Later On

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

Archive for May 13th, 2009

The road to totalitarianism

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Once those in power fully absorb the lesson that the powerful can break the law and violate the Constitution with impunity, look for substantial changes in how our government works. As all software users know, what good is a feature if you don’t use it? More and more of the powerful will test the breaking of the law and see if they get away with it. Obama is already doing it, ignoring the law embodied in the Convention Against Torture.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Miss Megs has keen hearing

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So I’m at the far end of the kitchen; around the corner and way down the hall is Megs, sleeping on my pyjamas.

I note her food bowl is down to the last layer of kibble, so I carefully and (I think) quietly open the food jar and add some kibble. As I put the lid back, I look down and there is Miss Megs, chowing down.

She eats her fill, washes her face, and just now when I looked into the bedroom, she was once again asleep on the pyjamas.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Cats, Megs

Obama’s latest effort to conceal evidence of Bush era crimes

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Glenn Greenwald:

It’s difficult to react much to Obama’s complete reversal today of his own prior decision to release photographs depicting extreme detainee abuse by the United States.  He’s left no doubt that this is what he does:  ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and the evidence of Bush’s crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping.  The ACLU’s Amrit Singh — who litigated the thus-far-successful FOIA lawsuit to compel disclosure of these photographs — is exactly right:

The reversal is another indication of a continuance of the Bush administration policies under the Obama administration.  President Obama’s promise of accountability is meaningless, this is inconsistent with his promise of transparency, it violates the government’s commitment to the court. People need to examine these abusive photographs, but also the government officials need to be held accountable.

Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, wrote of today’s photograph-concealment decision and yesterday’s story of Obama’s pressuring Britain to conceal evidence of Binyam Mohamed’s torture:

Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predecessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor. . .

From extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed, Obama now has new cheer-leaders: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot. . . .

Those of us who held out hope that the Obama administration would not be actively covering up the brutal torture of a Gitmo prisoner who was subject to abuse in several countries must now concede the obvious. They’re covering it up – in such a crude and obvious fashion that it is actually a crime in Britain.

John Aravosis said Obama’s logic was "a bit Bushian."  Steve Hynd observes that "Obama Trades Our Principles For Cheneyism."  TPM declares:  "Obama falls back on Bushisms."  Dan Froomkin writes:  "Obama Joins the Cover-Up."  I’ll just note a few points for now about Obama’s efforts to keep these photographs concealed: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 3:46 pm

Who pushed torture the most?

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It’s gradually becoming clear. Spencer Ackerman:

Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who helped interrogate detained al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, told lawmakers Wednesday that he wasn’t the only interrogator who opposed torturing Abu Zubaydah at a CIA-operated facility in the spring of 2002. According to Soufan, all the members of the CIA’s interrogation team stood against a single CIA “contractor” who advocated such techniques as placing the detainee in a “confinement box.”

Testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Soufan — whose face was dramatically concealed behind a wooden partition in order to protect his identity — gave an account of the fateful interrogation that went further than what he wrote in a New York Times op-ed on April 22. In that op-ed, Soufan wrote that he opposed using harsh interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah, especially after non-physical techniques resulted in valuable intelligence, such as a positive identification of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He wrote that unnamed CIA colleagues also “balked at the techniques” but were “instructed to continue” with using them. Soufan added that “it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.”

In his testimony, though, Soufan said that “FBI and CIA all had the same opinion that contradicted with the contractor.” The contractor in question has been identified by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker as James Mitchell, a former psychologist with the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. According to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s recently declassified report on torture, the SERE program became the basis for much of the brutal interrogations by the military; and former Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury testified in 2008 that versions of SERE techniques were the basis for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. An August 1, 2002 memorandum written by Jay Bybee, one of Bradbury’s predecessors at OLC about the legality of a proposed interrogation regimen for Abu Zubaydah refers to a “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (’SERE’) training psychologist who has been involved with the interrogations since they began.”

TWI pointed to some apparent discrepancies between Soufan’s account of his opposition to torture and the findings of the Justice Department inspector general in a 2008 report, but Soufan said little to address those questions at the hearing, giving instead a forceful rejection of the morality and efficacy of torture. He said torture had no place in interrogations, calling it “harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective and play[s] directly into the enemy’s handbook.”

