Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 7th, 2010

Update on Molly, McGee, and the kids

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They’re doing fine (you may have to wait out a short commercial first)—and the oldest owlet (Max) is ENORMOUS.

And, man!, do they go through the rodents, up to and including rabbits.

So I wondered: Does Australia have any large owls? If not, should they be introduced?

UPDATE: Australia does indeed have owls, including barn owls (Molly and McGee are barn owls; so are their babies). But apparently not enough owls to keep up with the rabbit population.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Daily life, Environment

The Child Nutrition Act

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Marion Nestle comments at some length, including a couple of book recommendations on the school lunch program.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:52 pm

Our universe at home within a larger universe?

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Interesting:

Could our universe be located within the interior of a wormhole which itself is part of a black hole that lies within a much larger universe? Such a scenario in which the universe is born from inside a wormhole (also called an Einstein-Rosen Bridge) is suggested in a paper from Indiana University theoretical physicist Nikodem Poplawski in Physics Letters B. The final version of the paper was available online March 29 and will be published in the print edition April 12.

Poplawski takes advantage of the Euclidean-based coordinate system called isotropic coordinates to describe the gravitational field of a black hole and to model the radial geodesic motion of a massive particle into a black hole.

In studying the radial motion through the event horizon (a black hole’s boundary) of two different types of black holes — Schwarzschild and Einstein-Rosen, both of which are mathematically legitimate solutions of general relativity — Poplawski admits that only experiment or observation can reveal the motion of a particle falling into an actual black hole. But he also notes that since observers can only see the outside of the black hole, the interior cannot be observed unless an observer enters or resides within.

"This condition would be satisfied if our universe were the interior of a black hole existing in a bigger universe," he said. "Because Einstein’s general theory of relativity does not choose a time orientation, if a black hole can form from the gravitational collapse of matter through an event horizon in the future then the reverse process is also possible. Such a process would describe an exploding white hole: matter emerging from an event horizon in the past, like the expanding universe."

A white hole is connected to a black hole by an Einstein-Rosen bridge (wormhole) and is hypothetically the time reversal of a black hole. Poplawski’s paper suggests that all astrophysical black holes, not just Schwarzschild and Einstein-Rosen black holes, may have Einstein-Rosen bridges, each with a new universe inside that formed simultaneously with the black hole.

"From that it follows that our universe could have itself formed from inside a black hole existing inside another universe," he said.

By continuing to study the gravitational collapse of a sphere of dust in isotropic coordinates, and by applying the current research to other types of black holes, views where the universe is born from the interior of an Einstein-Rosen black hole could avoid problems seen by scientists with the Big Bang theory and the black hole information loss problem which claims all information about matter is lost as it goes over the event horizon (in turn defying the laws of quantum physics).

This model in isotropic coordinates of the universe as a black hole could explain the origin of cosmic inflation, Poplawski theorizes.

Poplawski is a research associate in the IU Department of Physics. He holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. in physics from Indiana University and a M.S. in astronomy from the University of Warsaw, Poland.

Source: Indiana University

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Science

The US needs more unions

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The government cannot carefully watch every company for illegal actions—that’s another reason unions are valuable. Watch this:

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

James Fallows on the Wikileaks video

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James Fallows has three good posts:

Further on the Wikileaks Iraq Footage

Two Reader Responses on the Wikileaks Footage

More on WikiLeaks and the Baghdad Footage

I highly recommend that you read ‘em all.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:29 pm

More on the assassination of American citizens on the President’s say-so

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First, Spencer Ackerman discusses the national-security case against assassinating Anwar al-Awlaki:

For a moment, leave aside the legal questions about the Obama administration’s apparent decision that it possesses the legal authority to order the extra-judicial killing of American citizen and possible al-Qaeda affiliate Anwar al-Awlaki. Karen Greenberg, director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security and the person who convinced me the government can’t just revoke al-Awlaki’s citizenship, views a potential assassination of the Yemen-based cleric as a looming national security blunder.

“Why kill someone who’s crucially important to linking that world and our world?” Greenberg said. “From the point of view of national security, having him in custody is far more important than killing him. He is an enemy that knows an incredible amount. Wouldn’t you like to know who in the U.S. has been in conversation with him?”

There’s an additional irony, as Marcy Wheeler pointed out this morning. (Full disclosure: Marcy and I are both part of the Firedoglake blog-mafia.) Chances are whatever determination that al-Awlaki has crossed the line from inciting terrorist plots to participating in them — as an anonymous administration official cited to Greg Miller – came from the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Which occurred with the full protections of Miranda rights under the U.S. criminal justice system. Abdulmutallab, of course, isn’t a citizen and al-Awlaki is.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t even credit the recent determination that al-Awlaki has “recently become an operational figure for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” as the official told Miller. After all, the U.S. tried to kill him with a drone-launched missile strike in December.

