Archive for June 5th, 2010
It’s quite cool, and now you can browse all of Netflix Watch Instantly movies, not just those in your queue, and even do searches.
Martin left this comment:
I am a big fan of Wendell Potter, I describe Potter as the ONLY man in this Country with the conscience of his convictions, a principled man who walked away from the Insurance industry that paid for the food on his table that clothed his family, AND then turned their back on a little child in need of a transplant that would have saved a life, but denied by his employer the multi-billion dollar giant Cygna… In a crisis of conscience Wendell Potter turned the table on the industry and began speaking the truth on television and in print, and now in his new book Deadly Spin.
In recent days, coverage of the attack on the aid flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip has focused on the lack of availability of certain humanitarian goods. This fact sheet is a reference tool based on data collected by international aid agencies and human rights groups on the impact of the siege on the population of Gaza.
Electricity: The siege has led to a significant lack of power in the Gaza Strip. In 2006, Israel carried out an attack on Gaza’s only power plant and never permitted the rebuilding to its pre-attack capacity (down to producing 80 megawatts maximum from 140 megawatts). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the daily electricity deficit has increased since January of 2010 with the plant only able to operate one turbine producing only 30 megawatts compared to its previous average of 60-65 megawatts in 2009. The majority of houses have power cuts at least eight hours per day. Some have no electricity for long as 12 hours a day. The lack of electricity has led to reliance on generators, many of which have exploded from overwork, killing and maiming civilians. Oxfam reported that “[in 2009], a total of 75 Palestinians died from carbon monoxide gas poisoning or fires from generators, and 15 died and 27 people were injured in the first two months of this year.”
Water: Israel has not permitted supplies into the Gaza Strip to rebuild the sewage system. Amnesty International reports that 90-95 percent of the drinking water in Gaza is contaminated and unfit for consumption. The United Nations even found that bottled water in Gaza contained contaminants, likely due to the plastic bottles recycled in dysfunctional factories. The lack of sufficient power for desalination and sewage facilities results in significant amounts of sewage seeping into Gaza’s costal aquifer–the main source of water for the people of Gaza.
Industry: Prior to the siege, the industrial sector employed 20 percent of Gaza’s labor force. One year after the siege began, the Palestinian Federation of Industries reported that “61% of the factories have completely closed down. 1% was forced to change their scope of work in order to meet their living expenses, 38% were partially closed (sometimes means they operate with less than 15% capacity)”. A World Health Organization report from this year states: “In the Gaza Strip, private enterprise is practically at a standstill as a consequence of the blockade. Almost all (98%) industrial operations have been shut down. The construction sector, which before September 2000 provided 15% of all jobs, has effectively halted. Only 258 industrial establishments in Gaza were operational in 2009 compared with over 2400 in 2006. As a result, unemployment rates have soared to 42% (up from 32% before the blockade).”
Health: Gaza’s health sector, dramatically overworked, was also significantly damaged by Operation Cast Lead. According to UN OCHA, infrastructure for 15 of 27 of Gaza’s hospitals, 43 of 110 of its primary care facilities, and 29 of its 148 ambulances were damaged or destroyed during the war. Without rebuilding materials like cement and glass due to Israeli restrictions, the vast majority of the destroyed health infrastructure has not been rebuilt. Many medical procedures for advanced illnesses are not available in Gaza. 1103 individuals applied for permits to exit the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing for medical treatment in 2009. 21 percent of these permits were denied or delayed resulting in missed hospital appointments, and several have died waiting to leave Gaza for treatment.
Food: A 2010 World Health Organization report stated that “chronic malnutrition in the Gaza Strip has risen over the past few years and has now reached 10.2%. Micronutrient deficiencies among children and women have reached levels that are of concern.” According to UN OCHA: “Over 60 percent of households are now food insecure, threatening the health and wellbeing of children, women and men. In this context, agriculture offers some practical solutions to a humanitarian problem. However, Israel’s import and access restrictions continue to suffocate the agriculture sector and directly contribute to rising food insecurity. Of particular concern, farmers and fishers’ lives are regularly put at risk, due to Israel’s enforcement of its access restrictions. The fact that this coastal population now imports fish from Israel and through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border speaks to the absurdity of the situation.” 72 percent of Gaza’s fish profit comes from beyond the three nautical mile mark, but further restrictions by Israel’s naval blockade prevents Gazans from fishing beyond that mark. Between 2008 and 2009 the fishing catch was down 47 percent.