Soufan wrote in a prepared statement that “a top CIA interrogator” protested the contractor’s “untested theory” when the contractor attempted “loud noise and then temperature manipulation.” A different member of the interrogation team, whom Soufan identified as an “operational psychologist for the CIA,” allegedly “left the location” after objecting to the attempts to torture Abu Zubaydah. All of these attempts occurred weeks before the OLC gave legal approval for the regimen of interrogation techniques based on the SERE program on August 1, 2002.

If Soufan’s presentation is correct and the FBI and CIA interrogators raised objections to the harsher methods proposed by the SERE psychologist working as a CIA contractor, it raises the question of …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 3:44 pm

The financial industry gets its money’s worth from the Senate

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Interesting report by Mike Lillis:

To no one’s surprise, the Senate on Wednesday killed a proposal to cap credit card rates at 15 percent. The count was 33 to 60 on a procedural vote to allow the bill to proceed.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who sponsored the amendment, said the proposal would “end usury in the United States of America.”

“This amendment is very simple,” Sanders said just before the vote. “It says that now, when the American taxpayer is spending hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out Wall Street, they should not be lending the American people their own money at usurious rates.”

Afterward, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) speculated that the measure failed, not because lawmakers oppose the concept, but because they thought that 15 percent was too low a cap. Dodd vowed to offer a separate amendment asking federal regulators “to give us a comprehensive review of what national rates their ought to be.”

“I don’t think we’re going to resolve that matter on this bill,” Dodd said. “But we ought to have some clear idea as to how we can put some restraints on national usury laws.”

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Business, Congress

Two excellent columns by Greenwald

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The massive expansion of America’s "Hard Left" — here’s an excerpt:

Jesse Ventura was on CNN with Larry King on Monday night and this exchange occurred, illustrating how simple, clear and definitively non-partisan is the case for investigations and prosecutions for those who ordered torture (video below):

VENTURA:  I don’t watch much TV. This year’s reading, I covered Bush’s life. I covered Guantanamo and a few other subjects.

And I’m very disturbed about it.

I’m bothered over Guantanamo because it seems we’ve created our own Hanoi Hilton. We can live with that?  I have a problem.

I will criticize President Obama on this level; it’s a good thing I’m not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.

KING: You were a Navy SEAL.

VENTURA: That’s right. I was water boarded, so I know — at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence — every one of us was waterboarded. It is torture.

KING: What was it like?

VENTURA:  It’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.

Let’s just repeat that:  "I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law."  That is the crux of the case for investigations and prosecutions.  That’s it.  Can anyone find a "liberal" or ideological argument anywhere in what Ventura said?  It’s about as far from a partisan or "leftist" idea as one can get.  Yet our establishment media has succeeded (as Digby recently argued) in converting this view into a "Hard Left," "liberal" or "partisan" argument because that’s the only prism through which they can understand anything, and that’s their time-honored instrument for demonizing any idea that threatens their institutional prerogatives and orthodoxies (only the Hard Left favors this)…

Dawn Johnsen’s belief in the rule of law disqualifies her from Senate confirmation — here’s an excerpt:

One of the best things Barack Obama has done since being elected President was selecting Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel — the office of Jay Bybee, John Yoo, Stephen Bradbury, torture memos, and theories of presidential omnipotence.  Johnsen expressed outrage over the extremism and lawlessness of the Bush administration not (like most political and media elites) in the last few weeks when doing so was easy and irrelevant, but did so loudly and continuously while those crimes were actually taking place.  Her arguments were grounded in one simple belief: that the duty of the OLC is to tell the President when his desired policies are unconstitutional or otherwise illegal.  But as a vivid reflection of how perverse Washington culture is, those attributes — outrage over high-level government extremism and criminality, and a belief in the rule of law — are apparently disqualifying:

Reid: Johnsen Doesn’t Have Votes for DOJ Post

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves to ease a backlog of executive branch nominations, he suggested on Tuesday that he does not have the votes to bring up President Barack Obama’s pick to run the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. . . .

Johnsen had a contentious confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 25. The panel approved her nomination on March 20 on a party-line, 11-7, vote.

