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Archive for May 2nd, 2010

Interesting development re: Israel

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Andrew Sullivan:

The times they are a-changin’. From France:

A new leftist European Jewish group, JCall, has written a letter to be delivered Sunday to the European Parliament calling for a cessation of what it calls systematic support for Israeli government decisions.

JCall, which describes itself as "the European J Street" and is to be officially launched Sunday with the presentation of the letter, has raised a storm with its call to stop construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

The letter is signed by some 3,000 Jewish intellectuals, among them philosophers Bernard Henri-Levy and Alain Finkielkraut, considered some of Israel’s strongest defenders among French intellectuals. Signatories also include Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the student protests in the 1960s and now a member of the European Parliament, as well as other Jewish members of the European Parliament. The letter calls occupation and settlements "morally and politically wrong," noting that they "feed the unacceptable delegitimization process that Israel currently faces abroad."

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 5:52 pm

Decades of neglect

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John Cole at Balloon Juice:

Good grief:

Federal officials speaking about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Sunday morning appeared to be steeling the Louisiana coast – and the nation – for consequences that could be “catastrophic.”

The officials, who run the agencies charged with mitigating the impact of the spill on America’s Gulf coast, used unusually stark words to describe the situation and the difficulties of the remedy.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it was the federal government’s job to “keep the boot on the neck of BP,” which is running the cleanup effort.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen called the bid to shut down a wellhead spewing at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day from nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface “one of the most complex things we’ve every done.”

He went on to say that, in a worst-case scenario, the well could vent 4.2 million gallons of oil into the Gulf daily. Currently, a crumpled “riser” pipe is preventing the full flow of oil – like a kinked garden hose – though reports suggest it is gradually deteriorating.

Four million gallons a day for ninety days would be equal to roughly 45 Exxon Valdez spills. I fail to see how BP continues to exist as a corporation. And they should be destroyed:

BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent a deepwater well from this type of accident.

***

But according to aides to Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has followed offshore drilling issues for years, the industry aggressively lobbied against an additional layer of protection known as an “acoustic system,” saying it was too costly. In a March 2003 report, the agency reversed course, and said that layer of protection was no longer needed.

“There was a big debate under the Bush administration whether or not to require additional oil drilling safeguards but [federal regulators] decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves,” Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News.

Is anyone else noticing a trend here? Decades of onslaught by Republicans (and many Democrats, as well) and business-friendly interests have led to the complete inability or unwillingness of government to regulate our food safety, our water, our financial markets, our mines, and now, tragically, our offshore drilling programs. And in every case, defanging the regulators has led to expensive disasters. All so a select few can make more and more money.

And still there are those who say that we simply should trust businesses to do the right thing, and if they do wrong, the free market will take care of any problems. It will be interesting to see how the free market tackles this oil spill, right?

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 5:19 pm

“I Challenge Marc Thiessen”–Six Questions for Malcolm Nance

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Very interesting post by Scott Horton:

An Arabic-speaking counterterrorism expert and a combat veteran with twenty-eight years of operational experience in the Middle East, Malcolm Nance has now published a sweeping new strategic proposal for engaging Al Qaeda. I put six questions to him about his book and the continuing debate about waterboarding propelled by former Vice President Cheney and his staffers.

1. Peter Bergen, among others, has made the case that the tide has turned in the battle against Al Qaeda. He says the organization misplayed its hand with radical tactics that cost the lives of large numbers of Muslim civilians. Is he too optimistic?

I believe Peter Bergen is a little too optimistic but generally on mark. Yes, Al Qaeda has suffered massive losses in Iraq and some significant degradation worldwide. In Iraq their one-time sponsors, the ex-Baathist insurgents, found them in the end to be ideologically dangerous and turned on them. Initially, the Iraqi insurgents loved the effect that the Al Qaeda suicide operations had on the Americans. Once the Sunni insurgents realized that Bin Laden’s reinterpretation of Islam would undermine the existing Iraqi tribal structures, and that Al Qaeda would engage in the mass murder of Muslims, they turned against Al Qaeda and helped us gain the upper hand. Militarily, Al Qaeda is boxed into Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen–but their cult-like ideology could infect the youth of the Muslim world. The risk remains that they will achieve a generational success by transforming Islam. That would make our recent military campaigns into pyrrhic victories.