Interesting, eh? David Vitter taking time off from his whoring to protect oil companies so that they can do great wrong with complete impunity. Alex Seitz-Wald at ThinkProgress:
This week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration had opened criminal and civil investigations into the companies involved in the massive Gulf oil spill. Officials said they were looking into potential violations of the Oil Pollution Act [OPA] of 1990, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, among other laws.
But if Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had his way, BP and its partners would have been off the hook for violations of all but the weakest of these laws. In July 2000, when Vitter was in the House, he introduced a bill that would make penalties under the OPA “the exclusive criminal penalties” for oil spills:
(a) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision or rule of law, sections 4301(c) and 4302 of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-380; 104 Stat. 537) and the amendments made by those sections provide the exclusive criminal penalties for any action or activity that may arise or occur in connection with a discharge of oil or a hazardous substance referred to in section 311(b)(3) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1321(b)(3)).
Fortunately, the bill — which attracted only two cosponsors — never made it out of committee. If it had become law, BP and the other companies would be exempted from more stringent criminal penalties under the other environmental laws. It would also potentially exempt BP from any workplace safety violations on the rig or during the cleanup.
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), which governs offshore oil and gas exploration, provides for much stricter punishments than the OPA, such as ten years imprisonment to “[a]ny person who knowingly and willfully (1) violates any
provision of this Act.” Meanwhile, criminal negligence under the Clean Water Act is punishable by fines of up to “$50,000 per day, 3 years’ imprisonment, or both.” And under the Endangered Species Act, BP could be fined $13,000 for each endangered animal killed, while “Significant Habitat Modification or Degradation” can carry much stronger penalties including one year imprisonment. These punishments would be on top of the cleanup costs assessed under the OPA. The OPA deals mainly with cleanup costs — not punitive damages — and only allows for imprisonment if a company fails to notify authorities about a spill. It also caps a company’s liability at $75 million.
More recently, Vitter has introduced a bill to raise the OPA’s $75 million cap. But while other senators have proposed caps of $10 billion, Vitter’s bill would limit a company’s liability to the amount of its profit in the last four quarters, or $150 million, whichever is greater. This is allegedly to protect small companies with small profits, but if a big company like BP happened have a bad year and made little or no profit, they would be responsible for only the $150 million.
As The Daily Kingfish pointed out, this is exactly the case with Andarko, the oil company which owns 25 percent of the lease in the Deepwater Horizon well:
BP doesn’t own the entirety of the lease, it only owns 65% of it. Another company, Anadarko, owns 25% of the lease. In the last 4 quarters, Anadarko has lost $135 million, so they would face no more than $150 million in liability, despite the fact that they hold an estimated $50 billion in assets.
Andarko’s PAC makes few contributions, but has been a consistent supporter of Vitter. The company gave him $10,000 in 2004 — by far the largest of only four contributions made that year — and gave him another $4,000 this year. Their only other contribution this year was $500 to a state senate candidate in Texas.
All together, oil and gas companies have given Vitter nearly $400,000 since 2005, and their investment appears to have been a smart one.
In 2007, former Halliburton/KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones revealed that she had been gang-raped by her co-workers while working in Baghdad, and then left by the company in a “shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water.” Jones sued the company and won. KBR has petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling. Since Jones went public, several more female KBR employees have come forward with allegations of rape. ABC News reports today that “another female ex-employee of KBR has come forward to claim that she was raped while working for the military contracting company in Iraq”:
According to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Houston Wednesday, Anna Mayo was working at KBR’s facility in Balad in November 2009 when she was assaulted by an unnamed rapist who worked for KBR. She charges that she was choked unconscious with a rope, beaten and raped. The suit seeks damages from KBR and from KBR subsidiary Service Employees International Inc., the contractor that employed Mayo from 2008 to 2009.