But Reid indicated Tuesday that at least a few Democrats would also oppose Johnsen, making the task of reaching 60 votes to avert a Republican filibuster even more difficult.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) “is very concerned” about Johnsen’s nomination, press secretary Clay Westrope said, pointing to her tenure as the legal director of NARAL Pro-Choice America as a point of concern.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who recently joined the Democratic Conference after 29 years as a Republican Senator, has stated that he will vote against Johnsen’s nomination when it hits the floor.

It’s unclear what the White House or the Democratic leadership have done, if anything, to support Johnsen’s nomination (Christy Hardin Smith suggests that the answer is "nothing"), but what’s not unclear is that they have lent their absolute, unconditional support for Arlen Specter’s re-election in a blue-state Senate seat that could easily be filled by someone infinitely better than Specter.  It’s rather irrational to repeatedly complain about one’s inability to "get 60 votes" when one simultaneously does everything possible to ensure the continuous re-election of the alleged obstructionists.  It’s almost enough to make one believe that the inability to "get 60 votes" to support their claimed agenda is a desired, rather than lamentable, state of affairs…

Read them both.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 2:37 pm

"Best lawmakers money can buy"

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Good story by Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:

This was predictable. House Democrats yesterday announced that they’ve watered down their climate change bill to satisfy the same polluters considered most responsible for changing climate trends. From The Washington Post:

That first draft called for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Under the new agreement, the goal would be a 17 percent reduction.

Also, the bill originally called for all states to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Under the new version, the standard would be lowered to 15 percent by 2020, plus a requirement to reduce energy use by 5 percent by then through improved energy efficiency, Hill staffers said.

Democrats from states that get most of their electricity from coal — which has particularly high emissions — had warned that the 25 percent standard could force them into a rapid, costly shift.

The argument, of course, will be that this “rapid, costly shift” would eliminate jobs in these carbon-rich regions. But there’s another “rapid, costly shift” that might follow as well: Namely, the oil and gas industries have already spent $44.6 million lobbying Congress in the first three months of 2009 alone, with the electric companies adding an additional $34.4 million, according to the money-in-politics watchdog, Center for Responsive Politics. As Grist, the environmental news Website, points out, the renewable energy sector has spent only $14.4 million over the same span, with environmental groups contributing just $4.7 million.

Sierra Club President Carl Pope issued this statement on the dirty industries’ influence this morning:

It is clear that Big Oil, Big Coal and other polluters are still holding out for a Congressional bailout. They will continue to try to riddle this legislation with loopholes, water it down, and load it up with hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways. They don’t want it to deliver a recovery fueled by the clean energy jobs that America needs.

The best lawmakers that money can buy.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 2:10 pm

Even worse news about military commissions

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

Why would the Obama administration, after having suspended the Bush military commissions that President Obama called an “enormous failure,” now be pushing to finalize the conviction and life sentence of a detainee who boycotted his trial due to procedures that he — and much of the world — insisted were unfair?

As I noted in my story today on the possible revival of the military commissions, the case of Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul presents this strange contradiction: if the Obama administration thought the commissions as constituted under President Bush were so problematic that they needed to be suspended for 120 days to be studied, shouldn’t the conviction and sentence of one of only three detainees tried by the commissions be put on hold too?

David Frakt, Bahlul’s appointed defense lawyer (Bahlul wanted but wasn’t allowed to represent himself at the trial) told me yesterday that the government has been pressing the military commission’s convening authority to finalize his client’s conviction and sentence, even though Frakt thinks there are strong reasons not to.  For example, Frakt said, Bahlul was convicted by a panel of officers, many of whom had also been impaneled on the jury in the terrorism trial of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Whatever evidence they might have heard about terrorism or al-Qaeda in Hicks’ trial, then, might well be influencing their views in Bahlul’s case, particularly since Bahlul wouldn’t allow his lawyer to put up a defense.

“It’s just bizarre,” says Frakt, an Air Force Reserve major. “That would never be allowed in any other legal system.”

Frakt has been trying to ask the commissions to delay finalization of the conviction and sentence until the Obama administration states clearly what it intends to do about the military commissions, and whether there’s some place he can appeal to.

