Later On

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

Archive for August 18th, 2010

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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I’m re-watching it because it was Columbia’s Big Picture in the making and release at the time of the events in Indecent Exposure, and reading the latter made me want to see the former. It now exists in three different versions, and I picked the most recent, which has added footage to explain some things—and certainly some of the earlier developments seem easier to follow and to link together.

I hadn’t realized that Spielberg wrote as well as directed the movie, and it still does a great job of engaging one’s sense of awe. I think everyone who saw the original release when it came out can still summon up some of those feelings. Watching the movie this time, it’s interesting to see how he lays the groundwork for that climactic moment. I’m reminded of something a friend once told me after studying a trompe l’oeil still life of a pipe being held, with the bright coal of fire apparently actually hot. He said the entire painting was done to support that one little spot of heat—for example, none of the whites were really white, but off-white and muted, etc. The movie strikes me that way now.

Also, we have come a LONG way in special effects technology since the late ’70s. Portions of Close Encounters look almost quaint.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Movies & TV

Will Fox inform the public of its political contributions?

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Steve Benen:

Fox News’ parent company, News Corp, raised some eyebrows with its $1 million contribution to the Republican Governors Association. There’s just no modern precedent for a media conglomerate to offer this kind of financial support to a party’s campaign committee.

Today, Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, contacted Fox News CEO Roger Ailes with a suggestion of sorts. The network’s news division, Daschle said, should add a disclaimer during its coverage of gubernatorial races. He even wrote a sample script of what Fox News’ on-air talent should say: "News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November."

In the latter to Ailes, Daschle added, "If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the ‘fair and balanced’ side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

"For the first time in history, your organization is openly and proudly supporting the defeat of Democratic governors with an unprecedented political contribution of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. In fact, your company provided the single largest corporate contribution to our opposition…. As you are well aware, the stakes could not be higher in the 37 gubernatorial races this election cycle."

I don’t imagine Ailes intends to act on this, but the DGA’s argument is hardly baseless. Put it this way: imagine what Republicans would be saying right now if the New York Times Company contributed $1 million to the DSCC, but assured Republicans that its coverage of this year’s Senate races would remain entirely fair and even-handed.

Daschle’s full letter — and its extremely amusing postscript:

Mr. Roger Ailes
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President
Fox News Channel
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Ailes,

For the first time in history, your organization is openly and proudly supporting the defeat of Democratic governors with an unprecedented political contribution of $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. In fact, your company provided the single largest corporate contribution to our opposition.

In the interest of some fairness and balance, I request that you add a formal disclaimer to your news coverage any time any of your programs cover governors or gubernatorial races between now and Election Day. I suggest that the disclaimer say: "News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November." If you do not add a disclaimer, I request that you and your staff members on the "fair and balanced" side of the network demand that the contribution be returned.

As you are well aware, the stakes could not be higher in the 37 gubernatorial races this election cycle. Your corporation and your allies know well that these races have grave and substantial implications for Congressional redistricting. In fact, your allies in the GOP hope to change our election map for decades by electing governors who will redraw 30 seats into Republican territory.

I look forward to hearing from you – or any of your programs – at your earliest convenience.

Nathan Daschle

P.S. Many news outlets have covered this controversy, but your own news programs have been strangely silent. I am available to appear on any of your programs to discuss the case for Democratic governors – particularly why our governors best for business growth. Despite my efforts to immediately reach out to your news programs, more than a dozen requests were ignored.

Cc: Bret Baier
Carl Cameron
Gretchen Carlson
Neil Cavuto
Steve Doocy
Trace Gallagher
Major Garrett
Sean Hannity
Bill Hemmer
Brian Kilmeade
Megyn Kelly
Martha MacCallum
Bill O’Reilly
Jon Scott
Shepard Smith
Greta Van Susteren
Chris Wallace

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 1:00 pm

Republican Ted Olson supports the Park51 project

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Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress:

This afternoon, Ted Olson — whose wife died in the September 11th attacks — distanced himself from other conservatives and told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he did not oppose the building of a mosque near ground zero. “It may not make me popular with some people, but I think probably the President was right about this,” he began:

OLSON: I do believe that people of all religions have a right to build edifices or structures, places of religious worship or study where the community allows them to do it under zoning laws and that sort of thing. And that we don’t want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith. And I don’t think it should be a political issue. It shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue either. I believe Governor Christie from New Jersey said it as well, that this should not be in that political partisan marketplace.

Watch it:

Olson also discussed the recent court decision to stay Judge Walker’s decision overturning Proposition 8 and why marriage equality is “consistent with conservative values.”

