Friday, September 23, 2005

Bible textbook could circumvent culture war

Seeking to defuse a central controversy of the culture wars, a Bible advocacy group will unveil a new textbook Thursday that could open the door to widespread Bible courses in public high schools.
The textbook, titled "The Bible and Its Influence," was written to thread a constitutional and legal needle by teaching, not preaching, about the Bible, its editors told Knight Ridder in an exclusive preview.
The book comes as the country renews its centuries-old debate over the proper role of religion in public life and public schools. Courts are reviewing whether it's constitutional to include the phrase "One nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others argue over whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public buildings.
Courts and school districts have wrestled for decades over how or whether to teach the Bible.
"This predates the evolution versus creationism debate," said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center, who's reviewed the book.
"We've had so many conflicts, so many lawsuits, on this issue. ... This is finally something that most of us can recommend as an answer."

Government caught destroying more Indian records in violation of court orders

At the same time that the Interior Department is bragging to Congress about its Indian Trust accounting plan, the National Archives and Records Administration reports ongoing destruction of Bureau of Indian Affairs accounting records only a few blocks from the federal courthouse in Washington.
In a filing last week, NARA disclosed that it is investigating "one or more incidents...involving what may be intentional acts aimed at unlawfully removing or disposing of permanent records from the Interior Department..."
In the letter dated Sept. 13, NARA attorney Jason R. Baron said that members of the agency "noticed what appeared to be federal records in one of the dumpsters" at the main achieves building on Pennsylvania Avenue on Sept. 1. Among the records destroyed were documents from the 1950s from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Baron said.
Subsequently, "more of what appear to be Indian records were discovered in a wastebasket in the stack areas at Main Archives," Baron said in the letter. "It is not known if these two incidents are related."

Halliburton serves contaminated water to troops

Outrage overflowed on Capitol Hill this summer when members of Congress learned that Halliburton's dining halls in Iraq had repeatedly served spoiled food to unsuspecting troops. "This happened quite a bit," testified Rory Mayberry, a former food manager with Halliburton's KBR subsidiary.
But the outrage apparently doesn't end with spoiled food. Former KBR employees and water quality specialists, Ben Carter and Ken May, told HalliburtonWatch that KBR knowingly exposes troops and civilians to contaminated water from Iraq's Euphrates River. One internal KBR email provided to HalliburtonWatch says that, for "possibly a year," the level of contamination at one camp was two times the normal level for untreated water.
"I discovered the water being delivered from the Euphrates for the military was not being treated properly and thousands were being exposed daily to numerous pathogenic organisms," Carter informed HalliburtonWatch.

U.S. government says pope immune from sex abuse lawsuit

The U.S. Justice Department has told a Texas court that a lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of conspiring to cover up the sexual molestation of three boys by a seminarian should be dismissed because the pontiff enjoys immunity as head of state of the Holy See.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Peter Keisler said in Monday's filing that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would be "incompatible with the United States' foreign policy interests."

Top Democrats Avoiding Constituency Over War

As the anti-war movement arrives in Washington this weekend, many top Democrats are leaving.
Nationally known Democratic war critics, including Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and John Kerry of Massachusetts, won't attend what sponsors say will be a big anti-war rally Saturday in Washington.
The only Democratic officeholders who plan to address the rally are Reps. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and John Conyers of Michigan.
Today's leading Democrats head a party divided over the war, and many leaders are wary of standing with anti-war activists, who represent much of the party's base. The divide between anti-war activists and Democratic leaders underscores a challenge the party faces in the 2006 congressional elections and beyond. Some activists say that Democrats such as Clinton and Kerry who criticize the war but refuse to demand a timetable for withdrawal are effectively supporting the status quo - and may not merit future support.

Blackwater Down

The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right after Katrina hit. The company known for its private security work guarding senior US diplomats in Iraq beat the federal government and most aid organizations to the scene in another devastated Gulf. About 150 heavily armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear spread out into the chaos of New Orleans. Officially, the company boasted of its forces "join[ing] the hurricane relief effort." But its men on the ground told a different story.
Some patrolled the streets in SUVs with tinted windows and the Blackwater logo splashed on the back; others sped around the French Quarter in an unmarked car with no license plates. They congregated on the corner of St. James and Bourbon in front of a bar called 711, where Blackwater was establishing a makeshift headquarters. From the balcony above the bar, several Blackwater guys cleared out what had apparently been someone's apartment. They threw mattresses, clothes, shoes and other household items from the balcony to the street below. They draped an American flag from the balcony's railing. More than a dozen troops from the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation on the street watching the action.

Air Boat Heroes Defy Authorities, Save Hundreds

After being turned around a number of times, they realized the only way they would get through was to break in.The couple says they ended up at Ochsner Hospital.
From there, it was the city's survivors who pointed them in the right direction.For LeBlanc, going home was the hardest.She says it was dark and people were screaming for help and they couldn't help them.
Because the state decided to turn volunteer rescue boats around when they showed up to help, Bienvenu blames the federal and state government for the lives lost.
Despite the obstacles, he and LeBlanc brought 797 displaced residents to safety.

FEMA Rehearsals for New Orleans Flooding Ignored

Government disaster officials had an action plan if a major hurricane hit New Orleans. They simply didn't execute it when Hurricane Katrina struck.
Thirteen months before Katrina hit New Orleans, local, state and federal officials held a simulated hurricane drill that Ronald Castleman, then the regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, called "a very good exercise."
More than a million residents were "evacuated" in the tabletop scenario as 120-mile-an-hour winds and 20 inches of rain caused widespread flooding that supposedly trapped 300,000 people in the city.
"It was very much an eye-opener," said Castleman, a Republican appointee of President Bush who left FEMA in December for the private sector. "A number of things were identified that we had to deal with, not all of them were solved."
Still, Castleman found it hard to square the lessons he and others learned from the exercise with the frustratingly slow response to the disaster that has unfolded in the wake of Katrina.

Hurricane experts reject official explanations for floodwall collapses

[W]ith the help of complex computer models and stark visual evidence, scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.
In the weeks since Katrina drowned this low-lying city, there has been an intense focus on the chaotic government response to the flood. But Ivor van Heerden, the Hurricane Center's deputy director, said the real scandal of Katrina is the "catastrophic structural failure" of barriers that should have handled the hurricane with relative ease.
"We are absolutely convinced that those floodwalls were never overtopped," said van Heerden, who also runs LSU's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes.

EPA Wants to Ease Toxic Spill Reporting

The government wants to quit forcing companies to report small releases of toxic pollutants and allow them to submit reports on their pollution less frequently.
Saying it wants to ease its regulatory burden on companies, the
Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed adopting a "short form" that would excuse companies from disclosing spills and other releases of toxic substances if:
*They claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical. The current limit is 500 pounds.
*They store onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants, such as mercury, DDT and PCBs, that persist in the environment and work up the food chain. However, they must report if they have stored dioxin or dioxin-like compounds, even if none is released.
EPA said it also plans to ask Congress for permission to require the accounting every other year instead of annually. The EPA's annual Toxics Release Inventory began under a 1986 community right-to-know law. The first year the change could be possible, if Congress agreed, would be 2008.

Another Thinly Credentialed Appointee

The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.
The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.

EFF: Don't Let Congress Ignore the Broadcast Treaty

WIPO's "Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations" is protection, all right: a protection racket for middlemen in the TV and Internet worlds.
If adopted, the WIPO treaty will give broadcasters copyright-like control over the content of their broadcasts, even when they have no copyright in what they show. A TV channel broadcasting your Creative Commons-licensed movie could legally demand that no one record or redistribute it - and sue anyone who does. And TV companies could use their new rights to go after TiVo or MythTV for daring to let you skip advertisements or record programs in DRM-free formats.
If that wasn't bad enough, the US contingent at WIPO is pushing to have the treaty expanded to cover the Net. That means that anyone who feeds your "sound and images" through a web server would have a right to meddle with what you do with the webcast simply because they serve as the middleman between you and the creator.

Naomi Klein: Purging the Poor

Listening to Drennen enthuse about the opportunities opened up by the storm, I was struck by his reference to African-Americans in New Orleans as "the minority community." At 67 percent of the population, they are in fact the clear majority, while whites like Drennen make up just 27 percent. It was no doubt a simple verbal slip, but I couldn't help feeling that it was also a glimpse into the desired demographics of the new-and-improved city being imagined by its white elite, one that won't have much room for Nyler or her neighbors who know how to fix houses. "I honestly don't know and I don't think anyone knows how they are going to fit in," Drennen said of the city's unemployed.
New Orleans is already displaying signs of a demographic shift so dramatic that some evacuees describe it as "ethnic cleansing." Before Mayor Ray Nagin called for a second evacuation, the people streaming back into dry areas were mostly white, while those with no homes to return to are overwhelmingly black. This, we are assured, is not a conspiracy; it's simple geography--a reflection of the fact that wealth in New Orleans buys altitude. That means that the driest areas are the whitest (the French Quarter is 90 percent white; the Garden District, 89 percent; Audubon, 86 percent; neighboring Jefferson Parish, where people were also allowed to return, 65 percent). Some dry areas, like Algiers, did have large low-income African-American populations before the storm, but in all the billions for reconstruction, there is no budget for transportation back from the far-flung shelters where those residents ended up. So even when resettlement is permitted, many may not be able to return.