Frakt said he’s asked to meet with the director of the task force reviewing the military commissions for the Obama administration, but his requests have been ignored…

Continue reading. This is the dark side of the Obama Administration.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 2:05 pm

Obama continues mimicking Bush with military commissions

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Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent:

Recent reports quoting anonymous officials within the Obama administration suggest the president is considering reviving the same military commissions that he called “an enormous failure” as a candidate and that were created by a law he voted against when he was a U.S. senator. Some of the rules would reportedly be rewritten to limit the use of coerced evidence and to otherwise offer more rights for detainees.

The news has come as a shock to many defense lawyers. In one of his first official acts as president, President Obama asked military prosecutors to seek a 120-day suspension of the military commissions so that his staff could review their procedures and the cases before them. To most observers, that suggested that President Obama planned to eventually abolish an institution created by President George W. Bush that, like the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had become an international symbol of U.S. arrogance and lawlessness. But The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration may ask for another 90-day suspension (the current one expires on May 20) and then restart the commissions in the United States.

Created by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the commissions were charged with trying “enemy combatants” for war crimes, and provided much more relaxed rules of evidence that would permit the admission of hearsay, coerced evidence, and secret evidence never shown to the defense. Such evidence is not permitted in U.S. federal civilian courts, or in regular U.S. military courts, because it is considered inherently unreliable and violates a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses and evidence against him.

Although in court documents the administration said only that the military commissions procedure would be “reviewed”, leaving open the possibility that they could be revived in some form, most lawyers representing detainees assumed that the commissions had been so maligned and were so widely considered a failure that they would never be revived.

But the commissions were never completely dismantled, and, in fact, continued despite the administration’s suspension of the trials. In the case of Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul, for example, an alleged al-Qaeda media director who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison by a military commission in November after he boycotted the trial and refused to present a defense, the government is now seeking to “finalize and approve his conviction and sentence,” said David Frakt, his military defense lawyer. The commission’s “convening authority” can either approve the conviction and sentence, or can amend it or grant clemency. “It’s interesting that they continued to press forward despite the suspension,” said Frakt.

Then last week, The Miami Herald reported the appointment of a new chief prosecutor, John Murphy, also suggesting the Obama administration plans to continue the commissions. Murphy was among the team of military prosecutors in the case of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. That case is not widely considered a success, however. Prosecutors had argued for a 30-year sentence, but Hamdan was convicted last summer only of supporting terror, rather than committing any terrorist acts, and sentenced to time served plus less than six months. He returned to his native Yemen last year.

Pentagon spokesman Commander Jeffrey Gordon would not confirm or deny the report about Murphy’s appointment, or about whether the military commissions will be revived.

But there are other suggestions that they will go on. On Thursday,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 2:02 pm

Juan Cole on the hidden hand of Dick Cheney

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Very interesting article in Salon:

Dick Cheney is out there. He is defending torture, dissing Colin Powell, and genuflecting before radio personality Rush Limbaugh as the high priest of what’s left of conservatism. His refusal to go quietly, unlike his much-reviled boss, is risky. He was a laugh line more than once at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

But the media’s focus on the sheer spectacle of the ex-veep’s antics, and on the Republican vs. Democrat feud he’s stoking, underestimates the way Cheney’s principles still inform many of the country’s most crucial policies. Like the creatures in the "Alien" films, Cheney has planted some vicious spores in the bellies of his successors, which threaten to tear them apart as they mature. Can the new administration truly reverse Cheney’s transformation of the United States into a 21st century empire, with the president an imperial figure above the law?

The former vice-president is now a more reliable laugh-getter than vote-getter. At the correspondents’ dinner, President Obama quipped, "Dick Cheney was supposed to be here, but he’s very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled ‘How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People.’" Guest comedian Wanda Sykes went further, saying she found Cheney positively terrifying. "He scares me to death. I tell my kids, I say, ‘Look, if two cars pull up and one has a stranger and the other car has Dick Cheney, you get in the car with the stranger.’"

This week’s news is about the grand old pit bull’s struggle to continue to define his own party. Cheney emerged last Friday to warn on a North Dakota radio program that it would be a mistake for the Republican Party to moderate its message. (Does that mean it is now radical?) Then on Sunday Cheney told Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation" that it was a mistake to stop using waterboarding and other forms of extreme interrogation, and that they did not constitute torture. He also poked fun at Colin Powell, questioning his credentials as a Republican and expressing a preference for the waspish Limbaugh as the party’s leader.