For Greenberg, even before the legal and constitutional questions about the permissibility of killing al-Awlaki arise, the strategic wisdom of it escapes her. “This is not a human rights issue, primarily, for me,” she said. “What do we get out of killing him?”

To be on the safe side, this morning, The Washington Independent filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Justice Department and the CIA for any documentation determining the legal basis for an extra-judicial killing of any American citizen on counterterrorism grounds. This is after repeated messages left with DOJ, White House and CIA spokespeople to uncover that assertion. All I got was a quote from CIA spokesman George Little that “this agency conducts its counterterrorism operations in strict accord with the law.” I was unable to persuade George to elaborate on the basis for his confidence that, in this case, it’s doing that.

 

Also worth reading is this Spencer Ackerman story, which begins:

In an interview with Adam Serwer of The American Prospect, Ken Gude of the Center for American Progress says that the September 14, 2001 congressional Authorization to Use Military Force in response to 9/11 provides the Obama administration with the legal authority to launch the extra-judicial killing of an American citizen:

“There is much debate about how broadly both the Bush and Obama administrations have interpreted [the Authorization to Use Military Force], a concern that I share, but this instance is not one of those cases,” Gude says. “It cannot plausibly be argued that Awlaki, who is mentioned repeatedly in the 9/11 Commission report as having assisted the 9/11 hijackers, is not a person who aided the 9/11 attacks.”

But the evidence the 9/11 Commission report presents about Awlaki is far more fragmentary than Gude suggests. Awlaki’s possible role in the attacks is discussed in chapter 7 of the report, “The Attack Looms.” Basically, when hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar arrived in San Diego in mid-2000, they attended a mosque the American citizen Awlaki ministered at. This is what the commission says on page 221 of the first-edition text: …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:26 pm

More on the Wikileaks video from ProPublica

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Marian Wang, at ProPublica:

On Monday, WikiLeaks made a big splash when it released a still-classified military video from 2007 that shows a U.S. helicopter gunship shooting down a group of men in a suburb of Baghdad.

Reactions to the video range widely: Some believe it betrays a possible war crime; others find it completely justifiable. Interestingly enough, many commentators fail to mention that, in recent weeks, the military itself has made some serious admissions about shooting civilians.

During a videoconference to answer soldiers’ questions in March, military officials said that U.S and allied forces had killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others during shooting incidents at Afghan checkpoints and during convoy runs, the New York Times reported in a little noticed story. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said that military inquiries into the incidents revealed that none of civilians had turned out to be threats.

“We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” McChrystal said during the videoconference, the Times reported.

Earlier this week the U.S. military did an about-face and admitted that American forces killed three Afghan women during a nighttime raid in February. The military had previously denied involvement in their deaths.

Same Video, Different Interpretations

The aerial footage of the attack begins with several men walking down a street in Baghdad. The audio of transmissions between the helicopter pilots and gunners indicate that they believe some of the men in the group are armed, but it’s unclear from the video whether they are. The military personnel request permission to engage, and it is granted. They fire on the men, most of whom are struck down immediately.

One in the group is wounded and proceeds to slowly crawl away. An unmarked rescue van pulls up, and two men get out of the vehicle to help the wounded man and transport him elsewhere, but the personnel in the helicopter request permission to shoot the van, and when it is granted, they fire on it. Later, ground reconnaissance reveals that two Iraqi children are in the van and are wounded. Both the man who had been crawling and another man who was killed in the first round of fire were later identified as journalists working for Reuters.

In black-and-white and shot from a helicopter, the 17-minute, edited and subtitled WikiLeaks video leaves a great deal open to interpretation. On Tuesday WikiLeaks posted the original video on its Collateral Murder Web site—38 minutes of unedited footage from the helicopter gun-camera. While the unedited version may allay criticisms of selective editing, what it doesn’t provide is context on the larger climate of Baghdad that day.

David Finkel, a Washington Post staff writer, was with the same battalion of soldiers in Iraq that day in July 2007, doing reporting for his book, “The Good Soldiers.” In a discussion earlier this afternoon, he said that the attack occurred “in the midst of a large operation to clear an area where U.S. soldiers had been getting shot at, injured and killed with increasing frequency. What the Reuters guys walked into was the very worst part, where the morning had been a series of RPG attacks and running gun battles.”

At the time, the military issued this press release, announcing a “firefight” in New Baghdad, in which nine insurgents were killed, one was wounded, and two civilians—the journalists—were killed. Both the video and reporting by Reuters shows that no fighting was occurring on the street the men were walking on, though “there had been reports of clashes between U.S. forces and gunmen.”