Antiwar Bus Tour Rolls Into Capital for Protests

School Expels Girl for Having Gay Parents

"Your family does not meet the policies of admission," Superintendent Leonard Stob wrote to Tina Clark, the girl's biological mother.
Stob wrote that school policy requires that at least one parent may not engage in practices "immoral or inconsistent with a positive Christian life style, such as cohabitating without marriage or in a homosexual relationship," The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday's edition.

Skype Available for Flash Drives

Do you remember the announcement we made about Skype for U3-powered smart drive? That work is now nearing completion and you can already get Skype from U3 Software Central (note that this requires U3 USB smart drive). This means that you can walk into any Internet cafe or other location with your USB smart drive, plug it in and use your Skype with your own settings, history and other data.
Here’s a related tip that you may find useful, whether you’re using your own removable media or just want to tweak your configuration. Skype for Windows 1.4 has a /datapath:”path” command line option that specifies where all the Skype data is located. So you could do something like ‘skype.exe /datapath:”c:\skypedata”’ and that is where all your user data is stored.

Rita Causes New Flooding in New Orleans

"We have three significant breaches in the levee and the water is rising rapidly," he said. "At daybreak I found substantial breaks and they've grown larger."
Dozens of blocks in the Ninth Ward were under water as a waterfall at least 30 feet wide poured over and through a dike that had been used to patch breaks in the Industrial Canal levee. On the street that runs parallel to the canal, the water ran waist-deep and was rising fast. Guidry said water was rising about three inches a minute.

SEC Questions Frist About Possible Insider Trading

A spokesman for Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had contacted Mr. Frist's office about the sale in June of his shares in HCA, the giant hospital company founded by his family.
Mr. Frist, whose brother Thomas F. Frist Jr. is chairman emeritus and the largest individual shareholder of the company, disclosed earlier this week that on June 13 he asked the managers of blind trusts controlling many of his assets to sell any of his remaining shares in HCA.
The sales occurred just as the share price reached a new peak and shortly before the company's announcement in mid-July of lower-than-expected quarterly results sent the price tumbling.
Mr. Frist, the Senate majority leader and a potential presidential candidate, initially placed more than $10 million in shares of the company in his trusts, but his spokesman said he could not determine how much remained at the time of the sale.

ACLU's Client Remains Gagged as Clock Ticks in Patriot Act Debate

Following an open hearing in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, Judges Sotomayor, Wesley and Brieant granted a stay of U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall's decision enjoining the government from enforcing an FBI imposed gag. The gag is preventing the American Civil Liberties Union's client, a member of the American Library Association, from participating in the debate about the Patriot Act.
At the same hearing, the court set an expedited schedule for the appeal, with September 27 as the date that the government's brief is due, October 4 as the date the ACLU's response brief is due and October 10 as the date the reply brief is due.

ACLU sues Homeland Security for arresting, spying on vegans who protested ham

The lawsuit stems from a Dec. 2003 incident, when vegans Caitlin Childs and Christopher Freeman were protesting on public property outside a Honey Baked Ham store in Georgia's DeKalb County.
After the protest, the duo noticed they were being watched and photographed by a man in an unmarked car. They approached the car and wrote down the make, model, color and license plate number on a piece of paper. They then noticed the unmarked car was following them.
According to the ACLU suit, the car contained both a uniformed police officer and an undercover detective, later identified as Homeland Security Detective D.A. Gorman. The two pulled in behind Childs and Freeman and ordered them to exit their car.
Gorman then demanded that she turn over the piece of paper on which she had copied his license tag number. Childs refused to hand the paper over, and was handcuffed.
She was searched a male officer, despite her request to be searched only by a female officer, the ACLU says.
Both Childs and Freeman were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Police confiscated the piece of paper and Childs' house keys. Both were released from custody, but neither the piece of paper nor the keys were returned. The county has not pursued a criminal case.
To view the surveillance photos taken by Homeland Security, go to

House OKs Faith as Head Start Hiring Issue

Churches and other religious groups are allowed to receive federal money to provide preschool to poor children. Now, the House says, they should be allowed to hire based on religion.
In a broad update of the Head Start program, the House voted Thursday to let preschool providers consider a person's faith when hiring workers — and still be eligible for federal grants. The Republican-led House said the move protects the rights of religious groups, but Democrats blasted it as discriminatory.
The debate over religion overshadowed the main parts of the bill, which had drawn bipartisan support.
Overall, the House bill would insert more competition into Head Start grants, require greater disclosure of how money is spent, and try to improve collaboration among educators in different grades.
Only 23 Democrats supported the House bill, which was approved 231-184. The vote on the amendment allowing the religion-based hiring was even tighter. It passed 220-196, with support from 10 Democrats.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

All Available NY Fire Dept Dispatch Tapes From 9/11

It took a bitterly fought lawsuit brought by the New York Times to get the Fire Department of New York to release some of its dispatch tapes from 9/11. The NYT requested the tapes in early 2002, got denied, and went to court. When the FDNY lost the fight three and a half years later, on 12 August 2005 it made available 23 CDs, almost all containing audio of radio dispatches, plus transcripts of oral histories and some other text. The NYT posted about one-quarter to one-third of the audio. The Memory Hole also received the discs due to its freedom of information request, and we're posting all of them.
Twenty-one of the CDs are audio CDs. The Memory Hole has ripped the audio into MP3 files and posted them at the Internet Archive. Each one lasts 44 to 47 minutes. The links below will open each MP3 (64 Kbps). Or you can go to the main Internet Archive page for the recordings here, where you'll find each audio file also available as a high-quality MP3 (128Kbps) and in an open-source format called Ogg Vorbis. You can also download all the files at once as a humongous zip file or listen to all the files as a continuous stream.
Disc 23 contains PDF files of 503 oral histories. The NYT has posted all of them here.

House Republican Study Committee document recommends huge cuts

An internal Republican Study Committee document which is now available online and was simultaneously leaked to RAW STORY Thursday outlines an array of huge cuts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, including the elimination of funding for Amtrak and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Carter says Gore won 2000 election

There is "no doubt in my mind that Gore won the election," the erstwhile President declared, saying the 2000 election process "failed abysmally."
He also snubbed the Supreme Court for getting involved, saying it was "highly partisan."

Reporters Without Borders: Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.
Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.
Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.
Click here to download the handbook (1,6 Mb PDF)

The Pentagon: No accurate knowledge of the cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism

"Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent," the report to Congress stated. The GAO said the problem is rooted in long-standing weaknesses in the Pentagon's outmoded financial management system, which is designed to handle small-scale contingencies.
The report said the Pentagon overstated the cost of mobilized Army reservists in fiscal 2004 by as much as $2.1 billion. Because the Army lacked a reliable process to identify the military personnel costs, it plugged in numbers to match the available budget, the report stated. "Effectively, the Army was reporting back to Congress exactly what it had appropriated," the report said.

Frist Stock Sale Raises Questions on Timing

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has maintained for years that his stock holdings in the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain posed no conflict of interest for a policymaker deeply involved in health care matters. He even received two rulings in the 1990s from the Senate ethics committee that blessed the holding of the stock in blind trusts.
So when Frist decided in June to dump all the stock, and later cited as the reason his desire to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, eyebrows went up among ethics experts and congressional watchdogs. Why did he do it at that time?
Precisely a month later, after the stock was sold, its price tumbled 9 percent when executives in the company -- HCA Inc., which was founded by Frist's father and on whose board Frist's brother serves -- disclosed that hospital admissions of insured patients were lower than expected, depressing profits in the second quarter.
The timing thus raised questions about whether Frist had somehow traded on information he obtained in advance from the company. "Frist has been in the Senate for many years now, and the conflict is not new," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "Why did he decide to sell it then? Why not years ago? What's changed? Did he know that the stock was about to take a fall?"

