Later On

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

Archive for June 5th, 2010

Netflix gets new Roku interface

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 3:00 pm

On Wendell Potter, from the comments

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 12:56 pm

What exactly is the blockade of Gaza?

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Yousef Munayyer in Foreign Policy:

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 11:19 am

In 2000, Vitter Proposed Legislation To Reduce Criminal Liability Of Oil Companies For Spills

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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 cosponsorsnever 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.

BP has already spent nearly a billion dollars on spill cleanup, and could end up spending as much as $37 billion, so a $150 million cap is paltry.

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 11:15 am

Another KBR employee says she was raped while working for the military contractor in Iraq.

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Matt Corley at ThinkProgress:

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 11:12 am

Those poisonous Shrek glasses McDonald’s gave to people?

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 10:49 am

‘War on drugs’ behind endless misery

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Good post at Transform:

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 …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2010 at 10:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

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