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life

Feds Say Leonhart is ‘Right Choice’ for DEA, Despite Widespread Calls for Her Withdrawal

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The Bad Obama seems to be the one responsible for drug policy. Mike Meno of MPP:

One month after MPP and an ideologically diverse coalition of drug policy reformers and advocacy groups called on President Obama to withdraw Michele Leonhart as his nominee for DEA administrator, a spokesperson for the White House has declared that the president is confident that the Bush holdover is the “right” choice for the job. Mike Riggs has the story in The Daily Caller:

Obama is confident that Leonhart is the right choice, the White House staffer said, and that as of Friday the president wasn’t considering anyone else for the position. In other words, the response from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to a chorus of concerns boils down to: Leonhart or bust.

MPP and others – including FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher and the states-rights group the Tenth Amendment Center – pointed to Leonhart’s interim leadership of the DEA, which has included federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana providers and the denial of medical marijuana research applications, as evidence that she is continuing Bush-era policies that Obama promised to end. During the campaign, and in an October memo from the Department of Justice, the president and his administration pledged to end federal raids on state-legal medical marijuana providers.

But when Riggs asked the feds whether recent raids in California violate the spirit of the October memo, spokespeople for both the White House and DOJ seemed to backtrack on the president’s pledge.

But the White House and the Justice Department both told TheDC that Holder’s memo does not give dispensaries carte blanche to grow or sell marijuana, and that recent raids don’t conflict with what Obama expressed while campaigning.

“I wouldn’t say the memo ‘discourages’ certain raids,” a DOJ official told TheDC. Rather, “it talks about prioritizing resources most efficiently.” And both the White House and the DOJ argued that the gist of the Holder memo was that the DEA would “not focus its limited resources on individual patients with cancer or other serious diseases.”

One can’t help but wonder, with the nomination of Leonhart, the ongoing raids, and this type of public about-face on the issue, if President Obama is now reneging on his campaign pledge to approach medical marijuana issues differently than his predecessor.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs thinks it’s absurd to even suggest such a thing. “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush,”Gibbs said recently. “Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy.”

Crazy is exactly right, Mr. Gibbs. I mean, it’s not like President Obama picked the same person George W. Bush did to lead the DEA, and has insisted on standing by her while she employs the same policies that were in place under Bush. Oh wait …

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 12:43 pm

Atlanta police botched no-knock raid, Atlanta will pay $4.9 million

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Police need to rethink these raids. They’re exciting and all, but they carry a high risk. Mike Meno at MPP:

Four years after 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed by Atlanta narcotics officers who falsified evidence before and after a completely unwarranted raid on her home, the city of Atlanta has announced it will pay a $4.9 million settlement to her family.

In November 2006, officers conducted a “no knock” raid on Johnston’s home based on bogus information from an informant who said he had purchased drugs there. (After the raid, the informant told a local news station that he had never even been to Johnston’s home, and that police asked him to fabricate the story after the shooting.)

Johnston, who lived alone, apparently mistook the plainclothes officers for intruders and, according to the prosecutor trying the officers, fired one shot through the door and hit nothing. The police responded, firing 39 shots, killing Johnston and apparently wounding three of their own.

Investigators did not find any evidence that drugs were being sold in the apartment. In an apparent attempt to fabricate a cover story, one of the officers, J.R. Smith, planted three bags of marijuana in the home, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Yonette Sam-Buchanan.

The raid made national headlines, and the three officers involved eventually plead guilty to federal charges including conspiracy, voluntary manslaughter and making false statements. They are currently serving sentences in federal prison.

“The resolution of this case is an important step in the healing process for the city and its residents,” Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed said in a statement yesterday. “As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions. In addition, the narcotics unit of the Atlanta Police Department was completely reorganized, which included changes in policy and personnel.”

Unfortunately, raids like the one on Kathryn Johnston’s home continue to occur every day in places all over the country. Some compensation for Johnston’s family is a good start to repairing the damage, but a much more appropriate legacy for this highly-publicized tragedy would be for officials nationwide to realize that in a free society, armed officers shouldn’t be sent on missions to break down doors and potentially use violence in order to enforce nonviolent drug offenses.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 12:41 pm

Stress-free productivity

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Actually this presentation (PDF of PowerPoint Slide handout) was made for librarians, but it really applies to almost any office job.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in Daily life

9 ingenious iPad accessories

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The Wife has one, so she may want some of these.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 11:01 am

GOP Muslims Fear Failure Of Bush Outreach Efforts After Anti-Mosque Furor

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The GOP has pretty much put a big sign over the party: "Whites only—and only Whites who are heterosexual, Christian, healthy, and uninterested in rational discourse." Brian Beutler reports at TPMDC:

After winning nearly 80 percent of the Muslim vote in 2000, George Bush bled much of it away in the post 9/11 era. The war in Iraq, the PATRIOT Act, detainment and other policies drove at least half of that support to John Kerry and third party candidates in 2004. But all the while, several influential Muslim Republicans, both inside the administration and out, were working hard to staunch the bleeding and build a donor base among wealthy members of the Muslim community.

Today, several of them say that their efforts are being undermined, if not completely destroyed, by Republicans stoking anti-Muslim sentiment by opposing the construction of the Cordoba House — now known infamously and inaccurately as the "Ground Zero Mosque".