Gov: Guidelines for Providing Appropriate Access to Geospatial Data in Response to Security Concerns [PDF]

Many public, private, and non-profit organizations originate and publicly disseminate geospatial data. Dissemination is essential to the missions of many organizations and the majority of these data are appropriate for public release. However, a small portion of these data could pose risks to security and may therefore require safeguarding. Although there is not much publicly available geospatial information that is sensitive (Baker and others, 2004, page 123), managers of geospatial information have safeguarded information using different decision procedures and criteria.
The guidelines provide standard procedures to:
1. Identify sensitive information content of geospatial data that pose a risk to security.
2. Review decisions about sensitive information content during reassessments of safeguards on geospatial data.
Additionally, the guidelines provide a method for balancing security risks and the benefits of geospatial data dissemination. If safeguarding is justified, the guidelines help organizations select appropriate risk-based safeguards that provide access to geospatial data and still protect sensitive information content.
The guidelines do not grant any new authority and are to be carried out within existing authorities available to organizations. They apply to geospatial data irrespective of the means of data access or delivery method, or the format.

Officials: Iraq Health Sector in Crisis

Iraqis lack safe drinking water and must cope with diseases such as cholera and pollution from asphalt factories, dust storms and oil pipeline explosions.
Iraq's deputy environment minister, Muthanna al-Omar, said his ministry has little money to tackle environmental problems that have been worsened by years of neglect and U.N. during Saddam Hussein's rule.
Foreign money is starting to flow into Iraq's environmental and health sector, but officials say they need more aid and better coordination between international bodies, Iraqi authorities and leaders of Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities.
...The United Nations World Food Program says it needs $14 million to buy food for Iraq's school health program.
The world body's environmental body also wants $10 million to "clean depleted uranium" and improve water purification for hospital systems, al-Jasseer added.

Abramoff Probe May Threaten Leading Republicans as It Expands

The widening investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff is moving beyond the confines of tawdry influence-peddling to threaten leading figures in the Republican hierarchy that dominates Washington.
This week's arrest of David Safavian, the former head of procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, in connection with a land deal involving Abramoff brings the probe to the White House for the first time.
Safavian once worked with Abramoff at one lobbying firm and was a partner of Grover Norquist, a national Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, at another. Safavian traveled to Scotland in 2002 with Abramoff, Representative Robert Ney of Ohio and another top Republican organizer, Ralph Reed, southeast regional head of President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who once called Abramoff ``one of my closest and dearest friends,'' already figures prominently in the investigation of the lobbyist's links to Republicans. The probe may singe other lawmakers with ties to Abramoff, such as Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, as well as Ney.
``These people all shared transactions together,'' said former House Democratic counsel Stan Brand, now a partner in the Washington-based Brand Law Group. ``That's always something that worries defense lawyers.''

Senators Accuse Pentagon of Obstructing Inquiry on Sept. 11 Plot

Senators from both parties accused the Defense Department on Wednesday of obstructing an investigation into whether a highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger did indeed identify Mohamed Atta and other future hijackers as potential threats well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The complaints came after the Pentagon blocked several witnesses from testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a public hearing on Wednesday. The only testimony provided by the Defense Department came from a senior official who would say only that he did not know whether the claims were true.
But members of the panel, led by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said they regarded as credible assertions by current and former officers in the program. The officers have said they were prevented by the Pentagon from sharing information about Mr. Atta and others with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Haitian children sold as cheap labourers and prostitutes for little more than £50

Nobody knows quite how many Haitian children like Jesus there are in the Dominican Republic. A Unicef report in 2002 put the figure at around 2,500, although some NGOs think it might be twice that. Most boys under the age of 12 end up begging or shoe shining and giving their proceeds to gang leaders; most girls of that age are used as domestic servants. Older boys are taken to work in construction or agriculture; teenage girls often end up in prostitution.
Tensions have long existed between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola. In May, and then again last month, the Dominican Republic summarily deported thousands of Haitians, many of whom had the right to stay. A former Haitian consul to the republic, Edwin Paraison, says the situation had not been this bad since the former Dominican military leader Rafael Trujillo massacred 20,000 Haitian sugar cane workers in 1937. "This is the first time regular people are trying to run Haitians out of the country," he says. "There is an organised campaign to reject Haitian presence." [thanks, Mint]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

E. O. Wilson to speak at UM Friday, Sep 23

Edward O. Wilson to Give Keynote Address
Friday, September 23, 2005
Rackham Amphitheater
7:30 pm

Sponsored by the University of Michigan Faculty Research Club, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Global Vision, Inc.
Edward O. Wilson is considered one of the world’s greatest living scientists. Currently Pellegrino University Research Professor and Honorary curator in Entomology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, Professor Wilson is a pioneer of sociobiology and biodiversity. Author of twenty books and two-time Pulitzer Prize recipient, he has received numerous honors and awards both for his academic achievements as well as his conservation efforts. Professor Wilson will be speaking on his book, /Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge/, which argues for the fundamental unity of all knowledge and the need for proof that everything in our world is organized in terms of a small number of fundamental natural laws that comprise the principles underlying every branch of learning.
This event is free to the public with a reception to follow. [thanks, Mint]

Layoffs at Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, will cut about 160 staff positions and eliminate programs to trim $9 million, a spokesman said Friday.
The group's 2005 budget was about $143 million, and the cuts were necessary to keep the 2006 spending about the same, Paul Hetrick, vice president of communications, said in a news release.

Writers on the Storm: 'Houston Chron' Seeks Stormbloggers

The Houston Chronicle, which may be directly in the path of Hurricane Rita, sent out this request on its Web site today, which it calls an experiment in citizen journalism:
"Bloggers: Riding the storm out? Tell us what you see."
With that, the paper launched a blog called Stormwatchers. "We'd like volunteers in key parts of the area with experience blogging to tell us what they're seeing as the Hurricane Rita comes closer, makes landfall and moves on," it said. "We're particularly interested in bloggers who live in the I-45 South corridor; in the Freeport/Angleton area; and the southwest area, including Katy.

EFF Backs Google Print

Yesterday, the Authors Guild filed a class-action copyright infringement suit against Google over its Google Print library project. Working with major university libraries, Google Print aims to make thousands of books searchable via the Web, allowing people to search for key words or phrases in books. The public may browse the full text of public domain materials in the process of such a search, but only a few sentences of text around the search term in books still covered by copyright.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) applauds Google's effort to create the digital equivalent of a library card catalog, and believes the company has a strong case.
"Just as libraries don't need to pay publishers when they create a card catalog, neither should Google or other search engines be required to when they create an improved digital equivalent," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann.

UN investigating use of Shannon by CIA ‘torture plane’

The United Nations is reportedly planning to investigate the use of Shannon Airport by the US military as part of the Bush administration's "war on terrorism".
Reports this morning said the Government's decision to allow the US to use the airport would be scrutinised as part of an inquiry into the alleged torture of suspected Islamic militants.
The inquiry centres on an aircraft allegedly used by the CIA to transport detainees to countries where they can be tortured on behalf of the US without any legal ramifications.

Katrina Donations Going to TX Governor's Charity

Gov. Rick Perry, in hurricane relief tours around the state, in news releases and on his official state Web site, has urged Texans to contribute to three groups: the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the OneStar Foundation.
The last of those is a volunteer-coordinating effort founded by Mr. Perry. His prominent promotion of his own foundation has prompted some to question whether the governor is trying to benefit politically from the outpouring of sympathy and good works in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
...Mr. Perry created OneStar as a nonprofit charitable organization in January 2004 to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism. Its chief executive is Susan Weddington, who left the state Republican Party chairmanship to run the organization.

Iraq suffers severe water shortage

Known as "the land between two rivers," Iraq - and particularly Baghdad - is finding itself in the grip of a severe water shortage.
With temperatures nudging 50-degrees centigrade, some residents of the Iraqi capital have been without clean running water for weeks.
The Baghdad Municipality blames insurgent attacks and crumbling infrastructure, but those without water say the problem lies with corrupt officials.
This report was compiled by the ABC's Baghdad staff and Middle East Correspondent Mark Willacy.

FDA Appoints Veterinarian to Head Women's Health

In a curious move today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) named two acting directors to the office of women's health. This morning FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford appointed a man who has spent the majority of his career in the office of veterinary medicine to the position of acting director of the Office of Women's Health. By this afternoon, Dr. Norris Alderson had been replaced with a Ms. Teresa Toigo. Ms. Toigo will replace Dr. Susan Wood, a key women's health expert, who resigned on August 31 in protest of the FDA's handling of the application to make Plan B emergency contraception (EC) available over the counter.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America Interim President Karen Pearl issued these comments on the appointment:
"It appears something funny is going on at the FDA and Planned Parenthood is not laughing. At a time when the FDA's credibility is already in question, these unusual announcements are troubling.

Now the FDA denies the move.