Eugene Fidell, a professor of military law at Yale Law School, told me he was “disturbed” by the video when he saw it. “They didn’t have much to go on,” he said. “Who would they not have fired at? It looks like it was declared a free fire zone.” …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:15 pm

Honoring the Confederacy

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Perhaps the Governor of Virginia can read aloud to the people of Virginia the constitution of the Confederate States of America. I’m sure they would find it illuminating. Jack Balkin gets us started:

Continuing our commemoration of Confederate History Month, here are some selections from that great charter of human liberty, the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. The Constitution of the Confederacy lists the great freedoms for which our Confederate Forefathers fought.

Article I, section 9, clauses 1 and 2

The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.

[These clauses, in conjunction with Article IV, section 2, clause 1, preserve the status quo before the Civil War regarding the international and interstate slave trade. The status quo consisted of (1) the 1808 ban on importing slaves into the United States (which might lower their market value); and (2) protection of the interstate slave trade (guaranteed by the Confederate Constitution's Article IV, section 2, clause 1). Article I section 9 clause 2 also gives the Confederate Congress the power to ban importation of slaves from border states still in the Union if Congress so chooses.]

Article I, section 9, clause 4

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

[This specifically guarantees the right to hold negro slaves, but not slaves of any other race. The slavery protected by the Confederate Constitution depends on the race of the slave. Thus, although white slavery might be banned, negro slavery must be preserved. This is consistent with Vice-President Alexander Stephens' famous Cornerstone Speech, which argued that although enslavement of whites was contrary to natural law, the enslavement of blacks was consistent with their inferior nature.]

Article IV, section 2, clause 1

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

[This rewrites the Comity Clause of the U.S. Constitution's Article IV, relied on by abolitionists before the Civil War, and turns it into a specific protection of slavery; it also preserves the interstate slave trade. Finally, the Confederate Constitution's version of Article IV prohibits any state from attempting to prevent slaveholders from entering with their slaves. In this way it goes even further than the Dred Scott decision, which only protected the rights of slaveholders in federal territories]

Article IV, section 3, clause 3

Continue reading.

Yeah, the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Right.

UPDATE: Also read this Jack Balkin post, which begins:

I think Governor McDonnell of Virginia is correct that we need to remember the Confederacy and the causes that led Americans to forsake their country and commit treason. Americans need to know their history, and how the world we live in came to be. Herewith my own commemoration of Confederate History Month:

From Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’ famous cornerstone speech, delivered March 21, 1861, explaining the purposes of the confederacy, and the assumptions on which it was founded:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

Love this line

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From the beginning of Adam Sorenson’s Swampland post, the line that’s in boldface:

Having grown up in the Commonwealth, I’m no stranger to the tensions that inevitably lie at the intersection of Southern history and Southern politics. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Virginia had a very awkward thing called Lee-Jackson-King Day. Believe it or not, the government decided it would be a good idea to combine the long-standing local holiday celebrating Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, with the new federal holiday honoring Civil Rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (If you’ve never seen a man dressed in full Confederate army uniform belting out "We Shall Overcome," I can tell you it’s quite the spectacle.)

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Daily life

What’s a Domain Name Worth?

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I don’t know that leisureguy.wordpress.com is worth all that much, but sex.com?

Anita Ramasastry, the D. Wayne and Anne Gittinger Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle and a Director of the Shidler Center for Law, Commerce, & Technology, writes in FindLaw:

Just last month, one of the world’s most infamous domain names, sex.com, was up for auction, with bidders required to bring a $1 million certified check just to place a bid. Even so, the auctioneer claimed that there was considerable interest.

One interesting alternative suggestion came from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which proposed that the domain name, rather than being auctioned, be donated to PETA. PETA claimed that males who consume meat, eggs and dairy products may suffer from sexual side effects, which the organization could highlight via a web presence. But its suggestion did not prevail.

Ultimately, the auction – scheduled for March 18 – was postponed after the domain name’s owner, Escom, was forced into bankruptcy proceedings by its creditors, who initiated an involuntary bankruptcy filing in California.

There may still be a sale of the sex.com domain name, but now, creditors will have time to ensure that any sale is fair, and to maximize the value of the asset.

In this column, I will discuss the procedures by which creditors were able to force Escom into bankruptcy, and explain why I believe this decision was in the best interest of all of Escom’s creditors.

