluation Agency between 1995 and 2003.

    Of 61 products licensed for therapeutic use, only 15 were for diseases without effective treatment, more effective than existing treatment, or active in patients resistant to current treatment.

    A further 22 offered limited advantages over existing products, and 24 were copycat drugs, many of which have failed to offer new options for patients and provide no cost advantage, say the authors.

    Furthermore, evaluation of these substances was not always based on rigorous methodological criteria, suggesting that commercial priorities come before the sound development of drugs in the interest of patients.

    The oily bill in America

    From Democracy Now!:

    In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, legislation in the Senate and House has been criticized as beneficial to corporations while sidelining the victims of the disaster. Recently, House Republican leaders pushed through a bill to make it easier for oil companies to build new domestic refineries.

    The bill passed 212-210 but only because the house leadership extended the vote by 40 minutes during which time two Republicans switched their vote. The legislation will streamline government permits for refineries, open federal lands for future refinery construction, weaken environmental protections, and offer subsidies to build refineries even though oil companies are making record profits. The bill would also limit the power of community or citizen groups because if they filed a lawsuit to challenge the location of a refinery they would be required to pay an oil company’s legal costs whether they win or lose the lawsuit.

    In the initial vote tally, it looked as if the bill was going down to defeat two votes shy of approval. Democrats called for gaveling the vote closed to no avail. During the extra 40 minutes of voting House Speaker Dennis Hastert, majority whip Roy Blunt and former Majority Leader Tom Delay all pressured other Republicans to change their votes. After the vote, Democrat Henry Waxman asked from the floor, "Doesn’t this make the House a banana republic?"

    The Louisiana Katrina Reconstruction Act was introduced last month by Louisiana Senators Mary Landrieu, who is a Democrat, and David Vitter, who is a Republican. The LA Times reported this week that lobbyists representing transportation, energy and other special interests dominated the panels advising the senators in crafting the legislation. Most of the lobbying firms are major campaign contributors and several have donated heavily to the campaigns of Landrieu and Vitter. The bill is estimated to cost $246 billion dollars and includes billions of dollars of business for clients of the lobbyists. The act has been criticized as a missed opportunity to begin creative and equitable reconstruction of the devastated region. Keith Ashdown of the non-partisan watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, said that the lobbyists were exploiting the catastrophe. “They are using Katrina to get funding they haven’t been able to get in the past. You want to help the region but the bill they put together has a lot of projects that aren’t needed. This is congressional looting at its worse.”

    ...

    JOHN WALKE: This was Washington at its worse. This vote was an abuse of power. It was an abuse of the process. The bill was pushed through without any hearings, no testimony. It was taken up in a day. Changes were made up until the last minute in the law. There was arm- twisting by the now-indicted former Majority Leader of the House, Tom Delay. There were vote switches by Republicans after this arm-twisting; and before the vote, the Republican leadership, under pressure, admitted that the bill would do nothing to affect gasoline prices, nothing to affect heating oil prices this winter.

    After the vote, some people who switched their votes admitted the same thing. And now we have oil company executives saying: Thank you very much, but we still don't plan to build any new refineries in this country, despite whatever bill you just passed. This is political theater. We had political aides to the Republicans admitting that they did this just to have a trophy to take back home during the Columbus Day recess to tell the voters that they had done something about gasoline prices. But it was a sham and it was a shame.

    A look at Liberia after its first election in over a decade

    From Democracy Now!:

    AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with Emira Woods, who is with the Institute for Policy Studies, herself born in Liberia. Liberia, a country of freed slaves. Tell us the history and also the involvement of the United States, the Firestone Company.

    EMIRA WOODS: Well, once again, thank you for asking these questions. They’re right on target. If you look at the history of Liberia, the one correction I would say is that Liberia was founded, yes, by the American Colonization Society, but it was a compilation of people who came from America, from the Caribbean and from other African countries that founded Liberia in the 1820s. And if you look at the history of Liberia, clearly America has had a critical role to play since its founding. Of course, we know the capital city, named after James Monroe, the U.S. Speaker of the House, also played a critical role in the 1800s in the founding of Liberia.