Without releasing the name of the victim, an Army spokesman confirmed that the military has investigated an alleged sexual assault that occurred at the time and place specified in Mayo’s suit.
Mayo’s attorney, Todd Kelly, also represents Jones and says that “up to 20 women have contacted his office alleging sexual harassment or assault while working for the contractor or at KBR installations overseas.” “There does not appear to be any change in how KBR treats these victims or disciplines their employees,” Kelly told ABC. A KBR spokeswoman told ABC that “a thorough investigation is underway” and that KBR “maintains strong and effective sexual harassment prevention and reporting programs.”
You’ll recall that KBR tried to avoid cases like this by forcing binding arbitration on its employees, regardless of what happened—the agreement had to be signed to get the job. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) sponsored legislation disallowing the tactic of arbitration (the company selects and pays the arbitrators, so guess how the decisions usually go—especially since arbitrators that decide against a company tend not to get hired any more), though 30 GOP Senators voted against the bill, saying that it should be left to the companies to decide. Virtually all of those Senators have daughters, though presumably none who served in Iraq.
Mistermix has the backstory in this Balloon-Juice post:
McDonald’s recall of 12 million Shrek glasses containing cadmium was spurred, in part, by an anonymous tip from blogger/author Jennifer Taggert who used a handheld analyzer to zap the glass and read its heavy metal content. Here’s her take on the danger in the glassware.
What’s interesting and amazing about this story is that this device, an x-ray fluorescence analyzer, is just a little bigger than a video game controller and works almost instantly. There’s no reason why the responsible government agency can’t just hire a couple of people to use this tricorder to test samples of every shitty little tchotchke that a fast food restaurant hands out.
Perhaps I was the only person who imagined that testing toys for heavy metal levels was a time-consuming and expensive process. The fact that it’s so damn easy just emphasizes the slight importance placed on children’s health versus the all-important free market.
The news of intense drug-related violence out of Jamaica is shocking and dreadful but entirely predictable. Wherever the war on drugs touches down, death and destruction result. A recent target is Kingston, Jamaica.
When law enforcement attempted to smoke out Christopher "Dudus" Coke, wanted in the U.S. for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and to traffic in firearms, scores of people died in the urban warfare. The death toll reached 73 civilians as Jamaicans were caught in the crossfire between police, soldiers and armed thugs.
Rival drug gangs used the confusion to eliminate their enemies and further ratchet up the violence. Coke has since agreed to surrender to officials in New York, because he "feels it is in his best interest to be taken to the U.S. rather than to a Jamaican jail," sources told the Jamaican Observer, but not before scores of people died.
Given that the scenes of violence between rival drug gangs are so common, people often fail to consider the factors that fuel this violence. The reality is that Jamaicans are just the latest victims in a misguided and expensive war that has taken countless thousands of lives, from the streets of New York to the slums and shantytowns of Colombia, Mexico and other third-world nations. When law enforcement attempted to smoke out Christopher "Dudus" Coke … scores of people died in the urban warfare.
In more than four decades since former U.S. President Nixon first declared America’s "war on drugs," the battles against spreading disease, increasing violence and the ongoing destruction of families and neighborhoods have been lost.
Mexico, a country all too familiar with violence as a way of life, is today a stark example of how crackdowns on drug cartels by American and local law enforcement agencies have utterly failed.
The horrible drug-related violence in Mexico was intensified by President Felipe Calderón, with strong U.S. support. This crackdown has resulted in about 23,000 drug-related deaths across the country since 2006. The bloodiest war has been fought in Juárez, a besieged city of 1.3 million on the U.S. border, where 5,100 people have been killed since 2008.
The global drug war has created a massive illicit market with an estimated annual value of $320 billion. In April, the newly created International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, of which I am founder, released a review of every English-language study to examine the link between drug law enforcement and violence.