The Battle Over One of the World’s Most Famous – and Expensive – Domain Names

Sex.com, a so-called "top-level domain name," is probably one of the most valuable domain names in the world. It has the potential to be used by companies to market a range of lucrative products and services, including Internet and other pornography. Indeed, the current site appears to link to a variety of adult-related or sexual sites and/or offer content related to similar themes. Moreover, the domain name is very easy to remember, and many Web surfers may type it into their browsers out of sheer curiosity, just to see what will appear – further increasing its potential value, as the site may not need as much advertising as others might in order to succeed.

Gary Kremen, founder of Match.com, first registered sex.com in 1994. He then spent several years embroiled in legal battles with adult entertainment mogul Stephen Cohen over the site’s ownership. Escom subsequently acquired the domain name from Kremen – reportedly paying somewhere between $12 million and $14 million…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 12:50 pm

How other churches respond to sexual abuse

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Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

The Roman Church is very quick to protest that clergy sex abuse is not limited to their domain, and this is true, but when one compares the way that it has handled the issue to the way it is handled by other denominations, their protestations ring mighty hollow.

A singular case in point happened a number of years ago in a small town in Massachusetts. The rector of the Episcopal Church was accused of having had a sexual relationship with a 14 year old boy more than thirty years prior when the priest was serving at another parish in another state. The relationship appears to have been at least quasi-consensual (although one could argue, convincingly in my view, that a fully consensual relationship between a grown man, particularly one as influential as a priest, and an adolescent is not possible).

The priest, when confronted with the accusation, admitted that the relationship had taken place, and the Diocese of Massachusetts removed him, not only from his position as parish rector, but also from the Episcopal priesthood, THAT VERY DAY.

Even though the relationship had taken place a long time before, and even though the priest was almost universally beloved in his community and very effective at his calling, the church, understanding that in cases like these the issue is not sex but abuse of power, determined quite rightly that there should be no statute of limitations and that zero tolerance must be demonstrated.

I always think of this when I read about clergy sex abuse cases going on for five, ten, a dozen years. With regard to the people who exist within its hierarchy, the Roman church’s power is absolute. It could remove these men with the same dispatch that the Episcopal church showed if it wanted to. It doesn’t want to.

I am very interested to see any response from the Catholic church or its defenders that specifically addresses the problem and the steps being taken to prevent recurrence and at least some effort toward greater transparency and concern for the children of the parish.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 12:33 pm

Libel reform in the UK

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At long last the UK may take a look at their unjust and unfair libel laws. Open Culture publishes an interview of Simon Singh by Mike Springer:

Simon Singh is a man who refuses to be silenced.  In 2008, the British science writer published an article in The Guardian calling attention to some of the wilder claims of the chiropractic industry.  A short time later he found himself sifting through 35 pages of legal documents from a libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association.  The lawsuit specifically named Singh, and not the newspaper.  As he told The Times of London recently, the experience was “scary.”

Singh decided to fight back. Two years later, the British Chiropractic Association has received a great deal more public scrutiny than it bargained for, while Singh and his predicament have become the cause célèbre of a rapidly growing movement to reform England’s notorious libel law. London’s status as “Libel Capital of the World “ has begun to teeter.

The chain of events began April 19, 2008, on the “Comment and Debate” page of The Guardian: “This is Chiropractic Awareness Week,” wrote Singh. “So let’s be aware.  How about some awareness that may prevent harm and help you make truly informed choices?”  From there Singh went on to report that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, had claimed that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae.” Even now, Singh wrote, modern chiropractors still hold some “quite wacky ideas.”  The lawsuit revolves around a particular passage, quoted last week in a court document:

“The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence.  This organization is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

When the BCA objected, The Guardian offered to make space available for a rebuttal — if there was “a jot of evidence,” the BCA could present it.  Instead, the organization declined the offer and sued the writer.

At the time, Singh was promoting his new book, Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, which he co-wrote with Edzard Ernst.  Several of his earlier books were international bestsellers, including Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, and Fermat’s Last Theorem, which was published in America as Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.  The commercial success of Singh’s books enabled him to absorb the enormous expense of fighting a case in the British libel courts.

Singh was dealt a serious setback in a preliminary hearing last May, when a judge ruled that the writer’s phrase “happily promotes bogus treatments” amounted to a factual claim that the BCA was intentionally dishonest – an interpretation of meaning which Singh flatly denied.  Singh appealed the decision, and last Thursday, in a ruling that may prove to be a watershed, not only in Singh’s case but in the larger struggle for libel reform, the England and Wales Court of Appeal reversed the lower court judge’s decision and cleared the way for Singh to use a “fair comment” clause in his defense.

In the written decision, Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge commented on the societal impact of the BCA’s action.  “It is now nearly two years since the publication of the offending article,” Lord Judge wrote. “It seems unlikely that anyone would dare repeat the opinions expressed by Dr. Singh for fear of a writ.  Accordingly this litigation has almost certainly had a chilling effect on public debate which might otherwise have assisted potential patients to make informed choices about the possible use of chiropractic.”