Bush Rules Out Tax Hike to Fund Recovery

President Bush on Friday ruled out raising taxes to pay for Gulf Coast reconstruction, saying other government spending must be cut. "You bet it will cost money, but I'm confident we can handle it," he said.
"It's going to cost whatever it's going to cost, and we're going to be wise about the money we spend," Bush said a day after laying out an expensive plan for rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast without spelling out how he would pay for it.

More doctors turned away from helping in Katrina aftermath

I argued and pleaded with officials; I had travel arrangements made! When I was finally able to reach the Regional Director of the Red Cross in Raleigh, I was informed that Red Cross is not involved in medical care and it was suggested that she call FEMA.
I never got through to FEMA though if I tried once, I tried a hundred times through a variety of numbers. I spent 2 days on the phone.
Finally I called my Senator’s office, Senator Richard Burr, NC. I asked if his office could find out where I could be of help and how I would go about it. I was given a telephone number for an emergency response group in Washington. I never got through to them. And I never heard back from FEMA.

National Response Plan: No Need for Locals to Fill Out Paperwork

Homeland Security "should have acted faster, based on the rules and regulations that they're committed to," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
He was referring to the National Response Plan, issued by the department in January, which allows federal assistance before a disaster strikes. The plan states that a federal response "can be partially or fully implemented in the context of a threat, anticipation of a significant event, or the response to a significant event."
The plan generally requires the federal government to react to emergencies that exceed state and local capabilities.

Salon: Why FEMA failed

Ideologically opposed to a strong federal role in disaster relief and obsessed with terrorism, the Bush administration let a once-admired agency fall apart.

DEA's Role in Door-to-Door Searches in New Orleans

Some troops carried shotguns to protect against aggressive dogs. Others had M-16 rifles and 9mm handguns. All wore heavy, constricting body armor that led ultimately led to heat exhaustion and dehydration in the 90-degree heat.
Forbidden to break down doors, Guard troops banged on doors and forcefully announced themselves. The 109th later joined volunteer agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, authorized by Washington to forcibly open doors. Drug agents used a crowbar and a black battering ram – "the black key that opens all doors," as one agent noted.

Prisoners, including juveniles, drowned in flooded jails

Republicans say hurricane won't stop budget cuts

Republicans in Congress on Wednesday rejected calls by Democrats to suspend work on tax cuts, that would mainly benefit the rich, and spending reductions on social programs because of the huge costs of hurricane relief.
"Now is not the time to cut services for our most vulnerable, cut taxes for our most fortunate and add $35 billion to the deficit," the Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives said in a letter to their Republican counterparts.
Congressional committees face a September 16 deadline to come up with $35 billion in spending reductions over five years to programs including the Medicaid health-care program for the poor, student loans, food stamps and pension insurance.
The committees are also scheduled to approve $70 billion in tax cuts this month. The cuts could be extensions of reductions on capital gains and dividends, which affect mainly the incomes of the wealthy.

O'Connor May Stay on the Court

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he urged President George W. Bush today to delay nominating a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said he talked to Justice O'Connor about staying on the high court. ``She's prepared to do that'' through the court's term ending in June, Specter said. The president ``was noncommittal,'' Specter said. ``The body language was not very positive,'' Specter said.
Specter said the delay would give Congress and the rest of America more time to know John Roberts as chief justice. ``When we know a little more about Judge Roberts it's going to be easier with the next'' nomination, Specter said.


Hello, and welcome to Placeopedia, a simple site where you can connect Wikipedia articles with places, and then make use of our database either to browse, or syndicate the whole lot. We hope that lots of people will connect places they know with their corresponding Wikipedia article, and then our syndicated data can be used as a general geographic lookup table for Wikipedia.

Arrested Safavian Married to Katrina Investigation Cousel

Congressional Democrats said on Tuesday that the arrest of a former senior White House budget official involved in organizing the federal response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the need for an independent investigation of the government's reaction to the disaster, especially since the official is married to a leading Republican Congressional aide.
The official, David H. Safavian, 38, a lawyer who was chief of procurement policy in the Office of Management and Budget until he resigned on Friday, was arrested Monday on charges of lying to federal investigators about his relationship with Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist at the center of a corruption investigation at the Justice Department.
Mr. Safavian, who is free without bail, was also accused of lying about a 2002 golfing trip he took with Mr. Abramoff, a former lobbying partner, when Mr. Safavian worked at the General Services Administration.
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said the arrest of Mr. Safavian undermined the credibility of a House Republican plan to investigate the troubled hurricane-relief effort through a committee to be led by Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia. Mr. Safavian's wife, Jennifer, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee, which Mr. Davis leads.
"Spouses are not responsible for their counterpart's activities," Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference. "But I do say when there is a direct link to the White House and procurement and the investigation that this committee is supposed to conduct, then I think that really shatters all sense of confidence."

Frist sold stock just before a decline

Frist held an undisclosed amount of stock in Hospital Corporation of America, in Nashville, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain. On June 13, he instructed the trustee managing the assets to sell his shares and those of his wife and children, said Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Frist.
Frist's shares were sold by July 1, and those of his wife and children were sold by July 8, Call said. The trustee decided when to sell the shares, and Frist had no control over the exact time they were sold, she said.
Hospital Corporation of America shares peaked at midyear, at $58.22 a share on June 22. The price fell to $49.90 on July 13, after the company announced that its quarterly earnings would not meet analysts' expectations. Yesterday, the shares closed at $48.76.
The value of Frist's stock at the time of the sale was not given. This year, he reported holding blind trusts of $7 million to $35 million.

Robert Reich: Bush Administration Paradox Explained

With politics, the Bush administration has shown remarkable discipline -- squelching leaks and keeping Cabinet members on message, reaching down into the bureaucracy to bend analyses in directions that supports what it wants to do, imposing its will on congressional leaders and even making a political imprint on state legislatures. No recent president has got re-elected with controlling majorities in both houses of Congress, or been as successful in repositioning the national debate around his ideological view of the world.
With governing, it's been almost criminally incompetent -- failing to act on clear predictions of a terrorist attack like 9/11 or a natural disaster like Katrina, botching intelligence over Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, failing to secure order after invading Iraq, allowing prisoners of war to be tortured, losing complete control over the federal budget, creating a bizarre Medicare drug benefit from which the elderly are now fleeing, barely responding to the wave of corporate lootings and running the Federal Emergency Management Agency into the ground. Not since the hapless administration of Warren G. Harding has there been one as stunningly inept as this one.
The easy answer to the paradox is that Bush cares about winning elections and putting his ideological stamp on the nation, but doesn't give a hoot about governing the place. But that's no explanation because the two are so obviously connected. An administration can't impose a lasting stamp without being managed well, and a president's party can't keep winning elections if the public thinks it's composed of bumbling idiots.
The real answer is that the same discipline and organization that's made the White House into a hugely effective political machine has hobbled its capacity to govern. Blocking data from lower-level political appointees and civil servants that's inconsistent with what it wants to do or sheds doubt on its wisdom, for example, may be effective politics, in the short term. It keeps the media and the opposition party at bay.

Authors Guild sues Google over print program

Here's the complaint (PDF Link), and here's a snip from a story by Elinor Mills at CNET:
The Authors Guild on Tuesday filed a class action lawsuit against search engine Google, alleging that its scanning and digitizing of library books constitutes a "massive" copyright infringement.

As part of its Google Print Library Project, the company is working to scan all or parts of the book collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, the New York Public Library and Oxford University and make those texts searchable on Google.

"This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law," Nick Taylor, president of the New York-based Authors Guild, said in a statement. "It's not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied."

Link to story, and here is the Authors Guild's statement: Link (Thanks, Jason Schultz!)

UPDATE: 850PM PT, Google's response:

The Google Print program respects copyright. We regret that this group has chosen litigation to try to stop a program that will make books and the information within them more discoverable to the world. Google Print directly benefits authors and publishers by increasing awareness of and sales of the books in the program. And, if they choose, authors and publishers can exclude books from the program if they don't want their material included. Copyrighted books are indexed to create an electronic card catalog and only small portions of the books are shown unless the content owner gives permission to show more. [more]

Experts Say Faulty Levees Caused Much of Flooding

Louisiana's top hurricane experts have rejected the official explanations for the floodwall collapses that inundated much of New Orleans, concluding that Hurricane Katrina's storm surges were much smaller than authorities have suggested and that the city's flood- protection system should have kept most of the city dry.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said that Katrina was just too massive for a system that was not intended to protect the city from a storm greater than a Category 3 hurricane, and that the floodwall failures near Lake Pontchartrain were caused by extraordinary surges that overtopped the walls.
But with the help of complex computer models and stark visual evidence, scientists and engineers at Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center have concluded that Katrina's surges did not come close to overtopping those barriers. That would make faulty design, inadequate construction or some combination of the two the likely cause of the breaching of the floodwalls along the 17th Street and London Avenue canals -- and the flooding of most of New Orleans.

