Archive for December, 2008

Index of Posts for December 2008

December 31, 2008

Hentoff Canned in Further Decline of Village Voice

December 31, 2008

Photo of Nat Hentoff from The Gothamist.

I last wrote about the sad case of the Village Voice under its new ownership on February 9, 2006. January 1, 2008, The Villiage Voice ran a column by Nat Hentoff, “Nat Hentoff’s Greatest Hits: Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice Evidentally, it will be his final fifty years. The civil liberties and jazz reporter learned by telephone call from the publisher that the paper no longer required his services, according to the NYT.

Now Hentoff told the NYT,

I’m 83 and a half. You’d think they’d have let me go silently. Fortunately, I’ve never been more productive….With all due immodesty, I think it doesn’t help to lose me because people have told me they read The Voice not only for me, but certainly for me.

Hentoff plans to continue to write a weekly column for the United Media syndicate and contribute pieces to The Wall Street Journal. He is working on a book At the Jazz Band Ball: 60 Years on the Jazz Scene.

The Moderate Voice, The Raw Story, and Gothamist are the only stories Memorandum picked that have any new content.

See also, Louis Menand, “It Took a Village,” The New Yorker, January 5, 2009, p. 37 (abstract–the magazine now requires a sub or purchase for this articles online–not sure but it might be available after the publication date for free?)

Laila El-Haddad’s insider take on Gaza

December 30, 2008

Photo of Laila El-Haddad from her blog, Raising Yousuf and Noor.

Today, as you consider the doings in Gaza, you might want to read read Gaza emigre Laila El-Haddad’s “Still as death, dark is life.” This poignant piece is from a longer version at The Guardian’s Comment is Free (a 2008 Weblog awards finalists as announced yesterday):

My mother was in the Red Crescent Society clinic near the universities, where she works part-time as a pediatrician. Behind the clinic was one of the police centres that were levelled. She said she broke down at first, the sheer proximity of the attacks having shaken her from the inside out. After she got a hold of herself, they took to treating injured victims of the attack, before transferring them to Shifa hospital.

Now, three days later, they are trapped in their own home….

My mother comes to the phone. “Hello, hello dear,” she mutters, her voice trembling. “I had to go to the bathroom. But I’m afraid to go alone. I wanted to perform wudu’ before prayer but I was scared. Remember days when we would go to the bathroom together because you were too afraid to go alone?” She laughs at the thought. It seems amusing to her now, that she was scared to find her death in a place of relief; that she is now terrified of the same seemingly ridiculous scenario. It was really the fear of being alone. When you “hear” the news before it becomes news, you panic for clarity – you want someone to make sense of the situation, package it neatly into comprehensible terms and locations. Just to be sure it’s not you this time…. It is Noor’s one year old birthday January 1. She will turn one. I cannot help but think- who was born in bloodied Gaza today?

Amid others’ hype, posturing and pontificating, I find this effective because the author so quietly reports details of the daily life of her family and former neighbors during the current Israeli raids on Gaza and thus puts a human face on war.

If you’re interested in the author, here is “Disengagement from Justice,” an article she wrote for the July 28, 2005 WaPo. A Mother Under Occupation” is an interview from the June 9, 2006 broadcast of Democracy Now. You can also watch a video Tunnel Trade that she made in collaboration with filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky’s (email) independent documentary production company Tourist with a Typewriter. She also made a film with that company on the Rafah playground, but I couldn’t find a copy available online.

As my friend Betsy in KY said,

unbearably sad. I am terrified that US won’t start moving towards more sane Mid East policy…I can’t see any justification for the disproportionate force Israel is using!

New story recommendation of the day:

  • Don’t Believe the Hype: The press bought into the $700 billion bailout, hailing it as a necessity. Why so many got it wrong—and how Paul Krugman got it right,” Howell Raines, Portfolio
  • Cash For Trash,” Paul Krugman, NYT, September 22, 2008: And if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to—a share in ownership, so that if the rescue plan works, all the gains don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.
  • Katrina and Bush“, Paul Krugman, NYT, December 30, 2008: what happened with Katrina wasn’t that the administration started to fail; what happened was that for the first time its failures were visible to all.
  • “Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House,” Cullen Murphy, Todd S. Purdum, Vanity Fair, February 2009.

Site recommendation of the day:

The Consumerist, a soon-to-be former Gawker blog sold to The Consumer Union. Check out its guide to reading food expiration codes.

What I did today in addition to blogging:

Signed up to volunteer at the Lyric for the film Sllumdog Millionaire.

Who is reading my blog today:

OSHA Compromised Under Bush

December 29, 2008

Photo of Peter Infante from Bill Moyer’s 2001 program, Trade Secrets (transcript) about the compromise of health by the chemical industry.

One wonders about due diligence of the mainstream press, when we have an example of the Bush Administration pandering to industry in 2001 and 2002 appearing today in the Washington Post. In case you missed the significance of the chronology, that’s over two years before Mr. Bush won re-election to his second term. Of course, as Bill Moyers showed in his 2001 program, “Trade Secrets,” the dangers posed by the chemical industry was nothing new. What was new was the that political appointees

ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.

This according to “Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction” by the WaPo’s R. Jeffrey Smith.