In the days following last week’s landmark decision, we talked with Singh by email.

OPEN CULTURE: Congratulations on your victory in the Court of Appeal.  How do you feel?

SIMON SINGH: I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has backed my interpretation of my own article, namely that the British Chiropractic Association is reckless, but not dishonest.  I will still have to defend my article at trial, but I will be defending something I meant to write, as opposed to an extreme accusation that never existed in the first place.  Although this is a big step forward for me, there is still a long way to go on libel reform in the UK.  English libel laws are the worst in the free world, and they need radical reform so that other scientists and journalists do not find themselves in my position next year.

OPEN CULTURE: What happens next?

SIMON SINGH: I think the British Chiropractic Association is in a difficult position, but it has three choices…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 12:04 pm

More bad priests

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This report, via Andrew Sullivan, is interesting because it’s an example of transferring a pedophile to new opportunities:

A reader writes:

I am a (currently non-practicing) Catholic mother of two adult sons, both of whom were altar servers at our beloved church in Florida. The span of time during which they served was 1979 through 1997. During those years, we became close friends with several priests. My protestant husband even converted to Catholicism during those years. Even though my husband and I were very involved in volunteer positions in our parish and were considered quite devout, we were constantly on the alert for any hints of unusual priestly interest in our boys.

One of our close Franciscan priest friends brought one of his Franciscan colleagues (I refuse to call him a priest) to our home for dinner and swimming one Sunday. The Franciscan colleague was not serving at our parish, and we had never met him prior to this Sunday visit. He played piano as did our younger son, who was about 9 years old.

That man insinuated himself onto the piano bench and could not get close enough to our son while they played duets. And, that Sunday afternoon, after having just met us, he invited our two boys to Disney World for a long weekend, suggesting that it would be nice for my husband and me to have a weekend break from parenting.

Needless to say, we never again invited that person to our home, nor did we take him up on his offer! (This event would have occurred in 1988.) My husband and I still shudder to think what might have happened if we had been naïve and trusting. After reporting this incident to a different priest friend, we learned that the Franciscan had been transferred to our diocese because of some “troubles” in his Pennsylvania diocese, and he was not supposed to have contact with children.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 11:36 am

Trusting business: Massey Energy edition

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I often think fondly of the reader who commented that, really, we can trust businesses to do the right thing. My view is that businesses will never do the right thing unless they are forced by law and watched carefully by unsympathetic regulators. Take a look at the Massey mess, reported here by Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress:

After the worst coal mining disaster in at least 25 years, Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is facing long-overdue scrutiny for his record of putting coal profits over fundamental safety and health concerns. Blankenship, aright-wing activist millionaire who sits on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association, used his company’s ties to the industry-dominated Bush administration to paper over Massey’s egregious environmental and health violations. Massey rewarded Republicans with massive donations after the company avoided paying billions in fines for a 2000 coal slurry disaster in Martin County, three times bigger than the Exxon Valdez. After both mine inspectors and Massey employees got the same message that it was more important to “run coal” than to follow safety rules, a deadly fire broke out in the Aracoma Alma mine in 2006, burning two men alive.

Blankenship was abetted by former employees placed at the highest levels of the federal mine safety system. Massey COO Stanley Suboleski was named a commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2003 and was nominated in December 2007 to run the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy. Suboleski is now back on the Massey board. After being rejected twice by the Senate, one-time Massey executive Dick Stickler was put in charge of the MSHA in a recess appointment in October 2006. In the 1990s, Stickler oversaw Massey subsidiary Performance Coal, the operator of the deadly Upper Big Branch Mine, after managing Beth Energy mines, which “incurred injury rates double the national average.” Bush named Stickler acting secretary when the recess appointment expired in January 2008.

Below are further details of these two past incidents that foretold Blankenship’s latest disaster:

THE FATAL ARACOMA MINE FIRE

Blankenship Branded Deadly Fire At Dangerous Aracoma Mine ‘Statistically Insignificant’. In the most egregious case of preventable death before the Upper Big Branch explosion, Massey’s Aracoma Coal Co. agreed to “plead guilty to 10 criminal charges, including one felony, and pay $2.5 million in criminal fines” after two workers died in a fire at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine in Melville, West Virginia. Massey also paid $1.7 million in civil fines. The mine “had 25 violations of mandatory health and safety laws” before the fire on January 19, 2006, but Massey CEO Don Blankenship passed the deaths off as “statistically insignificant.” [Logan Banner, 9/1/06; Charleston Gazette, 12/24/08]