Report: Hurricane tax aid does more for wealthier survivors

The Congressional Research Service, an office that provides nonpartisan legislative analysis to lawmakers, pointed to several items in virtually identical bills that passed in the House and Senate last week.
One helps hurricane victims get access to their savings by waiving penalties imposed on taxpayers who tap into their retirement savings accounts before retirement. Others let taxpayers write off more of their destroyed property, and erase taxes regularly imposed when a debt, like a mortgage, is forgiven.
The report says lower income survivors are less likely to have retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs to tap into for recovery. Because many lower income individuals and families pay little tax, assistance efforts that lower their taxes may do little good, the report said.
However, the same tax bills also include tax assistance specifically for lower income families that help the working poor hang onto their income tax credits, which can be disrupted by unemployment or family separation.

Pentagon Blocks Testimony at Senate Hearing on Terrorist

The Pentagon said today that it had blocked a group of military officers and intelligence analysts from testifying at an open Congressional hearing about a highly classified military intelligence program that, the officers have said, identified a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a potential terrorist more than a year before the attacks.
The announcement came a day before the officers and intelligence analysts had been scheduled to testify about the program, known as Able Danger, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that open testimony about the program "would not be appropriate - we have expressed our security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum." He offered no other detail on the Pentagon's reasoning in blocking the testimony.
Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the committee, said he was surprised by the Pentagon's decision because "so much of this has already been in the public domain, and I think that the American people need to know what happened here."
Mr. Specter said in a telephone interview that he intended to go ahead with the hearing on Wednesday and hoped that it "may produce a change of heart by the Department of Defense in answering some very basic questions."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Neocons Using Katrina to Railroad Policies

The similarities between Iraq and New Orleans are becoming too obvious.
Naomi Klein described is as "disaster capitalism" On Iraq reconstruction, Klein wrote:
Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate--that was colonialism's seductive promise: "discovering" wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. ...And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of "the terrible barrenness," as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.
Compare that to the bizarre line from Bush's speech: "Along this coast, for mile after mile, the wind and water swept the land clean." Clean? Rotting bodies, feces, petrochemicals, house cleaners and urine in standing water do not make for "clean." (Maybe he just meant that the poor people went away.)
When it was announced that Karl Rove would head the Ketrina reconstruction (or rather, when Rove assigned the job to himself), the message was clear. Rove has zero experience with urban renewal and even less experience with humanitarian work. His talent is in exploiting divisions among people, turning those divisions to the GOP's advantage and smearing opponents.
The new role for Rove gives him the added advantage of a backdoor if he is indeed indicted in the next several weeks. If he is brought up on fraud, conspiracy, espionage and perjury charges in the Plame affair, Bush could pardon Rove under the ridiculous pretext that Rove is vital for the future of New Orleans.
As it stands, there are numerous neocon pet projects that have NOT passed, even in today's GOP congress. But now, thanks to Katrina, policies such as, school vouchers, eliminating affirmative action, environmental deregulation, and repeal of the estate tax may be forced on the Gulf coast and possibly leveraged against the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, the administration seems to be covering up the toxicity of New Orleans, and the same handful of well-connected contractors are receiving no-bid contracts for the reconstruction. From the Huffington Post:
Indeed, responding to the devastation caused by Katrina, Treasury Secretary John Snow claimed: "Making the [Bush] tax cuts permanent would be a real plus in a situation like this." Sure, why ask for some sacrifice from the richest Americans when we have scout troops doing their part?
The feeling that the Katrina relief effort is going to be Iraq all over again is unavoidable when you look at the list of the companies already being awarded clean up and reconstruction contracts. It's that old gang from Baghdad: Halliburton, Bechtel, Fluor, and the Shaw Group (which has a tasteful notice on its website saying
"Hurricane Recovery Projects -- Apply Here!"). Together again. A veritable moveable feast of crony capitalism.
Even the Wall Street Journal is getting an uneasy sense of déjà vu, pointing out that "Hurricane Recovery Projects -- Apply Here!"). Together again. A veritable moveable feast of crony capitalism. "the Bush administration is importing many of the contract practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq," including contracts awarded without competitive bidding, and cost-plus provisions "that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend." So what's the thinking on this one, Mr. President -- 'If at first you don't succeed...'?
We've seen too many cities devasted in the past four years. We need to end this disaster capitalism before it becomes a business model.

House Bill Would Limit U.S. Power to Protect Species

The chairman of the House committee overseeing natural resources introduced a bill Monday that would make it more difficult for the federal government to set aside land it deems crucial to the health of endangered species.
The proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act also increase the obligation of government agencies to tell landowners quickly if the law limits their development options, and to compensate them.
The measure, which drew quick denunciations from groups like Environmental Defense, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, was proposed by the House Resources Committee chairman, Representative Richard W. Pombo, Republican of California. It was immediately put on a fast track, which is expected to bring it before the full House early next week.

FEC Files Suit Against GOP Soft Money Group

Federal election regulators have taken a political group to court in what could serve as a test case for how the government will address complaints over millions of dollars in big contributions poured into last year's presidential race.
The Federal Election Commission filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington against the Club for Growth, the first case of its kind to arise from high-dollar fundraising during the 2004 elections. The pro-Republican group spent at least $21 million in the 2003-2004 election cycle.
The FEC contends the club spent enough in federal races to require it to file with the commission as a political committee and to follow contribution and spending limits. It wants the court to fine the group and order it to comply with campaign finance rules.

Thousands to Protest War in Iraq This Weekend

Operation Ceasefire ( ), an eleven-hour free concert and rally to bring the troops home from Iraq at the Washington Monument on Sept. 24, is pleased to announce new additions to the line-up of performers. Legendary folk singer Joan Baez and the rock band Living Things are now confirmed to perform. The additions compliment artists from several different genres, including: International recording stars Thievery Corporation, punk-rock bands LeTigre and Bouncing Souls, country music recording artist Steve Earle, independent artists Ted Leo + The Pharmacists and Wayne Kramer of the MC5 with the Bellrays, socially conscious hip-hop groups The Coup and Head-Roc, the duo The Evens (Ian Mackaye and Amy Farina), Grammy Award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, Latin punk rock group Machtres, and host Jello Biafra.

Hunger Strike Spreads at Guantanamo Camp

A hunger strike started in June by terror suspects imprisoned by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo) -- and reportedly settled -- has been restarted and is growing, with 15 detainees hospitalised and 13 being fed through tubes.
The number of hunger strikers varies. The military has said at various times the number is 89 and 76. But a lawyer for a group of detainees says the number is now 200 and growing.
"As far as their reasons for hunger striking, it seems to be a myriad of different reasons that they all have, the largest one seems to be like they want to protest their continued (detention)," said British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who represents 40 detainees, including one of the hunger strikers, British citizen Omar Deghayes.
...The hunger strike is the second since late June. The first ended after the authorities made a number of promises, including better access to books, and bottled drinking water.
...But the prisoners claim that they were tricked into resuming eating. One said in a statement given to Stafford-Smith that, "The administration promised that if we gave them 10 days, they would bring the prison into compliance with the Geneva conventions. They said this had been approved by (Defence Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld."
"As a result of these promises, we agreed to end the strike on Jul. 28. It is now Aug. 11. They have betrayed our trust (again)."

Outpouring of Relief Cash Raises Fear of Corruption and Cronyism

The outpouring of billions of dollars in federal relief money to victims of Hurricane Katrina is raising concerns about the risks of corruption and cronyism, with Bush administration critics expressing the fear that the Gulf coast, like Iraq, could become another grand experiment in neoconservative ideology.
Already, no-bid contracts have been awarded to major Republican contributors including Kellogg, Brown & Root, the subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton. President Bush has unilaterally lifted a protection law that makes it possible for contractors to pay sub-minimum wage rates to reconstruction workers.
Among provisions releasing more than $60bn to the disaster area meanwhile, is a rise in the limit on government-issued credits cards from $25,000 to $250,000. One Republican Senator, and the Democrats, have denounced this provision as outrageous and open to abuse.
Critics have been particularly disturbed by reports that Karl Rove, President Bush's political brain who has no experience in disaster relief or urban planning, may be put in charge of the reconstruction effort. Since his speciality is fighting and winning elections, the concern is that he will want to redraw the electoral map of southern Louisiana and Mississippi before providing new homes or electricity and water.

Hundreds of Truckloads of Ice Diverted from Gulf Coast to Maine

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has more ice than it can use in the hurricane zone and wants to keep it in storage for use in a future emergency.
But critics, including some truck drivers who have been paid $800 a day while hauling the same loads for a week or more, say the process seems like a waste of taxpayers' money.
"The $9,000 they're paying me to move this load should have gone to some family down there," said Loren Reeves, who hauled his load of ice from New York state to Alabama before being sent to Maine. "There is definitely millions being wasted that could go to people who need it."