The review clearly demonstrates that the astronomical profits created by drug prohibition drive organized crime and its related violence. Several studies included in the report suggested that law enforcement’s removal of key players from the drug trade, such as Christopher Coke, only creates power vacuums that lead to violent and deadly competition. Many victims are not involved in the drug trade, as today’s civilian deaths in Mexico, the U.S. and Kingston’s slums illustrate.
The global drug war has created a massive illicit market with an estimated annual value of $320 billion.
The war on drugs has generated a lucrative, cash-rich industry that has — not surprisingly — lured poverty-stricken participants from throughout the impoverished third world. In West Africa, entire countries, such as Guinea-Bissau, are at risk of becoming "narco-states" as Colombian cocaine traffickers employ West African trade routes to distribute cocaine into destination markets in Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
Estimates now suggest that 27 percent of all cocaine destined for Europe is transited through West Africa and is worth more than $1.8 billion annually wholesale — and as much as 10 times that amount at the retail level. Illicit drugs are big business, with the influence and global reach that goes along the ability to create widespread wealth.
Another conclusion of the review was the clear evidence that …
I was raised Jewish in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’ve been thinking about this notion of Jewish "persecutionism" for quite a while.
I spent my early years in Sunday school –like every other Jew I know– being force fed a diet of Jewish persecution stories. We were either getting kicked out of one country or massacred in another or being forced into hiding somewhere else…and that’s not to mention the hours and hours we spent learning about the Holocaust. Endless films of emaciated Jews and readings of the Diary of Anne Frank and statistics from before and after the war and etc. Plus there were the many wars Israel fought in, the many times they were attacked by their neighbors during holy-days or asleep in their beds.
My entire self-concept as a Jew was based around the idea that Jews are simply not safe anywhere and must maintain perpetual militaristic vigilance both personally and culturally. It’s like some kind of cultural post-traumatic stress disorder. Hopefully soon Jews will stop indoctrinating their children to perpetually look over their shoulders for the next Hitler (or Torquemada), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t take some time and until then self-pity and paranoia will continue to define the Jewish experience, for both Jews and non-Jews around the world.
In case you didn’t get that far, I did want to call attention to this (from previous post):
As for propaganda: there are two claims being made frequently that can only be described as pure lies. The first is that Israel’s blockade is devoted to keeping arms out of Gaza (see this explanation from Peter Beinart, as quoted in the last two paragraphs of this FAIR post, regarding the countless items that the Israelis prevent from entering Gaza that have no remote connection to weapons, as well as what Israeli officials themselves have said is the real purpose of the blockade; see also: this chart from The Economist showing what the Israelis are really barring from Gaza); and second is the claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza caused by the blockade (see this Foreign Policy post from today documenting the devastating humanitarian effects of the blockade).
From the first link above:
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted news of the flotilla disaster by repeating a common “pro-Israel” talking point: that Israel only blockades Gaza to prevent Hamas from building rockets that might kill Israeli citizens. If only that were true. In reality, the embargo has a broader and more sinister purpose: to impoverish the people of Gaza, and thus turn them against Hamas. As the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has reported, the Israeli officials in charge of the embargo adhere to what they call a policy of “no prosperity, no development, no humanitarian crisis.” In other words, the embargo must be tight enough to keep the people of Gaza miserable, but not so tight that they starve.
This explains why Israel prevents Gazans from importing, among other things, cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, French fries, dried fruit, fabrics, notebooks, empty flowerpots and toys, none of which are particularly useful in building Kassam rockets. It’s why Israel bans virtually all exports from Gaza, a policy that has helped to destroy the Strip’s agriculture, contributed to the closing of some 95 percent of its factories, and left more 80 percent of its population dependent on food aid. It’s why Gaza’s fishermen are not allowed to travel more than three miles from the coast, which dramatically reduces their catch…. There’s a name for all this: collective punishment. [Which is prohibited by the Geneva Convention, BTW, and Israel is a signatory to that convention, but hey! Israel has no problem with ignoring the law and its agreements---cf. the illegal settlements. - LG]
Of course, Israel got ahead of everyone else by sequestering the captives and confiscating all their records (cameras, recorders, computers, etc.). Greenwald:
It was clear from the moment news of the flotilla attack emerged that Israel was taking extreme steps to suppress all evidence about what happened other than its own official version. They detained the flotilla passengers and barred the media from speaking with them, thus, as The NYT put it, "refusing to permit journalists access to witnesses who might contradict Israel’s version of events." They detained the journalists who were on the ship for days and seized their film, video and cameras. And worst of all, the IDF — while still refusing to disclose the full, unedited, raw footage of the incident — quickly released an extremely edited video of their commandos landing on the ship, which failed even to address, let alone refute, the claim of the passengers: that the Israelis were shooting at the ship before the commandos were on board.
