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Archive for March, 2010

Burn On, Big River, Burn On

WATER POLLUTION: Cuyahoga River caught fire 40 years ago today

On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River literally caught fire, and the subsequent public outrage was arguably the catalyst for environmental regulatory protections like the Clean Water Act. Another environmental disaster was a catalyst for environmentalism: “In the spring following the [Santa Barbara’s 1969 Oil Spill], Earth Day was born nationwide.” Furthermore, in 1970 the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA was signed into law.

A book by marine biologist and naturalist Rachel Carson—Silent Spring—was no doubt another important ingredient that fostered the modern environmental movement. However, although the mindset of out of sight, out of mind or the misunderstanding that Nature can absorb our waste without consequences, was historically a huge factor in our Nation’s environmental troubles, history seems to be repeating itself today.

From The Plain Dealer:

The fire — a brief Sunday afternoon flare-up of oil-soaked debris likely ignited by either molten steel or a spark from a passing rail car — was doused by local firefighting tugboat crews. The story barely made the newspapers the next day.

But the effect of that two-hour flare-up has lasted four decades.

Today, the river fire stands as an enduring image of progress gone wrong.

But after so many years, it becomes difficult to really understand and feel the rampant water (and air) pollution of the industrial era that led to the Cuyahoga fire.

Atrazine, h/t Patriot Daily at Daily Kos:


Carcinogenic Contaminants In Drinking Water Supplies

Over the past 50 years, our drinking water supplies have been contaminated with new chemicals, including some that are known or suspected of causing cancer. One of these carcinogenic contaminants, known as TCE, has been in our water supplies since at least the 1990s when “massive underground plumes” were discovered. The Bush administration later delayed the process to regulate it. Thankfully, President Obama will bring the long overdue change. The EPA is now developing new strategies to protect the public from contaminants by revising the “existing drinking water standards for four contaminants that can cause cancer.”

Scientific advances now allow these carcinogenic chemicals (tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene (TCE), acrylamide and epichlorohydrin) to be detected at lower levels that will permit stricter regulations.

Tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene are used in industrial and/or textile processing and can be introduced into drinking water from contaminated ground or surface water sources. Acrylamide and epichlorohydrin are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

TCE is one of the chemicals in the drinking water supply that was used for decades by our soldiers and their families at Camp Lejeune, where as many as 1 million people were exposed to this toxic water used for drinking, bathing, cooking and filling up children’s pools. The water provided to our soldiers contained two probable carcinogens and one known carcinogen at levels far exceeding safety limits, and many members of military families have become sick or died from various cancers and illnesses. The situation at Camp Lejeune was so outrageous that a Congressional investigation of a possible cover-up was commenced earlier this month. (For more information, please read my earlier diary, Soldiers Sickened by Contaminated Water Cover-Up?)

Burn On, Big River


Peaches En Regalia

h/t Dbug


Margaret Atwood on Twitter

h/t kottke.org

Oh yes. A long time ago, back in June of 2009, when we were planning the launch of The Year of the Flood and I was building a Web site for it. Why was I doing this building, rather than the publishers? Well, they had their own sites, and I wanted to do some non-publishing things on mine, such as raise awareness of rare-bird vulnerability and heighten Virtuous Coffee Consumption (Arabica, shade-grown, doesn’t kill birds) and blog the seven-country dramatic-and-musical book tour we were about to do. Anyway, the publishers were at that time hiding under rocks, as it was still the Great Financial Meltdown, not to mention the Horrid Tsunami of Electronic Book Transmission. “That sounds wonderful, Margaret,” they said, with the queasy encouragement shown by those on the shore waving goodbye to someone who’s about to shoot Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Oops! I shouldn’t have said that. Which is typical of “social media”: you’re always saying things you shouldn’t have said.

This is probably the first article someone has written about Twitter that references Wordsworth, Hammurabi, and Greek mythology. (via mr)


Food for Thought


Separated at birth: Mr. Potter and Dick Cheney


Spotlight on Prisons

Save our prison farms from closure

The Kingston Whig Standard (today)

Just the thought of the prison farms in Canada — all six of them — being shut down later this year makes my blood begin to boil. The whole plan seems so totally ill-considered.

Quite apart from the closures themselves and the reasons stated for wishing to give prisoners more “appropriate” training, there are many strong arguments for retaining that precious farmland for farming purposes. According to Dianne Dowling, President of the National Farmers Union, the land around Kingston was originally chosen 60 or so years ago for the two prison farms in our area precisely because of its excellence for agricultural purposes. That land is precious.