An Antiwar Speech in Union Square Is Stopped by Police Citing Paperwork Rules

An antiwar speech by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iaq, was cut short yesterday after the organizer of the event was arrested and police officers confiscated his audio equipment.
The claps and cheers that had greeted Ms. Sheehan's arrival at the rally in Union Square quickly turned to furious chants of "Let her speak!" as officers ushered away the organizer, Paul Zulkowitz, who the police said lacked audio permits for the event.

25 MacArthur Fellows Announced by the MacArthur Foundation Today

Recipients this year include:
  • a molecular biologist reconstructing the emergence of multicellular organisms from unicellular life (Nicole King)
  • a sculptor integrating architecture and the optical effects of color and light into exquisitely constructed, contemplative spaces (Teresita Fernández)
  • a pharmacist reducing preventable drug and drug delivery errors in the healthcare industry (Michael Cohen)
  • a laser physicist engineering state-of-the-art lasers for novel and important applications in such fields as environmental monitoring, medicine, industry, and communications (Claire Gmachl)
  • a conservation biologist protecting endangered, diverse and previously unknown plants and animals of Madagascar (Steven Goodman)
  • a violinmaker producing new and world-class instruments for the twenty-first century (Joseph Curtin)
  • a clinician/researcher translating findings on the molecular genetics of breast cancer in African and African-American women into innovative clinical practices in the United States and abroad (Olufunmilayo Olopade)
  • a rare book preservationist raising the profile of the book as one of humankind’s greatest inventions (Terry Belanger)
  • a photographer using the personalizing power of portraiture to bring the faces of the world’s displaced into focus (Fazel Sheikh)
  • a fisherman fusing the roles of applied scientist and lobsterman to respond to increasing threats to the fishery ecosystem (Ted Ames)
An overview of the 2005 Winners is here.

NY Times Cutting 500 Jobs, 4 Percent Of Work Force

The Times said it expected 250 jobs at its main newspaper group to be affected, which includes the Times, the International Herald Tribune and the online operation of the Times. Of those job cuts, about 45 will come from the Times' newsroom, the company said in a statement.
Another 160 jobs will be cut from the Times' New England operation, which includes The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and The company did not provide a breakdown of those job cuts other than to say that 35 newsroom jobs would be cut at The Boston Globe.
The announcement came on the same day that The Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister newspaper said they would eliminate a combined 100 newsroom jobs because of lower circulation and revenue. The Inquirer plans to cut its editorial staff by 15 percent from 500 to 425, while the Philadelphia Daily News will cut its editorial staff 19 percent, from 130 to 105.

FBI Seeking Agents for War on Porn

The FBI is joining the Bush administration's War on Porn. And it's looking for a few good agents.
Early last month, the bureau's Washington Field Office began recruiting for a new anti-obscenity squad. Attached to the job posting was a July 29 Electronic Communication from FBI headquarters to all 56 field offices, describing the initiative as "one of the top priorities" of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and, by extension, of "the Director." That would be FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
Mischievous commentary began propagating around the water coolers at 601 Fourth St. NW and its satellites, where the FBI's second-largest field office concentrates on national security, high-technology crimes and public corruption.
The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults.
"I guess this means we've won the war on terror," said one exasperated FBI agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because poking fun at headquarters is not regarded as career-enhancing. "We must not need any more resources for espionage."
Among friends and trusted colleagues, an experienced national security analyst said, "it's a running joke for us."
A few of the printable samples:
"Things I Don't Want On My Resume, Volume Four."
"I already gave at home."
"Honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves."

Films From the National Reconnaissance Office

We've received and digitized three short films in which the nation's spy-satellite agency talks about itself, with sometimes unintentionally hilarious consequences...
The films... were created by the US National Reconnaissance Office, the nation's spy-satellite agency. They were recently released because of Freedom of Information Act requests to the NRO made by DC-area researcher Michael Ravnitzky. The NRO sent them on VHS videotapes, which have been digitized by tech guru Brett Milner. We've posted them at the Internet Archive, so all links will take you there.

National Archives Offers Assistance to Gulf States

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein announced today several initiatives to aid in the recovery of original records in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana that have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.
In making this announcement, the Archivist said: "The potential loss of information that directly affects the lives of people in these states is staggering. The loss of our collective memory of this region, 'identity loss' in other words, is at stake. Property deeds; birth certificates; personal papers; information documenting the rights and entitlements of citizens, such as social security and veterans benefits, are all at risk. Records found in Federal, state, local and cultural sites must be rescued.

Early Warning: Wash. Post's National Security Blog

The president's December 17, 2003, National Preparedness directive (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8) refers to "threatened or actual domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies" (in that order) and defines "all-hazards preparedness" as "preparedness for domestic terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies."
Not exactly an afterthought, those major disasters, but from the presidential directive, government experts prepared a set of "For Official Use Only" National Planning Scenarios -- making its public debut here for the first time -- "describing plausible terrorist attacks and natural disasters that would stretch the Nation's prevention and response capabilities." The fifteen scenarios are "meant to be representative of a broad range of potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters ... to help direct comprehensive preparedness planning efforts," according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are:
1. Nuclear Detonation: 10-Kiloton Improvised Nuclear Device
2. Biological Attack: Aerosol Anthrax
3. Biological Disease Outbreak: Pandemic Influenza
4. Biological Attack: Plague
5. Chemical Attack: Blister Agent
6. Chemical Attack: Toxic Industrial Chemical
7. Chemical Attack: Nerve Agent
8. Chemical Attack: Chlorine Tank Explosion
9. Natural Disaster: Major Earthquake
10. Natural Disaster: Major Hurricane
11. Radiological Attack: Radiological Dispersal Device
12. Explosives Attack: Bombing Using Improvised Explosive Devices
13. Biological Attack: Food Contamination
14. Biological Attack: Foreign Animal Disease (Foot and Mouth Disease)
15. Cyber Attack

The score:
Hurricanes and Natural Disasters: 2
Terrorism and WMD: 12

The president's national preparedness directive also required the federal agencies and departments to develop "readiness priorities, targets, and metrics." Utilizing the National Planning Scenarios to identify "the critical tasks that would need to be performed across the fifteen scenarios," DHS thus prepared a Target Capabilities List, "a set of thirty-six essential capabilities that should be developed and maintained, in whole or in part, by various levels of government to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks and major disasters." Version 1.0 of the Target Capabilities List was published January 31, 2005. In the list, various disasters are mentioned this many times:
Hurricanes: 1
Natural disasters: 5
Terrorism: 121
WMD: 77

Cumulative score:
Hurricanes and Natural Disasters: 8
Terrorism and WMD: 210

A Cultural Geography of the United States and Canada

Alive in Truth - New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project

Alive in Truth is an all-volunteer, grassroots effort to record oral and written history about the lives of displaced New Orleanians, in their own words.
First and foremost, we are grateful to the people who share their stories here, and whose enormous strength of character is evident.

Brian Huck on the German Elections

Old college bud Brian Huck now lives in Germany where he is active in the Green party.
I asked him recently about his take on the German elections. Neither of the major parties received a majority in the recent elections. To achieve a majority means brokering a coalition either between the two major parties or with some of the smaller parties -- the Greens for example.
Here is what Brian had to say:

I am assuming the result of the elections will be a Grand Coalition of Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party. I think the mentality of both mainstream parties is most similar to each other, if they can get past the personal ego trips of their leaders and decide who should be chancellor.
The laissez-faire liberal Free Democratic Party with their turbo-capitalist platform has said that they refuse to join a red-green government with us and with the SPD, and the idea of the Greens supporting a government dominated by the Union and FDP is a bit far-fetched. This would depend on what the agenda of such a government was -- one or the other side would have to do something very different from what they promised in their electoral campaign.
If they were to offer to not raise the sales tax and end the military draft (something the FDP would approve of, as would the Greens, but not the CDU) and if they were to pledge to continue to end nuclear power and open marriage (or at least give tax breaks) for gay and lesbian couples, we might be able to find some common ground. But I don't think they are really that desperate, and they will more quickly find common ground with the SPD (which supports the military draft and has some fairly conservative elements in it, much like the Democratic party in the US that also spans a broad spectrum).
While there is a leftist majority of SPD, Greens, and the former Communist left, this is also not a likely option for forming a government, since Schröder had wanted to pursue more market-oriented "reforms" (or cutbacks) than parts of his (and parts of our) party were willing to support, and the threat of some SPD parliamentary members to jump ship and join the Leftist party (which has now been carried out) was the reason he called new elections in the first place. If that's where Schröder wants to go, he will find the most support for that within the Union parties. Then the FDP will criticize that the Grand Coalition is not going far enough and not fast enough, while the Left and the Greens will oppose the changes more wholeheartedly (with the Left more focused on economic and welfare issues, while we focus more on issues like the environment and civil rights).
I think the election result is ok -- it fairly accurately reflects public opinion, showing that the conservatives don't have a majority, while the current government doesn't have a majority, either. It is the third-best election result for the Green party ever (the second-best was in 1987, before the East was allowed to vote, and we don't do very well in the East), so most Greens were celebrating Sunday night, despite the slight drop in support of half a percentage point, and our worst fears (a return to government by the Union and FDP) were not realized.
Under a Grand Coalition, we will certainly increase our support, since many people who voted SPD this time will be very disappointed by what the SPD does when in league with CDU and CSU.

