Archive for August, 2008

Index of Posts for August 2008

August 31, 2008

WaPo’s Fall Books Preview

August 31, 2008

For today’s Washington Post, Marie Arana has put together a list in all genres and there’s a lot to which we can look forward. And don’t just look at what’s new. The June 3, 2007 NYT surveyed prominant writers on what they were reading and there was a lot they recommended.

UPDATE: You can cross check it with USA Today‘s list from September 3.

Walter White Witness to Lynchings

August 30, 2008

Am looking forward to reading a new biography of civil rights leader Walter White from Thomas Dyja, who also wrote a novel based on White’s early career,The Moon in Our Hands.
Because White was light skinned and could “pass,” he went undercover to invetigate lynchings.
For a photo exhibit on those macabre public events, see the site for the book Without Sanctuary.

Ann Patchett and Run

August 29, 2008

Photograph Ann Patchett taken in her home in Nashville by Heather Culp from an interesting piece, “Intimate Portraits,” by Kate Summerscale in the August 11, 2007 Telegraph Magazine.

*

Ann Patchett’s Run would have been a perfect novel, by my lights, if she hadn’t tried to tie up everything in the last chapter. It’s still a worthwhile meditation on politics, race and family. I’m a great admirer of her novels, including her first, Patron Saint of Liars. She’s most famous, of course, for Bel Canto, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award.

Wendy Fry had an interview in the August 3 San Diego Union-Tribune, “For Ann Patchett, the best part of the process is not the writing” in which Patchett says,

The only thing interesting about my process is I write the whole book in my head before I ever pick up a pen. While I’m emptying the dishwasher, or making the bed, I’ve got these complicated storylines and characters developing in my head….It’s a very happy time, like staring into a fog. I do not write my way through it. I really work it out in my head…“That part [the writing it down], for me, is really unpleasant… I’m so happy making it up and I’m so unhappy writing it down.

For those of you who might want to check out her occasional writing in newspapers, see





The Big Tent in Denver: What the Democratic Convention Could Learn

August 27, 2008

Logo from The National Journal

Jon Stewart says it’s up to the print journalists. In “Comic rips media’s false sense of urgency,” Joe Garofoli, in today’s SF Chronicle (hat tip to Steve Pizzo) who quotes The Daily Show host, who gathered a couple of dozen national political print reporters for a breakfast at the University of Denver:

It’s about earning your authority back. That gravitas. It’s showing an expertise. It’s the whole reason you guys are in the business. You’re not on anyone’s team. You’re on our team. And that’s what’s stopped.

It seems the more serious conversation on the future of the Democratic party in Denver this week–at least the progressive wing–might be taking place, not at the Convention or its associated events, but over at the Big Tent and at Progressive Democratic Central.

At The Big Tent–a “new media center created by local organizations, national blogs, Digg, Google and YouTube “– folks lacking Pepsi Center credentials can ante up a hundred bucks in exchange for 4 days of food and drink, wi-fi access, the televised Convention and programs featuring a variety of speakers, some of whom I’ve highlighted in the next to last section of this post.

At Progressive Democratic Central, sponsored by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and The Nation magazine, anyone in Denver can take in The Nation Conversations Series for free. It’s moderated by John Nichols each morning Monday through Thursday. After lunch ($12.50, sold at cost), the PDA panels (at a suggested donation each afternoon of $10.00 for two panels) include topics such as Healthcare NOT Warfare; Media Reform; Clean, Fair, Transparent Elections; Economic Justice/Ending Poverty; Global Warming and Constitutional Law and Congress.

And for the more corporate types, there’s the Rocky Mountain Roundtable.

Coverage of the Democratic Convention to Date

The actual Democratic convention, once the platform was announced, seemed, at least according to the MSM, to be more about scheduled speeches by Michelle Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton, with speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden tonight and Barack Obama on Thursday.

And despite Jon Stewart’s advice, the Washington Post has added six hours of live video daily to augment its live print coverage. Poynter interviewed the Post’s Jim Brady on the rationale. My guess is the paper is attempting to compete in an erroding market.

And then there’s the official convention blog, whose vacuous first day’s post touted “behind the scenes action” including a description of the “great performance from the Colorado Children’s Chorale” and “enthusiastic delegates and supporters” in “some great outfits.” And the silliest of Monday’s coverage included “news” headlines such as, “Get over it: Heartthrob Clooney not coming to Denver” and “Obama look-alike causes stir at Pepsi Center.

Craig Crawford over at Congressional Quarterly credits an orchestrated convention without much substance with spawning extended coverage of the continuing psychodrama of the Clinton camp. ABC’s piece by Jake Tapper August 26 reflected that trend, as did at Sam Youngman’s coverage of Bill Clinton at The Hill and Michael Barone’s at U.S. News & World Report (Barone also parsed speeches by Michele Obama and Ted Kennedy.) Over the weekend a lot of column inches had been devoted to speculation on what Biden did or did not add to the horse race.