At a time when we are beginning at last to realize how important our arable landscape is to our future well-being — maybe even our survival — we ought to be husbanding those resources, not throwing them away for short-term profit.

The writ of habeas corpus

BBC World Service (documentary)

Habeas corpus evolved to prevent imprisonment from being used for personal revenge, spite, or abuse of power.

It establishes an essential human right. Someone in authority must give a proper legal reason for an arrest; if there is no legal basis for detention, the prisoner must be released.

There are no grey areas. It is one of the core aspects that make a country free.

How does it feel to lose one’s right to habeas corpus and be imprisoned without charge or right to trial?

Haiti Post-Quake: Devastation, Depravation, Exploitation, and Oppression


by Stephen Lendman

LASC (lasolidarity.org) “is an association of national and local US-based grassroots Latin American and Caribbean solidarity groups (for) a truly progressive Latin America solidarity movement….in support of the people of Latin America struggling for justice and a better future for their countries free of economic, military and cultural imperialism.”

From December 28, 2009 – January 7, 2010 (five days before the quake), its 11-member delegation visited Haiti to investigate UN Blue Helmet (MINUSTAH) human rights abuses. On returning, it published a report titled, “Haiti: An Oppressed State,” its highlights reviewed below.

Testimonies from MINUSTAH-inflicted violence victims were gotten, including people whose family members were murdered. Virtually everyone:

— demanded Aristide’s return;

— called MINUSTAH a repressive, criminal force;

— said international aid hasn’t reached the poor, but instead has been diverted to predatory NGOs, prison building, or stolen by corrupt politicians; and

— believed economic development is exploitive, not providing a living wage, or benefitting poor Haitians productively.

Quite a bit more to this piece.

Community group honors women organizers

Workers World

Operation POWER (People Organizing and Working for Empowerment and Respect), a Black grassroots activist organization, held a special International Women’s Day forum March 20 at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. March 8 marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of IWD.

The program organizers presented awards to three women organizers for “years of dedication and activism” — Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Collette Pean of the December 12 Movement and Monica Moorehead of Workers World Party. Gwen Debrow from the New York Free Mumia Coalition accepted the award on behalf of Pam Africa.

Lenny Foster: Indian Religious Freedom in US Prisons

Censored News

My name is Lenny Foster and I am the Program Supervisor for the Navajo Nation Corrections Project in Window Rock, Arizona and I have been a volunteer traditional spiritual advisor for American Indian adults and juveniles in the respective state and federal prisons for the past thirty years.

I am also a Board Member for the International Indian Treaty Council since 1992. The International Indian Treaty Council is an organization of Indigenous Peoples from North, Central, and South Americas, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands working for the Sovereignty and Self Determination of Indigenous Peoples and recognition and protection of Indigenous Rights, Treaties, Traditional Culture and Sacred Lands.

My submission of this paper will serve to illustrate the racism, discrimination, and non-compliance with human rights obligations and ongoing human rights violations. I have come to a profound conclusion that American Indian peoples are confronted with a major crisis in family home environments and in their respective communities with the issue of traditional religious, spiritual and cultural practices and beliefs not being fully recognized and not being taught their spirituality. This lack of spiritual development, teaching and growth carries over into the prison setting.

Could Medical Parole for a Few Prisoners Save CA Millions?


From rates of felon disenfranchisement to incarceration, the U.S. prison system is rife with mind-scrambling statistics. To kick off your week, here’s another: California could save its over-taxed prison system $213 million in five years — just by getting rid of 32 prisoners.

Of course, these aren’t just any 32 prisoners, the Sacramento Bee reports. They’re severely incapacitated ones. Like Jackson Phaysaleum, 24, a Kern County prisoner who was relegated to a “vegetative” state after being assaulted behind bars. In the first six months of 2008 alone, his medical care cost the state $421,000, while the cost to guard him, bizarrely, cost nearly as much: $410,000. Though Phaysaleum might not have been able to trouble anyone (even if he’d wanted to), as he lay in his hospital bed at an outside nursing facility, he was still guarded around the clock by two correctional officers at the cost of $2,317 a day.

Right now, California is spending nearly $2 million a year to treat and guard certain prisoners like Phaysaleum. Statewide, there are 22 prisoners who are also living in nursing facilities or hospitals beyond prison walls. All of them receive extensive — and expensive — guarding. Including overtime, between 2003 and 2008, the costs associated with medical guard time rose by nearly $66 million. Today, it accounts for nearly 25% of the overtime clocked by prison guards.