Federal Mine Inspector Who Wanted To Shut Down Mine Told To ‘Back Off’. Days before fire broke out in the Aracoma mine, a federal mine inspector tried to close down that section of the mine, but “was told by his superior to back off and let them run coal, that there was too much demand for coal.” Massey failed to notify authorities of the fire until two hours after the disaster. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/23/06]

Blankenship Memo: “Coal Pays the Bills.” Three months before the Aracoma mine fire, Massey CEO Don Blankenship sent managers a memo saying, “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal . . . you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills.” [Logan Banner, 9/1/06]

THE MARTIN COUNTY COAL-SLURRY DISASTER

Three Times the Volume of the Exxon Valdez Spill. Massey Energy is the parent of Martin County Coal, responsible for the “nation’s largest man-made environmental disaster east of the Mississippi” until the 2008 Tennessee coal-ash spill In October 2000, a coal slurry impoundment broke through an underground mine shaft and spilled over 300 million gallons of black, toxic sludge into the headwaters of Coldwater Creek and Wolf Creek,” in Martin County, KY. [Lost Mountain, p. 128]

Site Denied Superfund Status. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency “determined that the slurry spill was not a release of a hazardous substance” and thus ineligible for Superfund status. [KY EQC]

Sen. McConnell and Wife Stopped MSHA Investigation. U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), oversaw the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Chao “put on the brakes” on the MSHA investigation into the spill by placing a McConnell staffer in charge. In 2002 a $5,600 fine was levied. That September Massey gave $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, chaired by McConnell. [Lexington Herald-Leader,10/2/06, OpenSecrets]

$2.4 Billion Becomes $20 Million. In May 2007 the EPA filed suit for $2.4 billion against Massey for violating “Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times from the beginning of 2000 to the end of 2006″ in West Virginia and Kentucky, including the Martin County spill. In January 2008 Massey agreed to pay $20 million to settle the case. [Lexington Herald-Leader, 1/18/08]

Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports that the families of coal miners have been registering their displeasure with Blankenship:

Some of these tensions boiled over around 2 a.m. Tuesday when Mr. Blankenship arrived at the mine to announce the death toll to families who were gathered at the site. Escorted by at least a dozen state and other police officers, according to several witnesses, Mr. Blankenship prepared to address the crowd, but people yelled at him for caring more about profits than miners’ lives.

UPDATE: Steve Benen has an excellent post on Massey.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 11:33 am

McDonnell Says Slavery Wasn’t a “Significant” Part of Confederate Virginia; Virginia Secessionists Disagree

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Matt Yglesias:

Bob McDonnell explains why his proclamation about the glories of a short-lived herrenvolk republic founded on the principle of chattel slavery didn’t mention the word “slavery.”

McDonnell said Tuesday that the move was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.” [...]

The seven-paragraph declaration calls for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”

Two points on this. One is that in 1860 about 60 percent of the human beings in Virginia were slaves and thus neither leaders nor soldiers nor citizens of the Confederacy. Why should Virginians neglect to think of them? Surely slavery was a significant part of the conflict for the 30 percent of Virginians who were slaves and did, in fact, welcome the advancing Union soldiers as liberators. Allow me to quote from Jay Winik’s April 1865:

As white Richmond retreated behind shutters and blinds, black Richmond spontaneously took to the streets. From the moment Union troops entered the city – ‘Richmond at last!’ Black Union cavalrymen shouted – crowds, the skilled and the unskilled, household servants and household cooks, rented maids and hired millworkers, jammed the sidewalks to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. No longer enslaved, they thrust out their hands to be shaken or presented the soldiers with offerings: gifts of fruit, flowers, even jugs of whiskey. Federal officers riding alongside promptly reached for the liquor bottles and smashed them with their swords. But the crowd was undaunted. Just a day earlier, they had been prohibited from smoking, publicly swearing, carrying canes, purchasing weapons, or procuring ‘ardent spirits.’ Yet now, to the sounds of ‘John Brown’s Body,’ they jubilantly waved makeshift rag banners; to the tune of the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic,’ they enthusiastically hugged and kissed the bluecoats.

Slavery obviously seemed significant to the slaves. And, of course, it was significant to the architects of rebellion as well. Here’s the first paragraph of Virginia’s ordinance of secession:

The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression,and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:

And there you go. Of course a long and bloody war has a number of aspects, but this was primarily a conflict around the issue of slavery.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 11:11 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

The Bias of Veteran Journalists

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Lane Wallace at the Atlantic:

Many times, at parties and in other conversations over the years, I have vociferously defended fellow journalists against charges of bias in their work. Particularly journalists working in the lowly field of print journalism, as opposed to TV. 