"We’ve been working hard, some Muslim Americans, some non-Muslims, to keep the Muslim American community and other minorities on the party side, to keep relationships going," says David Ramadan, a Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. "All of that is threatened to be thrown down the drain."

"Most of [that work] is at risk, if not all," Ramadan told TPM. "How can I, an operative of the Republican party of Virginia that goes out and holds events for candidates, how can I go out to the Muslims of Loudoun County… how can I go out today in good faith and say I’d like to invite you to a Republican event, or to a candidate event on a Republican event who shares your values? Who’s going to give me a dollar today? Who’s going to give me a dollar when Republicans are comparing Muslims in general to Nazis?… Excuse me! My mother is not a Nazi!"

Former Muslim members of the Bush administration are equally outraged and equally concerned that the political cost to Republicans will be long lasting — not just among Muslims but among all religious minorities.

"Some GOP leaders like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are working overtime to ensure that we’ll never get the Muslim vote back," said Suhail Khan, Chairman of the Conservative Inclusion Coalition, and a former Bush political adviser.

"The community is one that is looking for help on bread and butter issues: taxes, health care, the economy, education," Kahn added. "But if you have party leaders coming out and trashing religious freedom issues, private property — these are things that people came to the party for. People are going to remember that."

Under President Bush, things were different. Bush lost the support of a huge number of Muslim voters over major policy differences, but he was able to retain the allegiance of a core number of supporters, in part by suffocating the element in his party that the GOP leadership is currently rallying around and flaming.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Religion

Comcast Threw Local Boston Reporter Under The Bus To Appease Fox News And Bill O’Reilly

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Companies due stupid things in many cases because important decisions are made by stupid people. (For a wonderfully entertaining investigation of a particular example, I highly recommend Indecent Exposure: A True Story of Hollywood and Wall Street, by David McClintick. (The link goes to inexpensive hardbound secondhand editions.))

Amanda Terkel writes for ThinkProgress:

In April 2008, Boston news reporter Barry Nolan publicly announced that he planned to protest the Boston/New England National Academy of Television Art and Science chapter’s decision to award Fox News host Bill O’Reilly an Emmy Award. Nolan, who worked for Comcast Cable’s CN8 channel, said he was “appalled” and encouraged industry colleagues to “express their displeasure to the board of governors.”

At the awards ceremony, Nolan “quietly put fliers on tables that ’simply had’ quotes from O’Reilly as well as three pages from the sexual harassment lawsuit O’Reilly settled that was brought by his former producer.” Although security did tell Nolan he couldn’t distribute materials, Nolan maintains that he never booed or made a ruckus during the event. Nevertheless, two days later, Nolan’s boss told him to go home. About a week later, he was fired.

Six months after the incident, Nolan filed “a $1.2 million lawsuit against Comcast for wrongful termination, charging that his First Amendment rights ‘to speak freely’ had been violated.” The Columbia Journalism Review now has new details about Nolan’s firing, showing that it appears Comcast threw the local newsman under the bus to appease Fox News and Bill O’Reilly’s ego:

On May 12, 2008 — two days after the Emmys — O’Reilly went on the offensive against what he called Nolan’s “outrageous behavior” with a carefully worded, lawyerly letter to Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, which distributes Fox News and entertainment programming, to its subscribers. The letter was written on Fox News stationery and was copied to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

Pointedly, O’Reilly began by noting their mutual business interests. “We at The O’Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.” […]

Other documents, however, filed in connection with Nolan’s lawsuit strongly suggest that O’Reilly’s letter to Roberts was a key factor in his firing. Once Comcast was in receipt of the O’Reilly letter, e-mails, talking points, and memos went flying from one jittery Comcast executive to another.Should they call O’Reilly? Who should call? Should they send a letter? Who should draft it? Who should sign it? And don’t forget to CC Roger Ailes. Roberts himself was very much in the loop, but waited until May 22 — two days after Nolan’s firing — to send O’Reilly an apology letter of his own.

Significantly, court documents show that Comcast and Fox were “involved in ‘ongoing’ contract talks at the time, with Comcast fearing Nolan’s protest ‘jeopardized and harmed’ its business dealings with Fox.”

In 2008, Nolan wrote a post for ThinkProgress urging people to keep speaking out: “And in our role as citizens, we have been told by O’Reilly to shut up, or Fox Security may pay you a visit. We are called traitors if we simply speak the truth about the absence of WMD’s — the way the war is going — the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, of Gitmo, of waterboarding. Shut up. So, when exactly do they think we have the right to speak up? To speak the quiet simple truth, to people who have more power than us? Well, I think now would be a good time. The fog of fear is lifting. The balance of power is shifting. People are beginning to talk to each other again instead of shouting. I think it’s time to reclaim the right to free speech — even if it comes at a price.”

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:55 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Save money: Email smartphones rather than text

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Interesting post at The Consumerist by Phil Villarreal:

If you’ve got a smart phone it doesn’t make much sense to pay $5, $10 or more a month for text messaging plans once you realize you can send free messages to friends’ phones via email. All you need to pull off the trick is your text-ees’ phone numbers and service providers.