2. You suggest that the key to defeating Al Qaeda lies in “counter-ideological warfare.” What do you mean by this?

Bin Laden’s dream, which will likely survive his death, is not just to radicalize Islam but to transform it into a global virus that destroys the tradition of tolerance and puts in its place perpetual jihad and suicide martyrdom. His ideology feeds off hatred of the West. He wants to harness Muslim popular anger at Western missteps to root out the tradition of tolerance in Islam. If he has to massacre innocent Muslims to do that, he won’t hesitate to do so.

Al Qaeda’s ideology has little to do with traditional Islam. Some call it al-Qaedaism; I call it Bin Ladenism. This fanatical ideology, not a command-and-control structure of a traditional sort, is the organization’s center of gravity. It must therefore be fought with the tools of counter-ideological warfare. That means that we recognize, attack, and neutralize their central belief system using all political, diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic tools. The starting point is therefore to drive a wedge between Al Qaeda and Islam. The Muslim world needs to understand that Al Qaeda’s ideology has nothing to do with the pillars of Islam. When Al Qaeda is isolated and recognized as a radical cult, it will lose the ability to generate new recruits.

3. You dedicated your book to Mohammad Salman Hamadani. Who is he and why did you choose to honor him this way?

“Sal” was an American of Pakistani descent who went missing on 9/11. There was an investigation and speculation that he was involved in the plot. In fact, he was a New York City police cadet and paramedic who had raced to the scene and who died trying to save lives. Several months later his body was found at the WTC site. He is the truest face of both American and Islamic heroism.

4. You say that the United States needs to target Al Qaeda with a public-diplomacy campaign that you call circuit breaker. Explain your proposal and why you think Bush-era public diplomacy fell short.

The entire eight-year effort under Bush targeted Americans, not the world or Al Qaeda supporters. Bin Laden benefitted immensely from massive policy errors such as the invasion of Iraq. circuit breaker is designed to reverse these losses and break Al Qaeda’s global base of support. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, noted that losing the Muslim world’s support would utterly destroy Al Qaeda. This strategy, which would cost only a fraction of the hundreds of billions spent on military operations, would attack Al Qaeda in the realm of public opinion in the Islamic world and would reposition America and Americans as partners rather than an opponents.

5. You previously served as a master instructor in the SERE program, in which pilots were prepared, among other things, to endure waterboarding. The SERE training program, we later learned, was reverse engineered to produce “enhanced interrogation techniques” for the CIA. Recently a White House speechwriter named Marc Thiessen has played a vocal role in the campaign that the Cheneys have launched to justify the use of waterboarding. He insists that it absolutely is not torture, and he insists that it’s different from the technique used by the Khmer Rouge. Does Thiessen know what he’s talking about?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 4:28 pm

20-year veteran of the Coast Guard: “With a spill of this magnitude and complexity, there is no such thing as an effective response.”

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Climate Progress:

There are, and will continue to be, heroic efforts by a wide variety of individuals, including members of the Coast Guard, NOAA, and state, local, and volunteer organizations.  I wish them the best of luck, and wish I could be back in uniform helping out.  But with a spill of this magnitude and complexity, there is no such thing as an effective response.  The Obama administration has clearly mobilized all of the Federal government’s capabilities.  But time and time again, we have learned that our efforts will not measure up to the task at hand.

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University.  I’ve interviewed him many times, and so Climate Progress readers mainly know him as Professor of Sociology & Environmental Science and Affiliate Professor of Public Health, Drexel University.

But before that second career, he was a Commissioned Officer in the Coast Guard for two decades.  Indeed, he has a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Marine Engineering.

So when he talks about the BP-Halliburton oil disaster, people should listen.  Here’s his entire post:

As I watch the slow unfolding of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I am reminded of the children’s poem:

Humpty Dumpty Sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King’s horses, And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

This time, it is our technology that has had a great fall, and while the efforts to put it right may be valiant and well intentioned, we won’t be able to put it back together again.