But don’t dismiss Dick Cheney as a fading punch line, or as tragedy reprised as comedy. While the Obama administration has adopted large numbers of policies that directly contradict Cheney’s positions, it would be a mistake to overlook Cheney’s continued influence on the executive branch through the precedents set by the Bush administration. Among the former vice-president’s most important legacies is

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:50 pm

No-nonsense self-defense

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Interesting site mentioned in Barry Eisler’s excellent new thriller Fault Line: nononsenseselfdefense.com. Worth browsing. From the site:

This site will provide you with free, easy-to-use information to keep you safe from crime and violence, including robbery and rape. Our goal is to give you useful information you can use right now to ensure your personal safety.

Although it says ‘self-defense’ in the title, our focus is more on crime prevention, personal safety and showing you ways to avoid finding yourself in a violent encounter. We include information on personal safety strategies; discussions, home security, property protection, robbery prevention, safe dating and self-defense. We discuss what self-defense is and isn’t, finding good self-defense training, survival in high-risk professions and introduce you to the facts, complications and aftermath of violence.

This is a large site with lots of information that covers a wide variety of topics. Furthermore it addresses different levels. How deep you delve into the subject is up to you. The needs of a person who is concerned about the rise in crime is going to be different from a person who is being stalked. As the needs of a martial artist differ from a law enforcement officer. We cover all of them; that is why this is such a large site.

To help you navigate, we recommend you visit the Using This Site page before you start. If you know what you’re looking for, general topics are listed at the top of every page (under the NNSD banner). Clicking on the links will take you that topic’s hub.

If you’re not exactly sure, what you are looking for, we have a Vague Questions page. We recommend you take a quick trip to the misconceptions about self-defense to help you get the most of from perusing this site. Staying safe is a much less daunting a subject if — from the beginning — you know what you are looking.

But do get a cup of coffee (or glass of iced tea), you’ll be here for a while.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:44 pm

Posted in Daily life

While we dither, global warming continues

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John Enders in the Miami Herald:

If anyone needs a reminder of the on-the-ground impacts of global climate change, come to the Andes mountains in Bolivia. At 17,388 feet above sea level, Chacaltaya, an 18,000 year-old glacier that delighted thousands of visitors for decades, is gone, completely melted away as of some sad, undetermined moment early this year.

”Chacaltaya has disappeared. It no longer exists,” said Dr. Edson Ramirez, head of an international team of scientists that has studied the glacier since 1991.

Chacaltaya (the name in Aymara means ”cold road”) began melting in the mid-1980s. Ramirez, the assistant director of the Institute of Hydraulics and Hydrology at the Universidad Mayor de San Andres in nearby La Paz, documented its disappearance in March.

Approximately 35 miles from La Paz, it takes an hour and a half to drive the gravel and rock road up tortuous switchbacks to the top of the mountain of the same name. Visitors on a clear day — and there are many such days — can see the Bolivian highland plain, or altiplano, thousands of feet below, and the nearby Huayna Potosi and Illimani mountains, part of the Cordillera Real de los Andes.

Ten years ago Ramirez and his team of researchers concluded that the glacier would survive until 2015. But the rate of thaw increased threefold in the last decade, according to their studies. He believes the disappearance of Chacaltaya is an indication of the potent effects at higher elevations of the interaction of greenhouse gas accumulation and an increase in average global temperatures.

And he thinks other glaciers in the region also may be melting at a rate faster than previously known. Illimani, the colossal 21,200-foot mountain that looms over the city of La Paz and has served as the backdrop for postcard-perfect pictures since film was invented, is the home to several glaciers. They likely will melt completely within 30 years, he said.

Continue reading. Of course, you can still read in right-wing blogs that global warming is not happening, that the scientific evidence is disputed by many (not by climatologists, though, but by dentists, TV weathermen, and the like).