A Popular Mechanics post from last year rounds up the formulas:





AIM: +1phonenumber

Once you add your friends’ cell emails to your contacts, it’s just a matter of firing off a mass email telling them to text you at your email address from now on.

How to Email Text Messages to Any Phone [Popular Mechanics]

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Killing off the oceans: Progress report on the Gulf

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Sara Kennedy for McClatchy:

Scientists have found evidence that oil has become toxic to marine organisms in a section of the Gulf of Mexico that supports the spawning grounds of commercially important fish species.

Researchers from the University of South Florida said Tuesday that, in preliminary results, oil appears to reside in droplet form among the sediments of a vital underwater canyon where clouds of oil from the BP spill were found.

"So, indeed, the waters have a level of toxicity that needs to be recognized, and I think these were some of the first indicators that the base of the food web — the bacteria and the phytoplankton — may be affected," said David Hollander, chief scientist on a research vessel that just returned from a 10-day trip in the Gulf.

More than 200 million gallons of oil leaked into Gulf waters from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well until it was capped last month. The oil company also used millions of gallons of chemical dispersant to break up the oil as it gushed from the runaway well off the Louisiana coast.

Researchers peering into the murk described what they saw using a process involving ultraviolet light.

"We were able to detect sediments that had oil covering them," said Hollander. "It wasn’t like a drape, don’t get me wrong, like a blanket of oil; rather, it looked like a constellation of stars that were at the scale of microdroplets. They seemed to be at every location we looked east of the wellhead, and interestingly and surprisingly, at the top of the DeSoto Canyon to the east."

He described the DeSoto Canyon as an underwater geologic feature that is thought to bathe the Continental Shelf with nutrient-rich waters.

In subsurface waters east of the wellhead, phytoplankton — microscopic, plant-like organisms that form the base of the marine food web — was found to be in poor health, Hollander said.

In those locations, phytoplankton was repressed, or "feeling a toxic response to those waters," he added…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:48 am

US: Prison nation

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I’m not referring to the fact that the US locks up a much higher proportion of its citizens than any country in the world, including the most repressive. No, I’m referring to the fact that the US likes locking people up so much that it keeps them locked up even when the courts say to free them. Carol Rosenberg reports in the Miami Herald:

An emotionally ill detainee still being held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was first recommended for release by the Pentagon in 2004, according to a federal judge whose ruling ordering that the man be freed was made public this week.

Despite the Pentagon’s recommendation, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Bush administration adopted the military assessment and put Adnan Abdul Latif, now about 34, on an approved transfer list. By then, however, the issue of transferring prisoners to Yemen, Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homeland, was mired in a diplomatic standoff over whether the Arabian Peninsula nation could provide security assurances and rehabilitate suspected radicalized Guantanamo detainees.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Kennedy disclosed the timeline in a heavily censored 28-page ruling made public on Monday night that ordered Latif set free. Latif is the 38th Guantanamo captive to be found by a federal judge to be illegally detained at the remote U.S. Navy base.

Kennedy first ordered the Obama administration to arrange for Latif’s release "forthwith” on July 21. But a Justice Department spokesman, Dean Boyd, said government lawyers were still deciding Tuesday night whether to appeal to a higher court.

"Why they continue to defend holding him is unfathomable," said David Remes, Latif’s free-of-charge attorney. "Adnan’s case reflects the Obama administration’s complete failure to bring the Guantanamo litigation under control."

Latif, held at Guantanamo since Jan. 18, 2002, has said for years that he had suffered a head injury in his teens and was in Pakistan and Afghanistan seeking Islamic charity medical care before his capture.

The U.S. Justice Department countered that Latif was seen at an al Qaida guest house and trained with the terror movement.

But in the portion of the judge’s ruling made public Kennedy noted that the Pentagon’s own military intelligence analysis found no eyewitness to back up the claim, only war-on-terror captives who had seen him in U.S. prison camps.

Kennedy quoted from a 2004 Defense Department report that recommended he be sent home and said Latif "is not known to have participated in combatant/terrorist training."

The government had "not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Latif was in Afghanistan to train and fight with” either the Taliban or Al Qaida, Kennedy wrote.

Latif’s lawyer said the Yemeni has spent long periods of his captivity in the Guantanamo psychiatric ward after repeated suicide attempts and reacted with despair to the judge’s ruling.

"He sees death as his only way out," Remes said…

Continue reading. What has America become?

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:45 am

Obama wrong, totally: The oil is NOT gone

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Obama has done a bad job on the Gulf Oil Spill: he has turned control to BP, which monitors and restricts the studies being done to determine the damage. Curtis Morgan for McClatchy:

A team of University of Georgia scientists on Tuesday disputed the Obama administration’s claim, made two weeks ago, that most of the oil spewed from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well is either gone or widely dispersed.