News & Miscellany – Ruthless

Newborn Denied Coverage By Ruthless Health Insurance Company, Dies

Boston (SmartAboutHealth) – A ruthless health insurance company denied coverage to an ill newborn baby in Texas, resulting in the death of the young boy.

Houston Tracy was born in Crowley, Texas, and unfortunately only lived for a total of 10-days after he was denied coverage by BlueCross BlueShield of Texas.

The baby boy was born with a condition that is known as d-transformation. This is diagnosed when there is a transposition of the heart’s great arteries.

This can be fixed, but a major surgery is needed, one that the insurance company would not pay for.

The baby boy was born on March 15th with what BlueCross BlueShield of Texas deemed a pre-existing condition.

Huh. I guess BCBS thinks the stork brought the kid?

(from Time; about a month ago) School Lunches in France: Nursery-School Gourmets

I finally saw the system in action earlier this month. Caught short by a sick nanny, my son, who was accustomed to eating leftovers from the refrigerator, sat in silence with his 25 classmates at tables in the nursery-school cafeteria, while city workers served a leisurely, five-course meal. One day, when I arrived to collect him, a server whispered for me to wait until the dessert course was over. Out in the hall, one of the staff shouted for “total quiet” to a crowd of 4-year-olds awaiting the next lunch seating. “I will now read you today’s menu,” he told them. “First, you will begin with a salad.”

Americans struggling with obesity epidemics have for years wondered how the so-called French paradox works: How does a nation that ingests huge quantities of butter, beef and cakes keep trim and have such long lives? It could be the red wine, as some believe. But another reason has to be this: in a country where con artists and adulterers are tolerated, the laws governing meals are sacrosanct and are drummed into children before they can even hold a knife. The French don’t need their First Lady to plant a vegetable garden at the Élysée Palace to encourage good eating habits. They already know the rules: sit down and take your time, because food is serious business.

Cells That Read Minds

(NYT, January 2006)

On a hot summer day 15 years ago in Parma, Italy, a monkey sat in a special laboratory chair waiting for researchers to return from lunch. Thin wires had been implanted in the region of its brain involved in planning and carrying out movements.

Every time the monkey grasped and moved an object, some cells in that brain region would fire, and a monitor would register a sound: brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip.

A graduate student entered the lab with an ice cream cone in his hand. The monkey stared at him. Then, something amazing happened: when the student raised the cone to his lips, the monitor sounded – brrrrrip, brrrrrip, brrrrrip – even though the monkey had not moved but had simply observed the student grasping the cone and moving it to his mouth.

The researchers, led by Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, had earlier noticed the same strange phenomenon with peanuts. The same brain cells fired when the monkey watched humans or other monkeys bring peanuts to their mouths as when the monkey itself brought a peanut to its mouth.

(another link) http://www.mindpowernews.com/MirrorNeurons.htm

The Spider Awards: Wired.com’s Arachnid Hall of Fame

We admit it. Spiders have become an obsession at Wired Science. It started in September when we reported on a spider-milking machine that was built to extract silk from a million golden orb-weavers, two dozen at a time, to make a 44-square foot cloth. After that, we were hooked, and we’ve found ourselves writing about an inordinate number of arachnids, and googling plenty more. But, really, who could blame us?

We wanted to share the fruits of this spider frenzy with you, so we’ve created a Hall of Fame for our eight-legged friends. Who’s the biggest, meanest or most stuck-up spider around? Read on to find out, but be forewarned: Some of these photos are guaranteed to give you the heebie-jeebies.

Exploring the future of the free press

Mar 28

By Gerald L. Baliles

I know you are busy, especially after looking on your Web site at the long list of legislation in the General Assembly you’ve been working on recently. Something else caught my eye on your Web site – your mission — to champion “the ideals of a free press in a democratic society.”

I, too, believe that a free press is vital to our democracy.

But given the current state of the newspaper business, I share the concerns of many about the future of the free press — and especially about the potential impact that this could have on the governance of our country.

How will our leaders act when there are fewer journalists watching to hold them accountable? How will our citizens inform themselves when there is less reporting on the issues? Will new media be able to fill the void?

Editor’s note: Former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, delivered the keynote address at the Virginia Press Association annual meeting on March 20 in Roanoke. Mr. Baliles’ speech also served as the official release of the Miller Center’s interim report of the Project on Media and Governance, a year-long investigation into the future of journalism and its effect on governance.