So, if you’re going to watch the convention and you have access to cable, I’d recommend C-SPAN, which includes the “minor speeches” such as that by Republican Jim Leach, (Word version) who, as Michael Tomasky noted, “was wedged in between Teddy and Michelle — that is, when everyone was going to the bathroom.”

In case you missed the speech, Leach, after running through his theory of the major milestones in American progressivism, outlined, although without solutions, what he sees as the major problems facing our country:

America has seldom faced more critical choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resents western intervention or elect a leader who, in a carefully structured way, will bring our troops home from Iraq as the heroes they are. Whether it is wise to continue to project power largely alone with flickering support around the world or elect a leader who will follow the model of General Eisenhower and this president’s father and lead in concert with allies.

Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today’s reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.

The Red Carpet: Denver and the Donors

In its efforts to roll out the red carpet, Denver City Council had passed an ordinance August 4 against carrying urine or feces. Mayor John Hickenlooper’s office had sent a news release August 13 on “community outreach” efforts regarding its “temporary arrestee processing center” which its intended targets–political protesters–dubbed “Gitmo on the Platte.”

The NYT Times noted that corporations, trade unions, lobbying firms and some wealthy individuals have anted up an estimated $112 million to underwrite the Democrats and the Republicans’ convention in St. Paul the next week. That according to an analysis released August 20 by George Washington University’s Campaign Finance Institute and The Center for Responsive Politics. And since there are no rules or limits, some donations have been in the million-dollar range. Compare that to the $16.8 million each party receives for its convention from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) derived from the $3 check off on federal income tax forms.

And then there are the 400 parties and receptions the Sunlight Foundation is tracking through its project Party Time. Unlike donations to the convention committees, “reform” rules apply. According to Financial Week, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act (S. 1) passed in 2007 had groups like the Financial Services Roundtable wondering whether to offer the 50 Democratic members of Congress French toast on toothpicks as they schmoozed with 100 Wall Street CEOs at a $30,000 brunch. says members of Congress can attend without making a speeches, only at a reception, not a meal, hence French toast as finger food. Apparently slices of toast were okayed by the House Ethics Committee. For an analysis, see Financial Industry Lobbyists Keep Bankers’ Hours who found the event to be one of

dozens of mundane corporate events during the day that resemble what goes on in Washington nearly every other day of the year. While the setting is different — more Western-style décor, for one, and microbrews you won’t find on Capitol Hill — the sponsors, the guest list and the format are the same….

Billed as a “financial literacy” event, this was not an opportunity for average consumers to learn how to manage their money, despite Citigroup’s handouts asserting that “knowledge is your greatest asset” (a phrase the banking giant has registered to keep it as their own asset).

Instead, the gathering at a saloon-style restaurant was an opportunity for the financial services industry to show members of Congress that it’s being responsible by looking out for consumers and educating them about personal finance.

Interestingly, according to report, attendance wasn’t what planners had predicted. Interesting, too, is Paul Keil, writing for Pro-Publica on how lobbyists feel put upon by the new law, while watchdogs say it needs more teeth.

The Big Tent Lineup

So amid speeches and partying over at the convention, what’s being discussed at The Big Tent? Curiously, education seems to be given short shrift, other than a mention at the opening forum. Some of the other topics include:

  • what real, sustainable change would look like in the areas of Environmental Justice, Health Care, Climate Change/Clean Energy/Global Warming, International Affairs, Technology and Democracy, Race/Diversity, Womens’ Issues
  • “The Shifting Faith Vote: What It Means For This Election”
  • The ColorofChange.org, the DNC Voting Rights Institute, the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project, the National Campaign for Fair Elections and Louisiana ACORN on the failure to provide an effective recovery program in the Gulf Coast after Katrina and a remedy for voter supression
  • The Earth Institute’s plan to cut carbon emissions
  • FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Common Cause President
    Bob Edgar on media and democracy

Some of the bloggers participating in The Big Tent are giving a different read on the doings at the official convention. For instance, consider Ian Welsh, in his post at Firedoglake, “Hillary Quietly Calls Out Obama On Universal Health Care.” And Big Tent authors are also covering the issues raised ast the progressive events. For instance, David O. Williams writes for the Independent Media Project in his post, Palast uses DNC to tout ‘Steal Back Your Vote’ project.” Victor Navasky at The Nation, another Big Tent participant, writes about one of the PD Central events in “Making History,”

Here in Denver, the main action outside of the arena is not in the streets but indoors. Most of it has to do with progressive possibility. Yesterday, for example, I attended a half-day series of panels… about a “new” New Deal. (The old one, designed to overcome the Great Depression, gave birth to Social Security, public works and such; the new one, designed to overcome “the great devaluation,” requires social investment in human capital– healthcare and a college education for all, and other elements of “a new dream” ). The talk was about:

• Conyers’ single-payer bill, HR 676

• A minimum wage indexed to inflation

• The right to organize (but also the need for unions to invest more of their assets into organizing)

• Retirement (don’t move the age up, said US Action President Bill McNair, “snap the cap” on Social Security)

Beyond the Manufacture of Consent, Puleeze

Would that we were hearing more about issues in the time leading up to the November elections. Walter Lippmann participated in the Committee on Public Information and believed that
that ordinary people needed to be managed by enlightened experts. Later, though, he coined the term “manufacture of consent” and in the first chapter of Liberty and the News, he wrote,

When those who control…[the news columns] arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair ‘to the best fountains for their information,’ then anyone’s guess and anyone’s rumor, each man’s hope and each man’s whim becomes the basis of government.

What we need, per Stewart, is a media which works at uncovering the stories needed for informed dissent.

We may not see much of such coverage of the conventions this week or next. As Ann Patchett has her character Bernard Doyle observe in her newest novel, Run, which I started reading this week,

politicians when they weren’t running for anything, when they were out of the game altogether. That was when they were willing to take the kinds of impossible moral stands that would get a man [or woman I would add] thrown out of Iowa in the first week.

Or, as my 89-year old mother volunteered on the telephone last night,

There are so many important problems right now and I’d like to hear what each side proposes as the solution.

With an acknowledgment to Patchett’s point, Ma, even civil discussion from both parties on how to progress towards partial solutions would be nice.

Phthalate Ban in Consumer Product Safety Overhaul signed by Bush

August 27, 2008


Photo from Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine’s body of evidence report: Phthalates– Beauty Products and Beastly Vinyl.

The president signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (H. R. 4040) on August 14, 2008. Section 108 will prohibit sale of some products containing six specified phthalates starting in 2009.

Now it will be interesting to see how the chemical industry lobbies against the Kids’ Safe Chemical Act (H.R. 6100 and S. 3040) to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act. Both bills designed to reduce exposure of children, workers, and consumers to toxic chemical substances were introduced May2o. The Senate bill will receive a hearing September 16 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, but won’t come to a vote until the next session of Congress. The bill would require that chemicals used in tens of thousands of products be proved safe before they are allowed to be sold, rather that requiring regulators to show that a product is dangerous before they can force its removal. According to the bills sponsors, of the 80,000 chemcals used in household products, the EPA has required toxicity testing of only 200.

The European Union banned the use of phthalates in some products, including baby toys, in 1999, but here there had been only a voluntarily removal of phthalates from objects intended to go into an infant’s mouth such as infant bottle nipples and teethers.

If the plastic softeners, phthalates, which can be endoctrine disruptors, the Environmental Working Group writes that

Studies of suggest exposure to phthalates increases the risk of reproductive system birth defects and hormonal alteration in baby boys, and reproductive problems and hormonal changes in men. Though phthalates are considered hazardous waste and are regulated as air and water pollutants, they are unregulated in food, cosmetics, and consumer and medical products.

Opponents had tried to derail any further measures. For instance, the American Chemistry Council would have you believe that those who worry about the health effects of phthalate have “cherry picked” negative results and that the chemicals

have established a very strong safety profile over the 50 years in which they have been in general use. There is no reliable evidence that any phthalate has ever caused a health problem for a human from its intended use.

And the Center for Individual Freedom ( a pro-conservative project of Townhall.com) complained in February 2008 that one of the doctors authoring a journal article that month on infant exposure to pthalates, Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana (bio), should have disclosed that she was a member of Physicians for Social Responsibiity, charging that her findings were more political than scientific.

The article had been prompted by a June 2003 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Environmental Health which found that

no studies have been performed to evaluate human toxicity from exposure to these compounds.

The Committee was in turn reacting to the January 2003 Exposure Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found that some people have very high levels of phthalates in their blood.

For more information, you can watch clips or read the transcript of an interview with Dr. Michael Shannon (email), a pharmacologist/toxicologist and chair of Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine at Children’s Hospital Boston, who serves on the Committee.

The Arrest of the Free Tibet Videobloggers

August 26, 2008

Photo of a LED protest banner from Students for a Free Tibet Flickr site.

During the Olympics, the Chinese put an end to a cadre of bloggers, videographers and artists acting as an independent media center for dozens of activists in Beijing seeking to draw attention to that government’s occupation of Tibet. Arrestees include light artist James Powderly and Alive in Iraq videoblogger Brian Conley. For more, see BoingBoing’s entry of August 19.
Videographers Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson eluded police and provide a video interview on August 25 for Free Tibet.

UPDATE: Follow up post on August 31 from Dedman and Hodson on their blog, RyanIsHungry.