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:42 pm

Coal ash damaging water, health in 34 states

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Ever wonder why it’s called "clean" coal? Because the coal industry is desperate to sell it and to avoid regulations. This story is by Renee Schoof in McClatchy:

People in 34 states who live near 210 coal ash lagoons or landfills with inadequate lining have a higher risk of cancer and other diseases from contaminants in their drinking water, two environmental groups reported on Thursday.

Twenty-one states have five or more of the high-risk disposal sites near coal-fired power plants. The groups — the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice — said that a 2002 Environmental Protection Agency document that the agency didn’t release until March of this year adds information about toxic releases from these facilities to nearby water systems and data on how some contaminants accumulate in fish and deer and can harm the health of people who hunt and fish.

The report said that people who live near the most problematic disposal sites have as much as a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic. The highest risk is for people who live near ash ponds with no liners and who get their water from wells.

The report said the ash ponds also produced an increased risk of damage to the liver and other organs from exposure to such metals as cadmium, cobalt and lead, and other pollutants.

Although the health information mainly came from an EPA study released in August 2007, the information was largely neglected and was too technical for most people to understand, the groups said. The report and a chart of the sites "takes the numbers and fleshes them out so the most dangerous units are identified," said Lisa Evans, an attorney with Earthjustice.

Evans also said that the actual number of coal ash disposal sites is nearly three times larger. EPA has long estimated there are about 600 ponds and landfills storing the material, but its 2007 survey only looked at 210.

Coal-fired power plants annually dispose of an estimated 100 million tons of ash and sludge scrubbed out of their emissions. The EPA has found that the highest health risks are from water contamination from unlined ponds where both coal ash and other waste products from coal are mixed. It also found unlined ponds increased the risk of other problems, such as damage to the liver and other organs. The risk also is elevated when the disposal sites are only lined with clay.

Evans said that proper storage requires drying the ash and sealing it in a landfill with a double liner of clay and a synthetic material, plus groundwater monitoring and a collection system for any water and pollutants that leak out. She said the EPA should require this kind of storage and close poorly lined lagoons and landfills and safely secure their contents.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that making a decision about whether to regulate the ash sites would be a priority for her. The EPA sent questionnaires about the disposal sites to companies and is collecting the information.

The EPA plans to propose coal ash regulations by December…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:38 pm

Mark Danner and ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer Talk Torture

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Mark Danner and ProPublica’s Dafna Li…", posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:31 pm

Trial underway against Seattle Archdiocese re: sexual abuse of children

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Janet Tu and Ian Ith report for the Seattle Times:

Some 30 years after they were molested by one of the state’s most notoriously abusive priests, the two men faced their abuser for the first time in decades Tuesday in a King County courtroom.

They listened, mostly stoically, as Patrick O’Donnell, a former priest from the Spokane Roman Catholic Diocese, took the stand, detailing some of his long history of abusing boys.

At one point in his testimony, O’Donnell leaned to the side of the witness stand and looked directly at the two men. "I’m extremely sorry," he said. "I don’t expect forgiveness."

While one did not react outwardly to the apology, the other fought back tears.

O’Donnell was the first witness in a trial accusing the Seattle Archdiocese of not doing enough to protect children from the priest when he served for two years in Seattle in the late 1970s.

Opening statements in the trial were delivered Tuesday.

It’s one of only a handful of such lawsuits to go to trial nationwide in recent years and the first to go to trial against the Seattle Archdiocese. The vast majority of cases have resulted in out-of-court settlements.

At issue in the trial is not whether O’Donnell is guilty — he’s admitted to abusing the plaintiffs.

Rather, it’s about whether and when the Seattle Archdiocese knew about O’Donnell’s history, and whether the archdiocese was liable for the priest’s actions when he served at Seattle’s St. Paul Church from 1976 to 1978.

The Seattle Archdiocese says it knew nothing of O’Donnell’s abusive history and that the Spokane Diocese was in charge of O’Donnell, even during the time he was in Seattle.

The Spokane Diocese had sent O’Donnell here for sexual-deviancy treatment. Some six weeks after he arrived, the Seattle Archdiocese allowed him to serve as associate pastor at St. Paul’s, in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. While in Seattle he also earned a doctoral degree at the University of Washington.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers say that Spokane church leaders informed the Seattle Archdiocese about O’Donnell’s history. They say the Seattle Archdiocese was negligent, allowing a "fly by night" transfer and not doing background checks.