(all from DailyProgress.com, Charlottesville, VA)

Action Required: Prisoners Mental Health Deteriorating at Wakefield

Naveed Bhatti is 30 Years old, and currently serving a 20 year sentence in the United Kingdom at Wakefield Prison after being found guilty of terrorism offences. Since his incarceration, his condition has deteriorated to such an extent that his family fear for his safety.

He suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a psychological condition that worsens if left untreated or subjected to extreme stress. The sufferers of this condition which is classified as an anxiety disorder, frequently may appear psychotic, paranoid and withdrawn. In Naveeds case, when his father attended a visit, he felt that his condition had deteriorated, fixated with cleaning and washing repeatedly after such innocuous actions as opening a door.

Despite all this. The prison service instead of being sympathetic towards his condition and arranging for psychological treatment, they seem to almost take a delight in antagonising it. He is subjected to repeated cell-searches with dogs, in which the dog saliva already recognised in Islam as being impure, causes Naveed intense stress and grief. In addition the guards often direct abuse towards him, throwing his Qu’ran on the ground and cursing at him as he walks past or during the searches.

Due to this treatment, he has become completely irrational and suicidal. In a phonecall to his father earlier this year, he stated that he no longer wishes to live. He feels impure all the time, and as a result has been neglectful in his prayers and has even begun to question his belief.

Drought in southwestern China caused by climate change: experts

Colombo Times, Sri Lanka, Mar 28

Meteorologists have attributed the once-in-a-century drought parching southwest China to climate change.

The drought has left more than 18 million residents and 11.7 million head of livestock suffering drinking-water shortages over a region encompassing the southwestern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the municipality of Chongqing, data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed.

“The direct reason for the drought is light rain and high temperatures,” Ren Fuming, a leading expert at China’s National Climate Center, told the latest edition of Outlook Weekly, a well-known magazine in China.

Ren’s opinion was echoed by Zhang Peiqun, also a meteorologist with the center.

Zhang said the rainfall in worst-hit Yunnan since September last year is the lowest in about 50 years while the average temperature since the beginning of winter is the highest.


A Mustard Year

It’s spring, and we have mustard. Well, it’s not really mustard, though it’s in the mustard family. London rocket is a kind of ersatz mustard that abounds here in southeast New Mexico in the spring, when it rains.

And rain it did this year, what with El Nino and all. Actually, what it did was snow a fair piece. I’ve been down here in Eddy County since 1996, and in my (according to the locals) limited experience; this business of it snowing a number of times in the winter is a notable event.

Some photos here

One way or the other, precipitation did precipitate, and so we get this cheap mustard imitation, this London rocket. For several years before this, it did not present to any great extent. Earlier in the decade, another rainy year or so (but not with all this snow – heavens! Inches of it! More than once!) did bring us much London rocket, however; to the point where the newspaper ran articles nagging us at great length to mow down our freakin’ mustard, peoples!

As previously noted, this is not a great mustard and it’s not very pretty. The best mustards have larger flowers; a field of a good mustard is a wonder to behold. A field of this stuff is less impressive. The yellow lacks emphasis. It’s a weedy species; what can I say?

Why is it called “rocket?” Well you might ask. Arugula, also in the mustard family, is also commonly called “rocket,” and I think this must have to do with how the plant goes to seed; sending up spires of seed forming spikes. But what do I know? Maybe wide eyed lib would be able to tell you more about this. Arugula has spicy leaves that people like to add to their salads. It became rather trendy over the last few decades, in at least some circles.

This red-headed stepchild of the mustard family has no such adherents, that I know of. Still, it has its uses, mundane though they are. It’s not that deep-rooted, and it’s highly vegetative, so if you catch it before it seeds out, it makes great mulch, and is always fine for compost. Nobody has to badger me about keeping down my LR, because I see it as a crop. At times, I’ve even offered to weed it out from my neighbor’s yards, for free, so I can take it back to my place and use it in my gardening efforts.

What it lacks in flowers, it makes up for in vegetative growth, and a mulch made of such is comparable to one made of fresh grass clippings in usefulness. It has a nice carbon/nitrogen ratio when fresh (roughly ten to one), which makes it perfect for breaking down and feeding your plants (as opposed to burning them with too much nitrogen, or starving the plants because of having too much carbon, which will take the available nitrogen out of the soil as it breaks down, temporarily).