I haven’t felt this level of despair since Katrina descended over New Orleans.  But this time, it is a slower process that will unfold over weeks, or worse, months.  This is not the first time this has happened, but hopefully, it will be the last.  We first learned about massive oil spills when an oil well blowout occurred in Santa Barbara in 1969.  The second-largest oil spill of all time occurred between June 1979 and March 1980, when the Ixtoc I well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico.  This spill ran for eight months and released around 140 million gallons of oil.  By comparison, the Exxon Valdez (only!) released 10.8 million gallons.

The impacts of extensive oil spills can last for decades.  In the coming days, television news will figure out that there is still oil under the rocks in Prince William Sound, and that the fisheries are still recovering.  The costs to the fishing and recreation industries across the Gulf could turn out to be substantial.  I hope that some miracle technofix can stop the flow of oil quickly, and that we luck out with the winds.  But this is something that we cannot control.

There are, and will continue to be, heroic efforts by a wide variety of individuals, including members of the Coast Guard, NOAA, and state, local, and volunteer organizations.  I wish them the best of luck, and wish I could be back in uniform helping out.  But with a spill of this magnitude and complexity, there is no such thing as an effective response.  The Obama administration has clearly mobilized all of the Federal government’s capabilities.  But time and time again, we have learned that our efforts will not measure up to the task at hand.

Oil spill responses have a very large component of symbolic reassurance to them.  For example, no doubt we will see oily ducks being washed in the coming days. However, the mortality rate of such ducks is extremely high.  So while these salves may make us feel better, they do little to actually deal with the situation.  Focusing on the spill response may be interesting news, but it doesn’t get to the core of the issue of managing risky technologies and the role of government regulation of industrial activities.

There will be considerable ecological and economic damage, and there is basically nothing that can be done to effectively stop that from happening.  A well-coordinated spill response and a lot of good luck can help minimize the worst.  But it appears that, as in the past with the Exxon Valdez, our capabilities will be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the spill.  Ultimately, the most effective way to deal with oil spills is not to have them.

Prevention is the best policy.  But that involves regulations to prevent corporations from taking calculated risks by shaving safety margins to decrease production costs. Rather than striving to achieve the highest levels of safety and pollution prevention, BP continued to resist regulations designed to prevent an accident of this sort.  Specifically, on September 14, 2009, BP wrote:

“While BP is supportive of companies having a system in place to reduce risk, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of the extensive prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule.  We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs implemented since the adoption of API RP 75 [a voluntary industry standard] have been and continue to be very successful.

Very successful? NOT! History has obviously proved wrong their belief in the adequacy of the voluntary standard.

Where was the Minerals Management Service (the regulatory agency governing offshore drilling)?  Remember, this is an agency of the Department of the Interior.  This department was managed in the Bush Administration by Gale Norton, the protégé of James Watt, the notorious anti-environmental Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan.  During the Republican administration, the only distinguishing accomplishment of this agency was to get caught in a bribery, sex, and drugs scandal involving collection of oil and gas royalty payments.  We are now tasting the bitter fruit of the past eight years of lax enforcement and allowing industry to set its own “voluntary” standards.  We need a solid investigation of the Minerals Management Service to find out what the agency did and did not do to prevent this spill from happening, and the imposition of strictly enforced regulations to prevent this sort of incident in the future.

No doubt, the industry apologists will go on about how rare these events are, and how they have a good safety record.  But with enormous risks, “good” isn’t good enough.  We cannot afford to jeopardize the entire Gulf ecosystem.  But apparently, that is what we have already done.  We need to get over our technological hubris and stop taking enormous risks with our global ecosystems.

So now what?  I had hoped that we were beyond this sort of event.  But evidently we aren’t.

In the face of global climate change, and now massive catastrophic oil spills, why can’t we figure out that the fossil fuel era needs to come to an end, for our survival, and for the survival of the rest of the species with which we share this planet?  That we have much better alternatives than to continuing to “drill baby drill” – which has now turned into “spill baby spill.”  That we cannot drill our way to energy independence, and that every gallon of gas we burn brings the prospect of further ecological calamities from global warming closer.