Far from gone or dispersed, the scientists said, 70 to 79 percent of the more than 4 million barrels of oil that escaped into the Gulf of Mexico remains in the water, posing real but still undetermined risks.

"The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and of no concern for the environment is just absolutely incorrect," said Charles Hopkinson, a director of Georgia Sea Grant and marine science professor at the University of Georgia, who co-authored the report.

The Georgia report blamed the media for "inaccurate and misleading” interpretation of a federal analysis released Aug. 2, but its authors, in a teleconference, declined to address questions about whether an upbeat spin by the Obama administration had shaped coverage.

The federal report, produced by government and independent scientists, estimated that the "vast majority” of the 4.9 million barrels of crude released into the Gulf had evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered by BP from the wellhead, dispersed naturally or by chemicals into drops likely to be rapidly consumed by microbes. Only 26 percent of "residual” oil remained largely in the form of sheen or tarballs, the federal report found — still a volume four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

In announcing the data, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cautioned that the vast amount of oil would cause impacts for years but still struck a glass-half-full tone echoed by other Obama aides.

"At least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system, and most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches," she said at a White House conference.

Two calculations explain the bulk of the difference in the Georgia report, produced by Hopkinson with four colleagues at the University of Georgia and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

In the first, the Georgia scientists said the government had erred by including in its totals 800,000-plus barrels of oil that BP captured from the well after it had fitted a sealing cap on the gusher — 17 percent of the well’s estimated flow. The Georgia scientists argued that that oil had never actually "spilled” into the Gulf, so including it to determine the percentage of oil no longer in the Gulf gave an incorrect impression.

More significantly, the report also dramatically reduced the amount of oil estimated to have evaporated, to 7 to 12 percent from the federal study’s 25 percent…

Continue reading. You really have to watch Obama closely: sometimes he’s very good, but sometimes he turns into a tool of Big Business.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:30 am

Journalist Exposes How Private Investigation Firm Hired by Chevron Tried to Recruit Her as a Spy to Undermine $27B Suit in Ecuadorian Amazon

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Just a reminder that businesses will do anything to increase short-term profits, regardless of laws, morality, ethics, and common sense. Businesses are powerful, wealthy sociopaths that provide things we want, but businesses must be watched, regulated, and monitored like blood-crazed zombies, which is more or less what they are, except money instead of blood. And while they don’t want to eat your brains, they would be much happier if you didn’t have one and would just do what they want you to: Work hard all your life and send your money to them.

Sorry. Didn’t think it would go to a rant—but read this:

An exposé in The Atlantic magazine reveals how one of the world’s largest private investigation firms, Kroll, hired by oil giant Chevron, tried to recruit an American journalist to undermine a massive $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron brought by the residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We speak with the journalist, Mary Cuddehe, and with Han Shan, the coordinator for Amazon Watch’s Clean Up Ecuador campaign.


Mary Cuddehe, independent journalist. Her article in The Atlantic is A Spy in the Jungle

Han Shan, coordinator for Amazon Watch’s Clean Up Ecuador campaign.

Related stories


AMY GOODMAN: We begin today with a new twist in the seventeen-year-old legal battle between oil giant Chevron and the residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon, who say decades of reckless oil drilling have taken a deadly toll on their health and their environment. They accuse Texaco, now Chevron, of dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest, and Chevron now faces a $27.3 billion lawsuit.

An article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine reveals how a private investigation firm, hired by Chevron, tried to recruit an American journalist to undermine the high-profile lawsuit. According to the first-person account of Mary Cuddehe, the investigative firm Kroll flew her to Colombia and offered her $20,000 to spend six weeks in Lago Agrio, the jungle town in Ecuador where the trial is being held. They wanted her to say she was an independent journalist, while spying for Chevron, and find out if the plaintiffs in the lawsuit had "rigged" a health study that found the community suffered abnormally high cancer rates. But Mary Cuddehe said no. She refused the offer to become a corporate spy.

The article is called "A Spy in the Jungle," and Cuddehe writes, quote, "There was a reason they wanted me. With one Google search, anyone could see that I was, in fact, a journalist. If I went to Lago Agrio as myself and pretended to write a story, no one would suspect that the starry-eyed young American poking around was actually shilling for Chevron."

Well, we invited Chevron to come on the program, but they declined. Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson did, however, not directly address Mary Cuddehe’s claims, but acknowledged hiring Kroll. Robertson said in a statement to Democracy Now! that, quote, "It should come as no surprise that we have hired an outside investigative firm to help document the fraud being perpetrated by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their associates in this case. There are now numerous documented examples of falsified expert reports, fraudulent evidence, unsubstantiated health claims and collusion with court experts," he wrote.

Well, Mary Cuddehe is based in Mexico City. She joins me now via Democracy Now! video stream.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Mary Cuddehe.

MARY CUDDEHE: Thanks. It’s good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined in the studios in San Francisco by Han Shan, coordinator of the Clean Up Ecuador campaign at Amazon Watch.