Red Cross disappointed many during hurricane crisis

In New Orleans and the coastal flood plains of Mississippi, many people are complaining that the American Red Cross was missing in their worst hours of need and are worried that its billowing relief fund may bypass them entirely.
The organization did not open shelters in flood-prone areas and was therefore unable to provide food and other necessities to people closest to the coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
"The Red Cross has been my biggest disappointment," said Tim Kellar, the administrator of Hancock County, Mississippi. "I held it in such high esteem until we were in the time of need. It was nonexistent."
Even some volunteers are disgusted. "I will never, ever wear the Red Cross vest again," said Betty Brunner, who started volunteering in 1969 when Hurricane Camille destroyed her house but quit last week over the organization's response in Hancock County.

Karzai Wants End to U.S.-Led Operations

Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in Afghanistan, saying air strikes are no longer effective and that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.
Karzai also demanded an immediate end to foreign troops searching people's homes without his government's authorization.
"I don't think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," he told reporters in Kabul. "The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now.
"No coalition forces should go to Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. ... The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now."

Rather blasts 'new journalism order'

Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years, politicians "of every persuasion" had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a "new journalism order."
He said this pressure -- along with the "dumbed-down, tarted-up" coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics -- has taken its toll on the news business. "All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms," Rather said.
..."If you made a movie about (evolutionary biologist Charles) Darwin now, it would be revolutionary," Nevins said. "If we did a documentary on Darwin, I'd get a thousand hate e-mails."

The 'dummy run' of the London bombers

Three of the four London suicide bombers staged a dry run of their devastating attacks less than two weeks before July 7, police have revealed.
Detectives released new CCTV images of the bombers at Luton station and then at King's Cross station in London on the morning of June 28.

Tons of British aid donated to help Hurricane Katrina victims to be Burned by Americans

Hundreds of tons of British food aid shipped to America for starving Hurricane Katrina survivors is to be burned.
US red tape is stopping it from reaching hungry evacuees.
Instead tons of the badly needed Nato ration packs, the same as those eaten by British troops in Iraq, has been condemned as unfit for human consumption.
And unless the bureaucratic mess is cleared up soon it could be sent for incineration.
One British aid worker last night called the move "sickening senselessness" and said furious colleagues were "spitting blood".
The food, which cost British taxpayers millions, is sitting idle in a huge warehouse after the Food and Drug Agency recalled it when it had already left to be distributed.

Google offers clues to its own Wi-Fi service

Googlenet. What if Google wanted to give Wi-Fi access to everyone in America? And what if it had technology capable of targeting advertising to a user’s precise location? The gatekeeper of the world’s information could become one of the globe’s biggest Internet providers and one of its most powerful ad sellers, basically supplanting telecoms in one fell swoop. What was speculation this last month, now seems to be getting closer. However, it looks like it's raising hackles, similar to the ugly memories of google web accelerator beta which was cancelled just a few days after release. [from]

Kerry, Edwards Criticize Bush Over Response to Hurricane

According to a text of Kerry's speech made available in Washington, he said Katrina had provided an "accountability moment" for the administration.
"This is about the broader pattern of incompetence and negligence that Katrina exposed and beyond that a truly systemic effort to distort and disable the people's government and devote it to the interests of the privileged and the powerful," he said.
Kerry also charged that the administration is pursuing politics as usual in its prescription for rebuilding. "The plan they're designing for the Gulf Coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for right-wing ideological experiments," he said, citing private-school vouchers, subsidies to business and other proposals.

Monday, September 19, 2005

OPTRUTH: The New American Militarism

I recently finished reading The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, by Dr. Andrew Bacevich of Boston University. It's truly a staggering work that will provoke your reaction, regardless of your political persuasion. Bacevich's thesis is quite simple: "Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force...Americans have come to define the nation's strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of military ideals."
Now before I launch into the content of the book, let me address the inevitable cries of "liberal bleeding heart academia" currently coming form the right side of the room. You see, Dr. Bacevich's credentials to write this book, in addition to his doctorate in International Relations from Princeton, include service as an armored cavalry platoon leader in Vietnam and command of the entire 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment , at the time one of the most powerful combined arms formations in the Army. This is not your typical dry, analytical tome. This is a work of passion by someone who has spent a lifetime in service to the nation.
It's also worth noting that this is not your typical, ranting,Bush-is-the-devil screed that typifies much of the current literature in this field. Bacevich notes that there is in fact plenty of blame to go around, from defense intellectuals eager to justify an ever-expanding bureaucracy, to neo-conservative ideologues who see military power as a tool for social change, to the military officer corps attempting to split the difference between politics and war fighting, while accomplishing neither. This is also very much a work of history: Bacevich traces the roots of this militarism back to Woodrow Wilson, and the very first American attempt to reshape the power dynamic of an entire continent through war.

F.D.A. Had Report of Short Circuit in Heart Devices

Months before the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety alert in June about problems with Guidant Corporation heart devices, the agency received a report from the company showing that some of those units were short-circuiting, agency records obtained by The New York Times show.
But the agency did not make that data public at the time because it treats the information it receives in such reports as confidential. While the agency has a policy of reviewing the reports within 90 days, it is unclear when regulators did so within that time frame or how they first interpreted the information.

FBI Research Reports on the Ku Klux Klan

Two previously unseen monographs covering the Klan's history from 1865 to 1958. Based on often obscure public-source documents, internal Klan literature, and confidential material, such as informants and FBI investigative files.

Toxic Gumbo

In the aftermath of Katrina, the contaminated floodwaters of New Orleans are a grim reminder that toxic chemicals are still ubiquitous in our allegedly “post-industrial” economy. In fact, the catastrophic and widespread release of hazardous substances—from oil refineries, chemical plants, pesticides and even household cleaning products—have turned much of the Gulf Coast into a toxic wasteland. And as our nation tallies up the health, economic and ecological costs of this tragedy, we are faced with two questions: Who will pay for the cleanup, and how can such disasters be prevented in the future?
...Sound public policy dictates that industries should be liable for the toxic contamination they create in the pursuit of profit. And it is hard to believe that the multibillion-dollar oil and chemical companies residing in Cancer Alley, along with their insurers, did not contemplate the risks their facilities and products would pose in a severe hurricane.
However, it is unlikely that American taxpayers will receive one dime of reimbursement from these powerful polluters. When Superfund became law in 1986, the oil and chemical industries persuaded Congress to include two liability loopholes. First, petroleum is exempted from the definition of hazardous waste. Second, “acts of God” constitute an affirmative defense for toxic spills. In exchange, the industry agreed to the imposition of “polluter pays” fees to provide a steady and reliable source of money to pay for toxic cleanups—especially in cases where liability could not be imposed.
Up front, this Faustian bargain with the likes of DuPont and Shell might appear as a reasonable and pragmatic calculation. In hindsight, the public was shortchanged by legislative sleight of hand: While the loopholes were drafted as permanent, the polluter pays provision required reauthorization by Congress.
And that’s where the chemical companies went to work—launching a multi-year PR campaign to smear Superfund and undercut support for polluter pays. In 1995, their efforts paid off; Congress failed to reauthorize the fees. As a result, the Superfund is now officially bankrupt. The Oil Spill Liability fund is expected to be bankrupt by 2009, although costs to clean Katrina oil spills may advance this date. And in case you hadn’t heard, Exxon/Mobil just reported record-breaking profits on the order of $8 billion earnings last quarter.

Fun with Propaganda

The Worth1000 website recently sponsored a "fun with propaganda" contest, inviting people to contribute their own Photoshop-remixed versions of propaganda posters from various countries and wars. Submissions include Joseph Stalin as a pitchman for FedEx, as... a Chinese communist poster [that] was turned into a call to "gouge imperialist gas guzzlers."