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Seattle church leaders didn’t do enough to warn parishioners that O’Donnell was a danger to children, plaintiffs’ attorney Timothy Kosnoff said in his opening statement. He further contended that bishops in the two dioceses had arranged to send the priest to Seattle to prevent a scandal in Spokane…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

Norm Coleman is a piece of work

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Maybe he should consider retiring and not bothering people. Zachary Roth reports in TPM Muckraker:

Now this is some chutzpah…

Norm Coleman is arguing that he should be able to use campaign funds to pay his legal bills in connection with the Nasser Kazeminy allegations, citing the need to respond to inquiries on the subject from TPMmuckraker and others in the media. But we’re kind of unclear about what expenses the Coleman camp incurred here — because they never responded to us in the first place.

In a brief that was sent to the Federal Election Commission last month and examined this afternoon by TPMmuckraker, Coleman campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg wrote that he is seeking confirmation that the campaign "may pay the legal fees and expenses described below."

Under "Matters Generating Legal Fees", Ginsberg wrote:

Over the last several months, Senator Coleman’s campaign and legal counsel have been forced to (1) respond to allegations arising from baseless complaints filed by Senator Coleman’s political opponents; (2) monitor ongoing litigation related to these topics, prepare for possible involvement in such litigation, and preserve documents that may prove relevant to the litigation; and (3) provide responses and information to the media on these topics. (our itals)

Further down in the brief — after making a lengthy argument as to why such costs should be payable by the campaign — Ginsberg attached several news stories on the Coleman-Kazeminy allegations, the first of which is this story by TPMmuckraker.

But here’s the thing. We never heard from the Coleman campaign on that story, or on any of the several other stories we wrote about the allegations. Of course, we didn’t contact them. Instead, we contacted Coleman’s Senate office, since this was a question about Coleman’s activities as a senator, not about his campaign.

The Senate office never responded to our numerous calls on the subject. In fact, as we wrote last December, we left at least ten detailed voicemail messages for Leroy Coleman, the senator’s Washington press secretary (and no relation) asking whether Coleman had been contacted by the FBI in connection with their investigation of Kazeminy. We didn’t get a single call back.

To be clear: we didn’t get a single communication in any form — from either Coleman’s campaign office or his Senate office — in response to our inquiries on the Kazeminy issue. So how the campaign can now be using our inquiries to argue that it should be able to pay Coleman’s legal expenses is sort of beyond us.

To refresh your memory on the underlying issue: …

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Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 12:40 pm

Some people at the Federal Reserve Bank of NY need to be fired

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David Cho and Brady Dennis in the Washington Post:

As American International Group chief executive Edward M. Liddy returns to Washington to face Congress today, new details are emerging about how long federal officials were aware of the company’s recent bonus payments to its executives and of how inflammatory the payments could be.

Documents show that senior officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York received details about the bonuses more than five months before the firestorm erupted and were deeply engaged with AIG as well as outside lawyers, auditors and public relations firms about the potential controversy. But the New York Fed did not raise the alarm with the Obama administration until the end of February.

Timothy F. Geithner, who became Treasury secretary early this year, was the head of the New York Fed when it became aware of the bonus details. But his name is not among those of senior New York Fed officials mentioned in the summaries of phone calls, correspondence and other documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Those documents also illuminate who in the government, beyond the New York Fed, knew what about the bonuses at AIG’s most troubled unit, and when.

Key members of Congress began investigating the payments as long ago as October and, beginning in January, repeatedly warned the Treasury about the matter.

In early February, Fed officials in New York sent details about the bonus program to their counterparts at the Federal Reserve in Washington, to prepare Chairman Ben S. Bernanke in case he was asked about the payments at a congressional hearing.

By the time the Obama administration was fully engaged in early March, the New York Fed had determined that AIG was legally bound to pay the bonuses to its Financial Products division, the documents show. Top New York Fed officials also huddled with AIG about developing a strategy to mollify angry lawmakers — but that did little to quell the firestorm that ensued…

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Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 12:35 pm

Judd Gregg explains why the continuing Franken-Coleman fight

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Brian Beutler in TPMDC:

A Congressional Quarterly article about GOP efforts to get conservative Democrats to oppose major legislation contains an interesting admission from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

According to the piece, Republicans "have vowed to block, reshape or defeat a number of Democratic initiatives in coming months, even though Specter’s defection has left the Senate Republican caucus with just 40 members."