This campaign of suppression and propaganda worked to shape American media coverage (as state propaganda campaigns virtually always work on the gullible, authority-revering American media). The edited IDF video was shown over and over on American television without question or challenge. Israeli officials and Israel-devoted commentators appeared all over television — almost always unaccompanied by any Turkish, Palestinian or Muslim critics of the raid — to spout the Israeli version without opposition. Israel-centric pundits in America claimed, based on the edited IDF video, that anyone was lying who even reported on the statements of the passengers that Israeli fired first. In sum, that the Israelis used force only after the passengers attacked the commandos became Unquestioned Truth in American discourse.
But now that the passengers and journalists have been released from Israeli detention and are speaking out, a much different story is emerging. As I noted yesterday, numerous witnesses and journalists are describing Israeli acts of aggression, including the shooting of live ammunition, before the commandos landed. The New York Times blogger Robert Mackey today commendably compiles that evidence — I recommend it highly — and he writes: "now that the accounts of activists and journalists who were detained by Israel after the raid are starting to be heard, it is clear that their stories and that of the Israeli military do not match in many ways." As Juan Cole says: "Many passengers have now confirmed that they were fired on even before the commandos had boots on the deck. Presumably it is this suppressive fire that killed or wounded some passengers and which provoked an angry reaction and an attack on the commandos."
Fascinating post by Dan Colman at Open Culture:
Fast forward a generation, and you might hardly recognize the humanities.Big data is here, and it’s allowing tech savvy students to take a whole new approach to “reading” texts. Using Google’s digital library and other tools powered by high power computing, students can now quantitatively analyze large bodies of literature and draw new conclusions about the evolution of ideas, language, and culture. (More on this here.) Some worry that these “stat-happy quants” risk taking “the human out of the humanities.” Others (myself included) suspect that this approach could enliven the humanities, allowing scholars to focus on new methods and questions. How “big data” is transforming the humanities (and the sciences too) is the subject of six articles appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Let me highlight them for you:
Another great find by Open Culture:
Don Colman writes:
Philip Zimbardo, a longtime Stanford psychology professor, is perhaps most well known for the famous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted in 1971. But, more recently, he published a book called The Time Paradox (2008) that makes some pretty intriguing arguments about how our attitudes toward time, often unconscious ones, can strongly shape our personalities and the kind of lives we lead. The video above takes one of Zimbardo’s lectures about the Time Paradox and syncs it with some animated drawings…
Excellent. Via Open Culture, this video was made in 2001 right here in Monterey:
Many people immigrate to the US. When they get here, they see things like the Arizona uproar about immigrants, which extends to forcing a school with a mural that included portraits of students making the artists rework the portraits of African-American and Latino students to make them white; like State Sen. Jake Knott (R-NC) calling a gubernatorial candidate (of Indian descent) a "f…g raghead," and for good measure saying that President Obama is a "raghead" (he did apologize, but only for using the F-word); like the explosion on the Right when a Muslim Lebanese-American woman won the Miss America crown; and many other incidents showing the Right-wing hatred of non-white people and immigrants.
So what political party do you think immigrants gravitate to? I would imagine that most immigrants nowadays, looking at the GOP attitudes and rhetoric and anger, would join the Democratic party. (Even Latinos, who tend to be socially conservative, are moving away from the GOP.)