ATT&T Throws Party to Celebrate Telecom Immunity?

August 25, 2008


David Horsey
‘s cartoon which appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on July 2, 2006, is just as true today.

On August 25, 2008, Democracy Now covers one the first of over 1,200 parties scheduled for the Democratic National Convention—thrown by AT&T to support Democrats who voted to grant the company retroactive immunity for warrentless surviellance of Americans. Included is analysis from Glenn Greenwald of Salon.

Premier Election Solutions (aka Diebold) Acknowledges its Voting Machines Can Drop Votes

August 24, 2008

What good is a presidential election, if the votes are miscounted? This question arose in 2000 results for Florida and 2004 results for Ohio. And it’s arising again is the 2008 election nears.

August 21, the Washington Post‘s blog feature “The Hidden Campaign” included aMary Pat Flaherty’s post, “Ohio Voting Machines Contained Programming Error That Dropped Votes.” Gordon seemed to take at face value a claim by Premier Election Solutions (formerly known as Diebold) when its spokesman, Chris Riggall, said

I can’t provide odds on whether droppe votes were not recognized…but based on what we know about how our customers run their elections and reconcile counts we believe any results not uploaded on election night would have been caught when elections were being certified.

McClatchey’s investigative reporter Greg Gordon (email, bio and article archive,) however, noted in his August 31 story, “Warning on voting machines reveals oversight failure,”

Voting experts reacted skeptically to the company’s assertion that election workers’ routine crosschecks of ballot totals would have spotted any instances where its servers failed to register some precinct vote totals when receiving data from multiple memory cards.

Gordon also details the lack of oversight in the machine’s integrity.

Premier’s products were declared “qualified” under a voluntary testing process overseen from the mid 1990s until 2005 by the National Association of State Election Directors.

Computer scientists, some state officials and election watchdog groups allege that the NASED-sponsored testing system was a recipe for disaster, shrouded in secrecy, and allowing equipment makers to help design the tests.

Premiere/Diebold had acknowledged in letter August 19 to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, that a 10-year-old error in logic for the Global Election Management System(GEMS) can cause votes to disappear while being electronically transferred from memory cards to a central tallying point. The system, used in its touch screen and optical scan machines, is supposed to save information from one card at a time to be counted in order as the cards are read by a database. Instead, incoming votes, within milliseconds, can displace earlier votes waiting in the electronic line before they are counted. Company president Dave Byrd wrote,

We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error.

Election officials in Ohio, one of 34 states to use the machines, complained following the March primary. As recently as May, the company had said the problem stemmed from anti-virus software. It also briefly said the mistakes could be attributed to human error. Brunner has said no Ohio votes were lost because the nine Ohio counties that found the problem caught it before primary results were finalized. Premier and Brunner are in an ongoing court battle over the voting machines and whether Premier violated its contract with the state and warranties. Half of the Ohio’s 88 counties use the GEMS system. Brunner has been a vocal critic of electronic voting machines.

August 19, the company also issued a nationwide alert with recommended actions to the approximately 1,750 jurisdictions which use the flawed system The problem is most likely to affect larger jurisdictions that feed many memory cards to a central counting database rapidly. While both Virginia and Maryland use the GEMS system, Virginia does not relay its votes to a central counting point, while Maryland does. The mistake is not immediately apparent and would have to be caught when elections officials went to match how many memory cards they fed into a central database against how many show as being read by that database. Each card carries a unique marker.

The Post dutifully reported that Primiers’ problem cannot be fixed by sending out a coding fix to its customers because changes to systems must go through the Election Assistance Commission and take two years on average for certification and approval. But, as Gordon wrote,

The federal Election Assistance Administration, created in 2002, took over the testing responsibility in 2005, but has yet to certify a single voting machine. (My emphasis added.)

The help America Vote Act has resulted in $1.5 billion worth of voting equipment sold nationwide since 2003. But, John Washburn, a software tester in the Milwaukee suburb of Germantown, told Gordon, that he predicts most all of the machines will have to be replaced in a process he likened to the early 20th Century Teapot Dome scandal.

as just the epitome of how government money goes down a rat hole.

Ali al-Mashhadani: US Frees frees IraqiJournalist…Again

August 23, 2008

Photo by Thaier al-Sudani of Reuters.

Ali al-Mashhadani must think this is getting old. Arrested by U.S. military forces for the third time without being charged, he was in the Green Zone in Baghdad on July 26 to renew his press card so that he could continue his work for Reuters, the BBC and NPR.

The U.S. released the 39-year-old journalist without charges August 21. A spokeswoman for the Multi-National Forces-Iraq had told the Committee to Protect Journalists that al-Mashhadani security risk and that his case would be reviewed within a seven-day period that began on July 29.

And this is not an isolated case, as documented by the Committee.