And, it has no spines. There is a great deal to be said for weeds that have no spines, even tiny ones. Those of us who like to go wandering around barefoot in the summer know this. Dead or alive, London rocket is no problem that way.

And also, it needs no care. It just shows up, wherever it can, when there’s a bit more than normal rain here in disturbed lands in the desert, where “normal” rainfall is I think about twelve inches a year.

Thus, I say; good for you, London rocket, pernicious though the agricultural extension services and other tidy powers-that-be may think you. You are a useful adjunct to the landscape, even though you are not pretty. Thanks for being you.


WikiLeaks In The News

CIA, State Department Apparently Acting on Plan to Destroy Wikileaks

Barrett Brown
Mar 24

Among the institutions that have arisen as of late that challenge secrecy, and thus the status quo, is Wikileaks, which has provided a tremendous service to humanity by serving as a clearinghouse by which previously-secret information may be disseminated to the public, which may then decide for itself whether the more traditional institutions that operate in its name ought to be permitted to continue to do so. It has produced a great number of important scoops over the past few years, and it appears to be preparing for yet another. It also appears to be under present attack by portions of the U.S. intelligence community at this very moment.

Harper’s, Mar 19, Scott Horton

The Pentagon Loses a Skirmish with WikiLeaks

What does the Pentagon have in common with North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, and a number of private Swiss banks? They all feel threatened by WikiLeaks, the Internet service that offers whistleblowers an opportunity to publish documents that expose corruption and wrongdoing by state and private actors. This week, WikiLeaks published a 32-page secret Defense Department counterintelligence study of WikiLeaks, which suggests that the American military was preparing to (or perhaps even did) attempt to hack into and shut down the site:

(S//NF) The obscurification technology[9] used by Wikileaks.org has exploitable vulnerabilities. Organizations with properly trained cyber technicians, the proper equipment, and the proper technical software could most likely conduct computer network exploitation (CNE) operations or use cyber tradecraft to obtain access to Wikileaks.org’s Web site, information systems, or networks that may assist in identifying those persons supplying the data and the means by which they transmitted the data to Wikileaks.org.

From Al Jazeera:


Fundraising drive

We have received hundreds of thousands of pages from corrupt banks, the US detainee system, the Iraq war, China, the UN and many others that we do not currently have the resources to release to a world audience. You can change that and by doing so, change the world. Even $10 will pay to put one of these reports into another ten thousand hands and $1000, a million.

We have raised just over $360,000 for this year (our yearly budget is around $600,000.).

The Sunshine Press (WikiLeaks) is an non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public. Through your support we have exposed significant injustice around the world— successfully fighting off over 100 legal attacks in the process. Although our work produces reforms daily and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2008 Index on Censorship-Economist Freedom of Expression Award as well as the 2009 Amnesty International New Media Award, these accolades do not pay the bills. Nor can we accept government or corporate funding and maintain our absolute integrity. It is your strong support alone that preserves our continued independence and strength.


Street Yoga


Street Yoga: Hope and Healing to Homeless Youth

When you think about homeless youth, teaching them yoga isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind in a list of their needs. But, ask anyone who practices yoga and they will tell you it makes perfect sense.

Arising from a discovery within himself after beginning yoga, Portland, Ore. resident Mark Lilly said he found the practice overwhelming and deeply touching — so much so that he quickly realized the need to share it. With a background in social services and working with kids, he founded Street Yoga — a nonprofit organization that provides free yoga, wellness and meditation classes to homeless youth and those at risk of becoming homeless. Even without a physical residence, Lilly believed he could provide a sense of true home in the minds and bodies of these young people.

Working through local shelters, foster care agencies and other “off the streets” programs, Lilly and his team of volunteer yoga instructors now work with youth who have encountered early life trauma including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and difficult family situations. “Yoga is compact, portable, real and immediate,” Lilly said. “It’s a way to help heal unresolved trauma, and it’s deeply powerful.”


For the Couple That Has Nothing

In severe drought, water bottles become a precious wedding gift

By Yin Hang

People in drought-stricken south and southwest China surely have their stories to share as people around the world mark the 18th World Water Day to promote public awareness of water conservation.

Water has become a precious wedding gift in Yanshan county of Yunnan Province, according to local residents, who say that water bottles are being handed out as donations.

To celebrate her mother-in-law’s birthday, Li Shaozhong, a village Party chief, sent her 100 kilograms of fresh water, the Hangzhou News reported.

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