Not that everyone in the field is perfect, unbiased, or even a good reporter. And not that I haven’t ever encountered an editor who really, really wanted a story to say "X" as opposed to "Y." I remember one editor who complained that a story I’d done about NASA test pilots didn’t make them sound like the wild cowboys he imagined they were. (Unfortunately–or fortunately–the truth about test pilots is, they’re not cowboys. They’re precision engineers and very calculated risk-mitigators, hitting test cards with calm, methodical accuracy. The risk isn’t in their attitude. It’s in the inherent hazards of testing new technology under real conditions for the first time.) 

But within those caveats, I’ve always maintained that the majority of professional print journalists, anyway, try very, very hard to get the story right. But recently, I had an experience that gave me a new perspective on the issue.

A few weeks ago, I attended the public launch of a company’s product that had, until that point, been kept tightly under wraps. The product involved a breakthrough approach and new technology that had the potential of having a revolutionary impact on its industry, as well on consumers around the world. Unlike most of the journalists covering the event, I was not an expert on that particular industry. It wasn’t my normal "beat." The reason I was there was because I’d been interviewing the company’s CEO over the previous several months for a book project. But that also meant that while I wasn’t an expert about the industry in general, I was in the odd position of knowing more about the company’s "secret" product than any other journalist in the room.

It was an eye-opening experience…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 11:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Follow-up points on the WikiLeaks video

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Glenn Greenwald raises some additional points. Well worth reading. It begins:

(1) The more I think about it, the more astounding I find it that there could even be a debate over the fact that incidents like the one depicted on this video are exceedingly common, and not at all rare (let alone thatvile “He-Hates-The-Troops!” smears would be directed at those who point out this basic truth).  Aside from the mountains of evidence making it undeniably clear how common such events are — (a) the enormous number of dead civilians in Iraq; (b) the countless incidents where the U.S. military killed large numbers of civilianslied about it, and then was forced by investigations to admit the truth; (c) the definitive statements from war correspondents and even our own soldiers about how common such incidents are — just consider what Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the war in Afghanistan, said not more than a month ago:

In a stark assessment of shootings of locals by US troops at checkpoints in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in little-noticed comments last month that during his time as commander there, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force . . . . [T]o my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and,in many cases, had families in it.”

What rational person can maintain that incidents like the one in the Iraq video are extraordinary and rare when the top General in Afghanistan is stating publicly that — even in Afghanistan, where avoidance of civilian casualties is a claimed top priority — we’re shooting an “amazing number” of completely innocent people, including “families”?  Do you think if we had videos of those checkpoint shootings (or the countless air attacks on civilians) that they would be any less appalling than what we see in the one WikiLeaks released?  McChrystal’s comments were reported in The New York Times and yet barely caused a ripple.  Why?  Because this is what war is; it’s what we do when we invade and occupy other countries.  It’s hard to express the blinding jingoistic delusion necessary to insist — in the face of this mountain of evidence and dead civilians left in the wake of our wars — that the Apache attack is some sort of rare or exceptional event.   That’s why the military concluded that what happened in this Apache attack (including the shooting of unarmed rescuers) is consistent with U.S. military policy:  because it is.

Chris Floyd has a concise and appropriately scathing commentary over this mentality that I recommend highly.  And former Marine Mike Starkcomments on the controversy produced by these observations.

(2) The blogger Jotman has been relentlessly chronicling CNN’s truly awful and propagnadistic “reporting” on the WikiLeaks tape — see hereand here.  Aside from CNN’s constant attempts to justify and obscure what was done, they simply refuse to show the most graphic and harrowing (i.e., the most revealing) parts of the video.  Wolf Blitzer actually justified this self-censorship with the smug claim that it was “out of respect for the family members” of the victims — as though they would want the evidence of what was done to their loved ones to be suppressed — and other CNN programs are sticking a huge black box over the video during the most important parts so as to prevent their viewers from seeing what actually happened: &

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 10:52 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

More on assassinating American citizens by the American government

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Glenn Greenwald has a column strongly condemning the new assassination program for American citizens—no surprise there. And we didn’t vote for it. As Glenn writes in one update to that column:

When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe‘s Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

[Obama]:  No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges.  Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges.  Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face?  As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.

Also from that column:

All of this underscores the principal point made in this excellent new article by Eli Lake, who compellingly and comprehensively documents what readers here well know:  that while Obama’s "speeches and some of his administration’s policy rollouts have emphasized a break from the Bush era," the reality is that the administration has retained and, in some cases, built upon the core Bush/Cheney approach to civil liberties and Terrorism.  As Al Gore asked in his superb 2006 speech protesting Bush’s "War on the Constitution":

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution?

If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?

If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?