But Mary, let’s begin with you. Why don’t you explain what happened, how you were approached by, well, Kroll, hired by Chevron?

MARY CUDDEHE: Right. Well, you know, as I wrote in my story, I was in Cancún. I’m a freelance reporter, and I was in Cancún working on another story. And, you know, it was kind of the typical thing where I was writing for a magazine that has a low budget, and, you know, I seemed like I was barely going to break even on the story, and I was sort of despairing about the state of journalism. And then I got this phone call. You know, it was kind of like magic. And I found out about this job. And so, I went back to Mexico City, and I got in touch with someone from Kroll. And they didn’t want to speak too much over the phone, so they offered to fly me out to Bogotá for the weekend. And so, I was—I showed up at this, you know, kind of luxury hotel and spent a weekend being briefed on the case. And that was how I first found out about the job.

AMY GOODMAN: Who spoke to you? What did they say? …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:26 am

The consequences of inaction

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Steve Benen:

In his Oval Office address in June, President Obama tried, once again, to remind Americans that our approach to energy policy, and our failure to position ourselves for international competition, is costing us dearly. "The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America," he said.

It’s hard to overstate how true this is. In June, a New Jersey company held the license to technology that "makes solar panels cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment." The company’s chief executive, an American and retired Marine, decided he had no choice but to move his operation to China, which reached out to the company. "The Chinese have a major, aggressive movement to increase the technology in the photovoltaic area," Chuck Provini said. "They picked up the phone and called us and said, ‘What do you do?’"

The result: an American company’s technology will be commercialized overseas. The economic boost and the hundreds of new jobs will be in China, not here. As ABC News reported, we’re not only lagging behind China, but Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain all have a national clean energy policy, and are all taking clean-energy investments more seriously than the United States.

And it’s getting worse. Deutsche Bank has making billions of dollars in energy-policy investments. Guess where the money’s going? Western Europe and China. Guess why:

Amid so much political uncertainty in the United States, Parker said Deutsche Bank will focus its "green" investment dollars more and more on opportunities in China and Western Europe, where it sees governments providing a more positive environment.

"They’re asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry," [Deutsche Bank’s Kevin] Parker said of Washington’s inability to seal a climate-change program and other alternative energy incentives into place.

Every policy challenge need not be seen through a partisan lens, but this one should — America is faltering on energy because the Republican Party demands it. The U.S. is falling behind international competitors because the GOP thinks "drill, baby, drill" is a substantive idea, climate science is a Marxist plot, cap-and-trade (an idea Republicans came up with) is radical and dangerous, and a national clean energy policy is wholly unnecessary.

Of course, this wouldn’t necessarily matter — the GOP is in the minority — but our political system, for the first time in American history, requires super-majorities just to have a vote. The result is legislative paralysis, and a clean-energy revolution that is leaving the United States behind.

Misguided Republican nonsense is costing the nation dearly, and after the midterm, and expected GOP gains, this is only going to get worse.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:19 am

The cult of less: Materialism minimized

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Interesting article by Matthew Danzico at BBC:

Many have begun trading in CD, DVD, and book collections for digital music, movies, and e-books. But this trend in digital technology is now influencing some to get rid of nearly all of their physical possessions – from photographs to furniture to homes altogether.

Let’s face it – digital files, applications and web services are replacing the need for many of the physical goods that pepper our homes, crowd our desks and fill our closets.

From online photo albums to virtual filing cabinets to digital musical instruments, hi-tech replacements are becoming ubiquitous.

But as goods continue to make the leap from the bookshelf to the hard drive, some individuals are taking the opportunity to radically change their lifestyles.

Meet Kelly Sutton, a spiky-haired 22-year-old software engineer with thick-rimmed glasses and an empty apartment in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood – a hotbed for New York’s young, early adopters of new technology.

Mr Sutton is the founder of, a website which has helped him sell or give away his possessions – apart from his laptop, an iPad, an Amazon Kindle, two external hard drives, a "few" articles of clothing and bed sheets for a mattress that was left in his newly rented apartment.

This 21st-Century minimalist says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.

"I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation – cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact," said Mr Sutton.

Mr Sutton sold or gave away most of his assets, apart from his iPad, Kindle, laptop and a few other items

The tech-savvy Los Angeles "transplant" credits his external hard drives and online services like iTunes, Hulu, Flickr, Facebook, Skype and Google Maps for allowing him to lead a minimalist life.

"I think the shift to all digital formats in all methods and forms of media consumption is inevitable and coming very quickly," said Mr Sutton.

And Mr Sutton may be right.

Consumer electronic book sales tripled between 2008 and 2009, while the growth of physical book sales slowed, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Meanwhile, compact disc sales have declined by roughly 50% from their 2005 levels worldwide, while global revenue from digital music has nearly quadrupled in the same period, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Virtual homelessness

Chris Yurista, a DJ from Washington, DC, cites this trend in digital music as one reason he was able to hand over the keys to his basement apartment over a year ago.