What does this mean over the long haul? Well, people who immigrate to the US are, on the whole, a very heads-up group: ambitious, educated, and determined. So this means that the Democratic party enjoys an ongoing infusion of new talent, new views, and new alliances. Moreover, even people born in the US who still maintain their ethnic identity will probably be repelled (as well as rejected) by the Republican party.
This is very good for Democrats, but the GOP is rapidly trimming itself down to a party of elderly white people, led mostly by men (since the GOP view has been that women should stay at home and raise children).
Will we see a continuing decline of the GOP? How much further can it decline?
I know you’re out there—some in my own family! And I think I have one more Mac reader. (Hi, Samantha!)
For you, I offer this review by James Fallows, a guy whose views of software are so far totally reliable:
I’ve mentioned several times my use of and enthusiasm for Scrivener, a $39.95 writing program put out by a two-person operation in Cornwall, England. It’s Mac-only, so stop right here if that means you can’t consider it. (With VMware Fusion, I can happily run any Windows program on a Mac, but things don’t work the other way around.)
Actually, don’t stop right here, since the traits that make this program (logo at left) valuable are in principle ones that could be applied in other writing and research programs. Because it helps explain these useful features, and not because it’s essentially a free ad for Scrivener (with which I have no connection of any sort, other than as a customer), I quote a note from a recent convert, Noah Ennis, a graduating senior at the University of Chicago. He talks mainly about two of the program’s features: a simple-sounding but surprisingly important “full screen mode,” which blocks out everything else happening on the computer so you can concentrate just on what you’re writing; and a “project” organization system that makes it easy to amass many notes, files, quotes, research documents, etc related to the essay or article or book you’re writing. Again the point about what follows is, it tells us something about this particular program, which may or may not suit your computer-using tastes; but it also suggests broader truths about the ways computers help and hinder the way we think. Ennis wrote this to me because I suggested the program to him. He says:
I don’t think I’ve ever been excited about software, but this is something that’s such a quantitative increase in efficiency (by lowering the energy tax on storage, retrieval, and switching between documents) that it qualitatively changes the way I read and write on the computer. Here are four areas in which it’s drastically changed my computer life:
1. It makes all writing projects, but especially any large project, easier and more pleasant. My old method was to have a bunch of different Word documents open, and to move between them with a lot of time spent searching for windows and a lot of redundant writing. For [his undergraduate thesis], I ended up with something like 40 documents of which I only ever used 8 or 10. In Scrivener everything is instantly accessible and easy to switch to, which paradoxically means that I can write more haphazardly– I can paste large block quotes from sources instead of putting a link, I can keep multiple outlines going at the same time as I’m writing. To say nothing of the full screen mode. I’m completely baffled that appleworks, word, and textedit haven’t done something as simple as allow document loading from a side bar, or implement a fullscreen button (or if they have, I’m baffled at my and my friend’s ignorance of these features). I’m convinced that if I had Scrivener when I was writing the [thesis], I could have saved literally dozens of hours of redundant work simply from better organization.
2. Scrivener means that …
If you’ve used Scrivener, please comment.
Above is the full complement of the complimentary package I received from men-ü: the brush and the tubes: shaving cream (or crème), facial wash, and facial moisturizer (click image to enlarge), used in that order.
I began the shave, as always, by washing my beard with MR GLO. Then a dot of the shaving cream, which made an excellent lather with the men-ü synthetic-fiber brush. The usual rule (use a shaving cream dollop about the size of an almond) does not apply here. I would say that with this, you use a dollop of shaving cream about the size of a kernel of corn. That seems plenty.
Three passes with the Edwin Jagger ebony Chatsworth, holding a newish Astra Keramik blade. Plenty of lather, no problem at all, and good passes.
Then a final rinse, and wash the face with the facial wash. (It feels odd to be washing my face at this point, but those are the instructions). Rinse, dry, and a tiny dot of the moisturizer is plenty to rub over the freshly shaven face.
Extremely nice shave. I appreciate the opportunity to experiment. I’ll use these again, but for the ritual I like the more traditional forms: shaving soap in a tub, a splash of aftershave. But I believe that these are probably better for your skin. More info on this set of stuff here.