Notice the power that was missing from Gore’s indictment of Bush radicalism:  the power to kill American citizens.  Add that to the litany — as Obama has now done — and consider how much more compelling Gore’s accusatory questions become.

Read the whole thing. Obama is taking the government in a very bad direction. I wonder what future presidents will do with this.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 10:50 am

Vile ending to lesbian prom story

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Ed Brayton:

I’ve written before about the Constance McMillen story, the young lesbian student in Fulton, Mississippi, who was told she couldn’t bring her girlfriend to the prom. The school ended up canceling the prom in order to avoid having her show up. Then a group of parents decided to have their own prom — and deliberately told this girl and several other students to show up at the wrong place.

To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.

McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn’t much to keep an eye on.

"They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them," McMillen says. "The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to."

Last week McMillen asked one of the students organizing the prom for details about the event, and was directed to the country club. "It hurts my feelings," McMillen says.

Wait. It gets worse.

Two students with learning difficulties were among the seven people at the country club event, McMillen recalls. "They had the time of their lives," McMillen says. "That’s the one good thing that come out of this, [these kids] didn’t have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."

Congratulations, you bigoted assholes. You succeeded in making sure that no one any different from you was at the prom. You’ve turned yourself into a cartoonish bunch of John Hughes movie bad guys, for crying out loud. Not one person in the entire town saw fit to tell this girl that she was being punked and sent to a fake prom – not one.

And by the way, the same thing happened 45 years ago to a young black student in Alabama. But nah, there’s no connection here at all.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 10:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Our rhetoric v. Their reality

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John Cole at Balloon Juice:

A couple of weeks ago, General McChrystal spoke some plain truth, and for some reason, the 101st Chairborne did not freak out and call him a traitor, a troop hater, or a commie Frenchmen:

“That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

That is worth keeping in mind while we keep offering up sanitized rhetoric like the following:

A senior American military official said that officials at Central Command saw the video for the first time on Monday, the day it was made public by WikiLeaks in a 38-minute version and a 17-minute edited version.

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about the matter, said that the 38-minute version “makes clear that the forces involved clearly believed they were engaging armed insurgents, and were not aware that there were unarmed civilians, let alone journalists, in that group of people.”

Oops! We fucked up! We were acting with good intent! That may console those who pulled the trigger, and that may appease the command structure, and it may make sure no one is ever charged with a crime or prosecuted, but it doesn’t matter a hill of beans to the people who actually, you know, live over there:

But among many Iraqis, many of whom consider Americans to be occupiers who have often used excessive force, any explanation paled against deep anger.

“At last the truth has been revealed, and I’m satisfied God revealed the truth,” Noor Eldeen, the photographer’s father, said in Mosul. “If such an incident took place in America, even if an animal were killed like this, what would they do?”

Both families said they watched the video on Monday evening on Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language news network.

“My question is, those highly skilled American pilots with all their high-tech information, could not distinguish between a camera and a missile?” said Nabel Noor-Eldeen, the photographer’s brother who is an archaeology professor at Mosul University.

Excuses don’t matter to people when they see their neighbor and his daughters ripped apart by a chain gun for the crime of trying to help a person bleeding in the street. Excuses don’t console people when they see their son and their father pulverized for the crime of standing next to people who might be considered a threat. Excuses fall on deaf ears for people who watch their kid get shredded by attack helicopters for the crime of milling in the street near people carrying a gun… in a war zone. If the Rules of Engagement state that anyone simply NEAR someone carrying an AK-47 is a legitimate target, then we might as well just start carpet-bombing the entire country until no one is left alive. Especially when you keep this in mind:

Nearly 200,000 U.S.-supplied rifles and pistols meant for Iraqi security forces are unaccounted for in Iraq, according to a report to Congress.

Loose record-keeping caused the Pentagon and the U.S. command in Iraq to lose track of about 110,000 AK-47 rifles and 80,000 pistols provided to the new Iraqi national police and army, the Government Accountability Office told Congress.

Even if you can excuse away the shooting in your own mind (and I simply do not know how you can excuse them lighting up the wounded man and the van- there just is no way to explain that away, particularly with the pilots begging for the wounded cameraman, crawling for his life, to pick up a gun), it does not matter to the people who have to live over there. And ask yourself what Noor-Eldeen asked- if this happened in America, how would we react?

We’re issuing death threats to congressmen and half the nation has been whipped into a frothing mob and wants to secede because… we expanded health insurance coverage after a legitimate legislative process that was the result of open, free, and fair elections. Can you imagine what would happen if foreign helicopters were gunning down our neighbors in the streets?

*** Update ***

This is impressive. The Pentagon “lost” their copy of this video.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2010 at 10:32 am

Posted in Daily life, Military

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