"It’s always nice to have a personal sense of home, but that aside – the internet has replaced my need for an address," the 27-year-old said…

Continue reading.

And Boing Boing asked Kelly Sutton to write more about his lifestyle:

About a year ago, I came to the conclusion that the most logical thing to be done was to rid myself of all (or most) of my possessions. After meticulously itemizing all of my stuff, I put almost all of it up for sale on a site I built in a weekend, Cult of Less. Yesterday, the BBC News ran an article about myself and a few other folks replacing their physical media with their digital analogs. There are many implications of selling everything, some great and some not so great. I was a bit hasty in my desire to expunge my personal inventory but it’s something worth considering. The following are a few things I learned, and where the project is going from here.

The greatest thing gained from Cult of Less has been an unprecedented amount of physical freedom. This is obvious to those that have read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek. Ferriss takes owning nothing to an extreme and comes across as brackish in his suggestions, but there is an important point to take away from the book and accompanying blog. A willingness to drop your stationary physical possessions and move is the greatest freedom I have found in this project. Sure, you could get by without a bed, furniture and a few other essentials, but you will be miserable. No one wants to sleep on a floor if they can help it.

Instead, I’ve found that a lack of attachment to my possessions to be the biggest win. My bed isn’t important enough to me to haul more than a few blocks, should I move. Chances are, the person moving into my apartment after me would like a bed. Leaving it for them will be a nice move-in present.

A minor yet pleasurable consequence has been interacting with people from around the world. It shot any hope of the project being hip and green, but I’ve shipped some of my belongings to places like Germany, New Zealand and the U.K.

As the everwise Internet collective was quick to point out yesterday, this lifestyle is not for everyone. In many settings, it can make your life more difficult. Owning less is easier in urban environments with efficient public transportation; in New York, it’s mandated by the higher rent prices. Living in Los Angeles without a car is a difficult undertaking. Unfortunately, the uncluttered lifestyle is not for everyone.

The subtitle of the original BBC article read "Living out of a hard drive." I do this with more than my media; my chosen profession also gives me an unlimited amount of mobility. The software I write on the beach in Venice, California, operates the same as code written in‘s SoHo office. It’s a shame not all professions have such freedom.

Personally, I experience very few downsides with my current situation. There have been times when …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:18 am

Posted in Daily life

America Has Disgraced Itself

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Peter Beinart writes at The Daily Beast:

Conservative fury over the “ground zero” mosque shows that when it comes to the battle for freedom and religious liberty, the U.S. has thrown in the towel. And why are Jews so thrilled to be in lockstep with the heirs of Pat Robertson?

The president is furiously backtracking; Republicans are clawing over each other to demonize Muslims; Democrats are dead silent. It’s time to face reality. Whether or not the “ground zero” mosque ever gets built, the political debate is over. Decency lost.

Words I never thought I’d write: I pine for George W. Bush.

So almost nine years after September 11, we need to confront a few painful truths. First, while the military and counterintelligence aspects of the struggle against al Qaeda will likely last long into the future, the “war of ideas” is over. America has thrown in the towel.

Remember when George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies used to say that the “war on terror” was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me? Remember when Karen Hughes paid millions to produce glitzy videos of Muslim Americans testifying about how free they were to practice their religion in the USA? Remember Bush’s second inaugural, when he said “America’s ideal of freedom” is “sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran?”

Once upon a time, Republicans were so confident that the vast majority of Muslims preferred freedom to jihad that they believed the U.S. could install democracy in Iraq within months. Now, confronted with a group of Muslim Americans who want to build a cultural center that includes Jews and Christians on the board (how many churches and synagogues do that?), GOP leaders call them terrorists because they don’t share Benjamin Netanyahu’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once upon a time, the “war on terror” was supposed to bring American values to Saudi Arabia. Now Newt Gingrich says we shouldn’t build a mosque in Lower Manhattan until the Saudis build churches and synagogues in Mecca—which is to say, we’re bringing Saudi values to the United States. I wonder how David Petraeus feels about all this. There he is, slogging away in the Hindu Kush, desperately trying to be culturally sensitive, watching GIs get killed because Afghans believe the U.S. is waging a war on Islam, and back home, the super-patriots on Fox News have… declared war on Islam.

So please, no more talk about those idealistic neoconservatives who are willing to expend blood and treasure so Afghans and Iraqis can live free. People in Basra and Kandahar had better hope that America’s counterinsurgency warriors create a society in which they can practice their religion free of intimidation and insult. Because it’s now clear they can’t do so on the lower tip of the island of Manhattan.