We need a real commitment to renewable energy, and to stop investing in the polluting fuels of the past.  The sooner we get on with it, the less chance our children will have to face future disasters.

– Robert J. Brulle

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 3:51 pm

High-fructose corn syrup

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Good news: people are avoiding it. Bad news: companies are still pushing it. Melanie Warner in the NY Times:

In January, there were studies showing that samples of the sweetener contained the toxic metal mercury. Then came a popular Facebook page that was critical of the syrup. By year-end, there were about a dozen spoofs on YouTube mocking efforts by makers of high-fructose corn syrup to show that science is on their side.

But it was pleading comments like this one, from a devoted ConAgra customer, that finally persuaded Mr. Locascio, president of the meal enhancers category at ConAgra, to take action: “Hunt’s is by far the best ketchup ever, but please start making a variety without the high-fructose corn syrup,” wrote Jennifer from New Hampshire.

Early this year, she got her wish when ConAgra decided to reformulate one of its biggest brands, replacing the high-fructose corn syrup in Hunt’s ketchup with old-fashioned sugar. This month, new bottles featuring a banner proclaiming “No high fructose corn syrup” arrive in stores.

Hunt’s ketchup is among the latest in a string of major-brand products that have replaced the vilified sweetener. Gatorade, several Kraft salad dressings, Wheat Thins, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback and the baked goods at Starbucks, to name a few, are all now made with regular sugar.

What started as a narrow movement by proponents of natural and organic foods has morphed into a swell of mainstream opposition, thanks in large part to tools of modern activism like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and movies like “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn.”

As a result, sales of the ingredient have fallen in the United States. Charlie Mills, an analyst at Credit Suisse, says that the combined United States sales of high-fructose corn syrup for Archer Daniels Midland, Tate & Lyle and Corn Products International were down 9 percent in 2009, compared with 2007. A further decline is expected this year, he says.

This is happening even though many scientists say that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse for people than sugar, which costs some 40 percent more.

“Manufacturers are tired of hearing about the e-mails, the 800-number calls and the letters,” says Phil Lempert, editor of the Lempert Report, which focuses on supermarket trends. “People don’t want it, so why fight them?”

The Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of the syrup like A.D.M., Cargill and Corn Products International, has spent the last six years trying to convince Americans that high-fructose corn syrup is a natural ingredient — made from corn! — that’s really no different from sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup is singled out because it is still one of the biggest sources of calories in our diet and because it is made from corn — a lavishly subsidized crop that appears, in one way or another, in so much of our food.

According to the NPD Group, a market research firm, more than half of all Americans — 53 percent — now say they are concerned that high-fructose corn syrup may pose a health hazard, up from 40 percent in 2004…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 2:17 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

Learning the appropriate lesson

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Steve Benen:

We know a few things for sure about the still-unfolding BP Oil Spill disaster in the Gulf. For example, we know it was initially considered a limited accident, but BP’s original assessment was wrong. We know the media appears anxious to blame the White House, for no apparent reason. And we also know the ecological, environmental, and even economic consequences of this disaster are likely to be pretty devastating for the Gulf region.

Jonathan Alter, meanwhile, is looking ahead — after the spill reaches the shore, after the inevitable clean-up, and after all the finger-pointing — and pointing to a truth that we should also know.

After the immediate crisis passes and the cleanup is well underway, we should look to the larger cause of this disaster as well as the recent coal-mine explosion in West Virginia: our dependence on fossil fuels.

This sounds like a platitude amid human and environmental fiascoes, but there’s no reason that over the course of this century we should have either coal mines or oil rigs. To begin to move toward a clean energy future — the best hope, by the way, for the global economy — we need a new energy policy.

So the question is whether the disaster might give new life to efforts to pass comprehensive energy legislation. Such a bill wouldn’t have prevented the gulf spill, but it would put us on a path toward moving away from fossil fuels over the next few decades. Lindsey Graham’s announcement that he wanted to shelve the energy bill because the Democrats had the temerity to raise immigration issues is looking a bit petty.