Photos of Troop Coffins Released to Journalism Prof via FOIA

On Aug. 4, the Pentagon agreed to henceforth respond, as expeditiously as possible, to all future Freedom of Information requests for photos of the returning coffins of service members killed in Iraq. In press accounts, credit for this change of course -- the result of a legal settlement -- was often given to a surprising source: a j-school professor in Delaware.
Ralph Begleiter, a professor of communication and distinguished journalist in residence at the University of Delaware, filed a FOIA lawsuit in the fall of 2004, accusing the Pentagon of using delaying tactics in response to his repeated requests for the images. "I'm not one who thinks we should sue for the sake of suing, but we accomplished a goal," he says. "My feeling is that these photos are being created for documenting the progress of the war, and that documentation of war ought to be part of the public record."
Begleiter worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN from 1981 to 1999 before turning to teaching. "I've been a little surprised that journalist hopefuls seem a little reluctant about the concept of challenging authority," he says. "So I talk about the Freedom of Information Act as one way citizens can challenge their government, not only legally but with good purpose. That's the whole watchdog function of the news media."

Iraqi Journalist Working with New York Times Killed

An Iraqi journalist working for The New York Times was killed after men claiming to be police officers abducted him from his home in the southern city of Basra, the newspaper announced Monday.
Fakher Haider, a 38-year-old reporter covering Basra, was found dead in a deserted area on the city's outskirts Monday morning after his abduction late Sunday night.
...Haider, who had worked for the Times since the spring of 2003, also reported for other news organizations including Merbad TV, a local Basra station, as well as National Geographic and The Guardian, a London-based newspaper.
But his identification card listed him as a Times employee.

Harper's: American Education - Still Separate, Still Unequal

Many Americans who live far from our major cities and who have no firsthand knowledge of the realities to be found in urban public schools seem to have the rather vague and general impression that the great extremes of racial isolation that were matters of grave national significance some thirty-five or forty years ago have gradually but steadily diminished in more recent years. The truth, unhappily, is that the trend, for well over a decade now, has been precisely the reverse. Schools that were already deeply segregated twenty-five or thirty years ago are no less segregated now, while thousands of other schools around the country that had been integrated either voluntarily or by the force of law have since been rapidly resegregating.
In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white. In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent; in Los Angeles, 84 percent, in Detroit, 96 percent; in Baltimore, 89 percent. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

American Spectator: Bush's Dead Agenda

Publicly, the White House will tell you that it intends to push ahead with two of its big legislative issues throughout the fall: making permanent the first term tax cuts and Social Security reform.
Even privately, with the political and policy debacle that the White House created with its Clintonian response to Hurricane Katrina, policy and political types at 1600 Pennsylvania insist what's left of an agenda is still viable.
But at this stage of the game, barring some imaginative political moves that bear some resemblance to the Bush Administration circa 2002, Republicans on Capitol Hill and even some longtime Bush team members in various Cabinet level departments say this Administration is done for.
"You run down the list of things we thought we could accomplish and you have to wonder what we thought we were thinking," says a Bush Administration member who joined on in 2001. "You get the impression that we're more than listless. We're sunk."
Too pessimistic? Maybe not. Rumors are flying through various departments of longtime senior Bush loyalists looking to jump, but with few opportunities in the private sector to make the jump look like anything more than desperation. Almost daily, complaints from Cabinet level Departments come in to the White House about lack of communication coordination on even basic policy matters.

Ex-Tyco Execs Get Up to 25 Years in Prison

L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco International Ltd., and former Tyco finance chief Mark Swartz were sentenced Monday to up to 25 years in prison for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the company in a case that outraged the public with its tales of executive greed and excess.
The men, who were immediately ordered into custody,(AP) — will be eligible for parole after serving eight years and four months.

Bush Management and Budget Procurement chief arrested after quitting

David Safavian, who oversees $300 billion of annual federal purchasing as director of the Office of Procurement Policy, has been arrested for three criminal charges relating to obstruction of a federal investigation. He resigned quietly last Friday.
Raw Story previously reported that ex-gambling lobbyist Safavian had, "quietly advanced the interests of former clients under the cloak of a vocally anti-gambling Utah congressman" Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT). Safavian was Cannon's chief of staff.
The indictment refers to a 2002 trip arranged by Jack Abramoff, a Washington power lobbyist who arranged a trip to Scotland that took powerful House Rep. Bob Ney golfing. Abramoff was joined on the trip by former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and David Safavian. According to the charges, Safavian "allegedly aided a Washington, D.C., lobbyist in the lobbyist's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around Washington, D.C."

Moonwalking Bird

This is an awesome video of a Manakin bird doing the Michael Jackson thing. [from]

The beauty products from the skin of executed Chinese prisoners

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered.
Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot. The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about". [thanks, Mint]

Sun-Sentinel Series: FEMA - A Legacy of Waste

'There's got to be some serious fraud'
The summer of 2003 should have been a boom time for appliance repairs and sales. After all, residents of Cuyahoga County told the federal government that 28,112 washers and dryers were damaged in a July thunderstorm.

`Free money' went to thousands after wildfires
LOS ANGELES -- Word of "free money" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency spread through neighborhoods here like the wildfires burning in the hills miles away in the fall of 2003.

After tornado, a rush to claim cash
A tornado destroyed two dozen homes in the Liberty City area of Miami-Dade County in March 2003 but barely caused enough damage to qualify for federal aid, emergency management records show.

Agency poured funds into Detroit after storms
Detroit -- A band of thunderstorms in 2000 flooded thousands of homes in the suburbs but caused no reported problems in the Motor City.

Disasters examined
The Sun-Sentinel analyzed 20 of the 313 disasters declared by FEMA from 1999 through 2004.

N. Korea Waives Nuclear Programs

North Korea pledged today to end its nuclear weapons program and rejoin global treaties aimed at stemming the spread of atomic arms in return for energy aid and diplomatic recognition.
According to a joint statement by the six nations involved in negotiations for more than two years, Pyongyang "committed to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and to return at an early date to the nonproliferation treaty of nuclear weapons." It also said North Korea would accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

Intelligence Officers: US Misjudged Iraq

More than a dozen current and former intelligence officers knowledgeable about Iraq spoke with TIME in recent weeks to share details about the conflict, and they voiced their growing frustration with a war that they feel was not properly anticipated by the Bush Administration, TIME's Joe Klein reports in this week's cover story (on newsstands Monday, Sept 19). The officers believe its a war fought with insufficient resources and a war that almost all of them now believe is not winnable militarily.

154 Patients Died, Many in Intense Heat, as Rescues Lagged

If some of those who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been described as stubborn holdouts who ignored an order to evacuate, then these citizens of New Orleans defy that portrait: The 16 whose bodies were wrapped in white sheets in the chapel of Memorial Medical Center. The 34 whose corpses were abandoned and floating in St. Rita's Nursing Home. The 15 whose bodies were stored in an operating room turned makeshift morgue at Methodist Hospital.
The count does not stop there. Of the dead collected so far in the New Orleans area, more than a quarter of them, or at least 154, were patients, mostly elderly, who died in hospitals or nursing homes, according to interviews with officials from 8 area hospitals and 26 nursing homes. By the scores, people without choice of whether to leave or stay perished in New Orleans, trapped in health care facilities and in many cases abandoned by their would-be government rescuers.
Heroic efforts by doctors and nurses across the city prevented the toll from being vastly higher. Yet the breadth of the collapse of one of society's most basic covenants - to care for the helpless - suggests that the elderly and critically ill plummeted to the bottom of priority lists as calamity engulfed New Orleans.
At least 91 patients died in hospitals and 63 in nursing homes not fully evacuated until five days after the storm, according to the interviews, although those numbers are believed to be incomplete. In the end, withering heat, not floodwaters, proved the deadliest killer, with temperatures soaring to 110 degrees in stifling buildings without enough generator power for air-conditioning.

Baker-Carter commission recommends national voter ID card

A voting reform commission which has already taken heat for playing host to sham voting rights groups run by members of the Bush-Cheney campaign has now recommended the institution of a national voter ID card.
The full recommendations of the commission, led by erstwhile Secretary of State James Baker III and former President Jimmy Carter, can be found here.
Among other major recommendations, the commission calls for voter verifiable paper trails for electronic voting machines, and elections run by nonpartisan officials rather than party-affiliated secretaries of state.

Today is "Talk Like a Pirate" Day

Yarr! Do yer part, landlubbers, by translating yer favorite webpage into pirate-speak. Yarr!

New Orleans Jazz Concet Brings More Criticism

"When the hurricane struck, it did not turn the region into a Third World country ... it revealed one," actor and activist Danny Glover said in a speech with Harry Belafonte in which both criticized the government, not only for the response to the hurricane but for the conditions prior to it.
"Katrina was not unforeseeable," Belafonte said. "It was the result of a political structure that subcontracts its responsibility to private contractors and abdicates its responsibility altogether."