But in a 99-member Senate, 40 votes are enough to keep Democrats from cutting off debate on major legislation. "Usually you need 41 votes to get anything done around here. But right now, you can do a lot with 40 votes,” said Judd Gregg

In a 99-seat Senate, 40 votes isn’t nearly enough to "get anything done." Not at all. It is rather the bare minimum necessary to make sure nothing gets done. And it explains why so many Republican senators will routinely vote against cloture on major Democratic agenda items. It’s called a filibuster–and it isn’t typically thought of as way to "get stuff done."

You’ll seldom hear Republicans admit that this is their legislative strategy–even though it manifestly is their legislative strategy–but sometimes obvious and uncomfortable truths are hard to deny, and slip out accidentally. And it’s an important truth.

This strategy is crucial to understanding the GOP’s gambit in the Minnesota Senate race. When that issue is decided, the Senate will have 100 members, and if Franken is declared the winner (as is widely expected) the Republicans’ 40 votes will no longer be enough on their own to mount a filibuster.

For his part–in the weeks since he decided not to join the Democratic administration and chose instead to lead Republican opposition to the President’s budget–Gregg has become one of the filibuster’s strongest proponents.

He compared efforts to circumvent the filibuster to mob tactics, despite the fact that he used those same tactics when Republicans were trying to advance the Bush agenda. It’s a sort of…flexible philosophy. One has to imagine, though, that if he’d gone through the nomination process to become Commerce Secretary, and 40 senators had filibustered his confirmation, he’d have had a suspiciously different take on minority obstruction.

The GOP: the Party of No.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Franken calls for election certification to be granted

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Good article by Eric Kleefeld at TPMDC. It begins:

I’ve now had the chance to read through the Franken campaign’s rebuttal brief in Norm Coleman’s appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and there are a few themes that run through it. (Check out Rick Hasen’s take, as well.) Coleman’s arguments are derided as internally sloppy, inconsistent with each other, and overall a cause of harm to the state for delaying the seating of the rightful winner of the election — Al Franken — a situation that should be remedied as soon as possible.

"Even if this Court were to take Appellants claims at face value, each fails as a matter of law. In most cases, Appellants’ claims are also barred as a procedural matter, and, even more fundamentally, they fail for simple lack of proof," the brief argues. "On each of these grounds, Respondent respectfully requests that the Court affirm the trial court and make clear that Al Franken is entitled to receive the certificate of election."

Examples of alleged sloppiness by Team Coleman abound in the Franken response. It’s noted that the Coleman camp is claiming a violation of the Substantive Due Process clause in the trial court’s handing-down of strict rules for accepting previously-rejected ballots — but the problem here is that due process wasn’t raised until late into the trial, and the "Substantive Due Process" phrase itself was not used until the closing arguments. Failure to properly argue a point would put it beyond possibility of appeal.

For another thing, they point to Coleman’s frequent invocation of Bush v. Gore in challenging variations in the acceptance and rejection of absentee ballots across localities, despite the fact that the Supreme Court limited the Bush decision to those sole circumstances in Florida: "The [Supreme] Court even went so far as to exempt the very claim Appellants now raise: ‘The question before the Court is not whether local entities in the exercise of their expertise, may develop different systems for implementing decisions.’"

As the best example of an accusation of inconsistency, Team Franken points to …

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Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 12:28 pm

More on Obama’s decision to suppress torture photos

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Good summary of Obama’s reversal of his decision to release the torture photos. An excerpt from that summary:

The A.C.L.U. sharply criticized the president’s decision. In a statement, its executive director, Anthony D. Romero said:

“The Obama administration’s adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president’s stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government. This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department’s failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

“It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known – whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration’s complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated.”

A senior administration official said that the president met last week with his legal team and reached the conclusion that the interests of the military and the U.S. government would not be served by releasing the photos.

Written by Leisureguy

13 May 2009 at 12:25 pm

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