And from now on, let’s stop condescending to the French about their anti-headscarf laws. Until a month ago or so, I genuinely believed that no such law could ever pass in the U.S. How naïve. After the right’s despicable performance over the last month, can anyone seriously doubt that if the U.S. had as large, and religiously traditional, a Muslim population as France, that Republicans would be clamoring for Congress to regulate their “Islamofascist” garb? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:10 am

Just say "Now"

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Ari Berman, writing in Rolling Stone, makes the case for marijuana legalization:

In 1996, California became the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical use. Now, with a ballot initiative up for a vote in November, it could become the first to ratify an even more striking landmark: the legalization of pot for recreational use. Proposition 19 — the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — treats pot much like alcohol after the repeal of Prohibition, allowing each city and county to decide whether it wants to approve and tax commercial sales of the drug. And regardless of what local jurisdictions do, any Californian over 21 could possess up to an ounce of marijuana, smoke it in private or at licensed establishments, and grow a small amount for personal consumption. "We’re not requiring anyone to do anything," says Jim Wheaton, a prominent First Amendment lawyer who drafted the ballot initiative. "We’re just repealing the laws that prevent it."

The driving force behind the measure is Richard Lee, the 47-year-old activist and former Aerosmith roadie who helped spark the rise of medical marijuana in California. As founder of Oaksterdam University, the country’s first self-proclaimed "Cannabis College," Lee put up $1.3 million to gather the 430,000 signatures needed to put the legalization initiative on the ballot this fall. Leading advocates of drug reform urged him to wait until 2012, when Barack Obama is up for re-election and young voters will be more likely to turn out. But in March, after a poll he commissioned showed that 54 percent of Californians support legalization, Lee insisted on moving forward.

Lee, who took up pot 20 years ago to dull the pain from an accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, believes that legalizing marijuana can help fix California’s devastated economy. In his hometown of Oakland, the city council recently approved permits for four indoor marijuana plantations the size of football fields, in a high-profile bid to treat pot like any other legitimate business. "I’m trying to get rid of that black-market culture," Lee says. His campaign for the Tax Cannabis initiative smartly markets it as a "common-sense solution to our broken budget," arguing that legalization will provide the state with as much as $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues — roughly equivalent to the state’s citrus industry, and more than either alcohol or cigarettes.

The ballot initiative has provoked a sharp split in California politics. Nearly every major elected official, including many top Democrats, has come out against it. Sen. Dianne Feinstein signed the ballot argument opposing the initiative, and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown has gone to absurd lengths to try to distance himself from the measure. "We’ve got to compete with China," he recently declared. "And if everybody’s stoned, how the hell are we going to make it?"

But it will take more than such over-the-top scare tactics to derail the measure. A notable array of unions, civil rights groups and law-enforcement officials has lined up to support legalization, and even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that "it’s time for a debate" on the issue. Polls show the measure has a real shot at passing, and Lee has recruited an impressive team of veteran political operatives, environmental advocates and union organizers to manage the campaign. Taken together, it’s the most effective and well-organized campaign to end marijuana prohibition since the drug was declared illegal in 1937.

"We’ve released a conveyer belt of endorsements showing the breadth and depth of our support," says Dan Newman, an experienced Democratic strategist who is working for Tax Cannabis. "It’s not just a bunch of dreadlocked stoners." …

Continue reading.

Another link: MarijuanAmerica: How the green revolution sweeping across the nation is changing the weed business forever.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 10:05 am

Appropriate technology saves lives

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Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 9:14 am

That’s the other guys

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Low-information voters are a problem. Steve Benen:

Shortly before the House broke for its August recess, Republicans killed a bill that seemed like one of the year’s most obvious no-brainers.

The Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act would pay health care costs for 9/11 rescue workers, sickened after exposure to the toxic smoke and debris. The legislation was fully paid for, closing a tax loophole for American companies that try to hide their headquarters at P.O. box in the Caymans.

The GOP trashed the bill, calling the money a "slush fund." It needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and came up short — nearly every Democrat voted for it, and nearly every Republican voted against it.

Yesterday, some of the heroes and their families who need this bill to pass expressed their deep disappointment — by blaming President Obama for legislation that Republicans opposed.

Ailing 9/11 responders slammed President Obama on Tuesday for sounding off on the Ground Zero mosque while keeping silent on a $7.2 billion health care bill.

"Why have you failed us? We thought you would be our champion" in pushing the legislation, John Feal wrote to Obama.

So, let me get this straight. Obama supports the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Congressional Democrats support the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. If passed, the president would gladly sign the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act into law. Republicans not only trashed the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, but blocked it from passing.

But Obama has "failed" 9/11 responders?

I’m reminded of that episode of "The West Wing," in the third season, when Donna tells Josh about some voters’ concerns about Bartlett. "They think the President is going to privatize Social Security," Donna said. "He’s not going to … that’s the other guys!" Josh replied.

Obama’s right about health care for 9/11 first responders. It’s "the other guys" who are the problem.

Indeed, for all the recent attention about converting a closed-down Burlington Coat Factory into a local community center, many of the same politicians who claim to have endless passion in defense of Ground Zero had (a) no qualms about voting against the 9/11 health care bill; or (b) no criticism for those who did.

The disconnect matters.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2010 at 9:13 am

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