    But since then, American companies have continued to have their influence in Liberia. 1922 the Firestone Rubber Company went in and set up plantations in Liberia. And you see from 1922 to today not only the exploitation of the rubber, the extraction of Liberia's vital resources, for pennies. In the 1920s, it was six cents per acre that Firestone paid for extraction of the rubber.

    A new agreement has recently been signed, just a few months back with the pushing and pressuring from the U.S. ambassador in Liberia, where Firestone extended its lease agreement with Liberia for a further 37 years. So, the Firestone Company, which is essentially running a plantation, exploiting labor, exploiting particularly child labor, continues to have its way, extracting the resources for minimal amounts, putting the rubber on a ship and sending it off to Indiana, essentially, without helping to bring about development in Liberia.

    The Mattel Steel Company, another American company, has recently signed a contract again with this interim government using the space of the transitional period to go in to sign new contracts that further exploit the Liberian people. So the richness of the country, whether it’s the iron ore, or the rubber, the gold, the diamonds have really been extracted for pennies, essentially, throughout history now of Liberia, and really no benefits coming to the Liberian people.

    If you look at the conditions -- I just came back this past August – you know, no running water, no electricity, no functioning school systems or health care systems. I mean, total breakdown of the infrastructure because of this 23 years of coups and conflicts. There is so much that is needed to help benefit the condition of people's lives in Liberia. Clearly there should be greater corporate accountability and responsibility, and the U.S. could play a critical role.

    The other issue that is relevant for Liberia today is the question of Liberia's debt. Liberia owes $3 billion to the international community. It is a debt that is hanging like, you know, the shield over the necks of the Liberian peoples. And clearly, with all of the enthusiasm for debt cancellation from the G-8 meeting to the World Bank and the IMF meetings this September, why is it that Liberia is left off the table? Why is it that these countries where the debt was accrued under dictators, under corrupt leadership, have to still bare the burden of that debt now and into the future? These are the questions that really need to be tackled, were we to think about not only a stable and secure path, but a firm economic footing for Liberia’s future.

    Justice coming to Genoa perhaps?

    From Democracy Now!:

    n Italy, 45 police officers, prison guards and medical staff went on trial Wednesday for their role in beating and abusing protesters during the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. State prosecutors have admitted that at least 150 activists were kicked, punched, assaulted and dragged by their hair while in police detention. Some were forced to put their heads in toilets and bark like dogs. On Friday another 28 police officers go on trial for taking part in a violent raid inside a Genoa school during the summit.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    50m Environmental Refugees by End of Decade

    From the Guardian via Common Dreams :

    Rising sea levels, desertification and shrinking freshwater supplies will create up to 50 million environmental refugees by the end of the decade, experts warn today. Janos Bogardi, director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University in Bonn, said creeping environmental deterioration already displaced up to 10 million people a year, and the situation would get worse.

    "There are well-founded fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental conditions may grow exponentially as the world experiences the effects of climate change," Dr Bogardi said. "This new category of refugee needs to find a place in international agreements. We need to better anticipate support requirements, similar to those of people fleeing other unviable situations."

    The Red Cross says environmental disasters already displace more people than war. Such people are currently not recognised under international agreements as refugees, Dr Bogardi said, so are denied access to assistance received by victims of violence or political persecution.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Canada moves to threaten world food supply.

    From IPS via Common Dreams:

    LONDON - A group of Peruvian indigenous farmers have prepared an extensively researched counter to a Canadian move to revive 'terminator' seeds.

    Terminator seeds work only once. For a new crop, farmers would have to go back to sellers. These seeds that do not regenerate like normal seeds would work hugely to the advantage of corporations, to the detriment of farmers.

    A United Nations moratorium at present blocks commercialisation of terminator seeds. But a group of countries led by Canada have challenged the UN safety regulation. This has led the Convention on Biological Diversity based in Montreal to open new discussions on relaxing the moratorium on such seeds.