Obama now has an argument on both energy and immigration: these long-festering problems, exploding before our eyes, must be dealt with in a "comprehensive" fashion…. The Arizona immigration bill and the coal-mine and oil-spill disasters are examples of what happens when we don’t move away from old ways of doing things that do nothing to solve long-term problems.

It’s ironic, in a way, that the BP Oil Spill disaster has put the climate/energy bill’s future in further doubt, in large part because expanding drilling opportunities was considered a prerequisite to getting even marginal Republican support. With new offshore drilling leases on hold for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to know what Dems can put in the bill to generate bipartisan support. Indeed, many Republicans are still saying "drill, baby, drill," even this morning.

But that’s what makes Alter’s point all the more compelling — the disaster in the Gulf shouldn’t make stall climate/energy efforts on the Hill, it should strengthen those efforts. The ongoing spill should give advocates more momentum, not less.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 2:07 pm

Fungal Disease Spreads Through Pacific Northwest

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I blogged this earlier and now Richard Knox has a report on NPR (and at the link audio, photos, etc.):

map-oregon-outbreak-300

A rare and dangerous fungal infection named Cryptococcus gattii has been quietly spreading from British Columbia southward to the U.S. Pacific Northwest. And it’s changing as it goes.

Researchers have discovered that a unique strain of the bug has emerged recently in Oregon and already spread widely there, sickening humans and animals.

So far, over the past 11 years there have been about 220 cases reported in British Columbia. Since 2004, doctors in Washington and Oregon have reported about 50 cases. Among the total 270 cases, 40 people have died from overwhelming infections of the lungs and brain.

Public health officials aren’t calling it a public health emergency. The fungus can’t be spread from person to person, and there doesn’t seem to be any prospect of an explosive epidemic. But they do want doctors to be on the lookout for cases, because early diagnosis and proper treatment is vital to prevent deaths.

The most striking thing about this fungus is that it’s popping up and establishing itself far afield from its usual range — possibly because of climate change.

"The disease was almost exclusively seen in tropical and subtropical areas of the world," says Dr. Julie Harris, a specialist in fungal diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hot spots were Australia and Papua New Guinea, along with Egypt and parts of South America.

"So it was really surprising in 1999 to find that in this temperate climate of Vancouver Island, people were getting sick with Cryptococcus gattii," says Harris.

It’s a cousin of another fungus that is all too familiar to doctors who treat people with AIDS and organ transplants. This other bug, called Cryptococcus neoformans, causes a hard-to-treat brain infection in people with weakened immune systems. Globally it infects almost a million people a year and kills more than 620,000.

Next to that, Cryptococcus gattii is a rare bird. Researchers don’t know why people and animals in the Pacific Northwest are getting infected with this tropical fungus, and why only a few who get exposed to it get sick from it.

"This is an airborne infection," Harris says. "These spores are really, really small, and they can be carried in the air. And so hypothetically anyone can inhale them."

The fungus likes to hang out in forests — on trees and in the surrounding soil. Many of those who have gotten sick have worked in jobs like forestry or construction. But many others haven’t had such obvious exposures to lots of Cryptococcus gattii spores.

One of the first Vancouver Island cases, back in 2001, was a 45-year-old woman who had gone kayaking in a provincial park on the island’s eastern shore. Over a period of months, her symptoms progressed from headaches and night sweats to a fulminant brain infection. By the time she died, in early 2002, she was blind and couldn’t walk or speak.

Others have had only casual exposure to the woods — or none at all. Cases have occurred among city dwellers and suburbanites as well as those who live in forested areas.

Researchers say most cases so far have had one risk factor or another. They have lived near a wooded area or been involved in activities that disturb the soil. They have had underlying diseases of the lung, or cancer. Forty-two percent have been taking a drug that suppresses immunity, such as corticosteroids. But more than one-quarter have had no identifiable risk factor.

So far nearly all cases have been in people ranging in age from 15 to 95. Very few children have gotten the fungus infection.

One of the problems in tracking cases is that the incubation period of a Cryptococcus gattii infection averages six months…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2010 at 2:05 pm

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