In fact, the agency’s first director under Bush, John L. Henshaw,

startled career officials by telling them in an early meeting that employers were OSHA’s real customers, not the nation’s workers. “Everybody was pretty amazed,” one of those present recalled. “Our purpose is to ensure employee safety and health. … He just looked at things differently.”

Within two years, Henshaw, an industrial hygienist who had worked for Monsanto and another chemical firm, withdrew 26 draft regulations on OSHA’s public calendar, including rules meant to limit workplace exposure to air contaminants, highly hazardous chemicals, and shipyard and scaffolding hazards.

Smith tells of Peter Infante (bio, Moyers interview, email), an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (actually, although Smith doesn’t mention it, the Director of the Office of Standards Review) who tried to publish a bulletin

warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day’s exposure at the agency’s permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.

Political appointees at the agency gave his copy to a lobbying firm for the country’s principal beryllium manufacturer. Infante made what he deemed reasonable changes only to have the th elobbyists complain again. Eventually, despite objections from the senion staff, the politicos decided to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

At that point Infante wrote the agency’s director of standards in March 2002:

In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay

Infante ended up resigning in protest. Smith writes that that the result is

a legacy of unregulation common to several health-protection agencies under Bush: From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton’s tenure, according to White House lists.

White House officials say their “objective is quality, not quantity,” and that heavy restrictions on corporations harm economic performance.

Robert Harrison, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association disputes this:

The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction….like turning a ketchup bottle upside down, banging the bottom of the container, and nothing comes out. You shake and shake and nothing comes out.

Sandra Day O’Connor

December 28, 2008

From the archives, I came across this reportage of Sandra O’Connor’s speech at Georgetown University shortly after she stepped down from the Supreme Court. What a gal: “Former top judge says US risks edging near to dictatorship: Sandra Day O’Connor warns of rightwing attacks–Lawyers ‘must speak up’ to protect judiciary

I’ll try to find a transcript later. I’ve gotta run.

Myth of Clean Coal

December 27, 2008

Photo of Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University’s website.

Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and director of the university’s director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program has conducted

the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.

The best ways to improve energy security, mitigate global warming and reduce the number of deaths caused by air pollution are blowing in the wind and rippling in the water, not growing on prairies or glowing inside nuclear power plants.

And “clean coal,” which involves capturing carbon emissions and sequestering them in the earth, is not clean at all….[O]ptions that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

Mark Jacobson presented his research at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San FranciscoDecember 19, during the session “Evaluation of Proposed Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security” (abstract)

Belated Update: Gene Nichol and return to NC

December 26, 2008

Photo of Gene Nichol (r) from a video of a panel, Rights in Conflict: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Religious Liberty at the 2008 American Constitution Society for Law and Policy(ACS) National Convention.

When I found Nichol identified as a Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law I decided to research when this move occurred. March 28, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that

Mr. Nichol, 56, has accepted an offer to rejoin the law faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, beginning on July 1. His wife, Glenn George, a professor of law at William and Mary, will return with him….

Mr. Nichol did not respond to requests for an interview about his new position. Matt Marvin, a spokesman for the North Carolina law school, said that any controversy surrounding Mr. Nichol was irrelevant because he would be coming back to the university only as a faculty member, not as a campus leader. He added that the return of Mr. Nichol and his wife was a “coup” for the university that helped fill crucial gaps in the faculty. Mr. Nichol’s specialty is constitutional law, and Ms. George’s is civil procedure and labor law.

The “not a leader” quote, if accurate, seems a bit ham-handed for a university spokesman. And inaccurate, after UNC School of Law Dean Jack Boger tapped Nichol as director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity

developed in 2005 to address the pressing needs of those currently living at or below the poverty level, to provide a non-partisan interdisciplinary forum to examine innovative and practical ideas to move more Americans out of poverty, to raise public awareness of issues related to work and poverty, and to train a new generation to

Nichol writes of his position:

In recent weeks, for example, we have heard much of the interests of Wall Street and Main Street. These likely represent short hands for “middle class” and, perhaps, the wealthiest among us. But even in such economically-driven conversations, we’ve had little discussion of the far tougher circumstances faced by the poor in this country. Almost twenty percent of American children – and numbers far higher for black, Latino and Native American kids – live in wrenching poverty. Over thirteen percent of all Americans. And in October, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the gaps between rich and poor are growing markedly in the world’s wealthiest countries – particularly the United States. We now have, it reports, the highest economic inequality of any major industrial nation. We may talk the most about equality. But our record doesn’t match our rhetoric. It is not enough to simply turn our gaze away from those locked at the bottom of American life. I am confident that the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity will continue to make a powerful contribution to the University’s efforts in outreach, teaching and research on this vital front.

Nichol also teaches courses in constitutional law, federal courts, civil rights and election law.

BTW, others panelists at ACA were:

* Moderator, Preeta Bansal, Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom LLP
* Jeremy Gunn, Director, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
* Steve Aden, Senior Legal Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund
* Lara Schwartz, Legal Director & Chief Legislative Counsel, Human Rights Campaign

You can listen to the video and also peruse other sessions from this and past years’ conferences at this landing page.

Happy holidays?

December 25, 2008

For a morbid holiday image here’s a photograph by J. Miles Carey of the Knoxville News Sentinel which accompanied December 25’s NYT story by Shaila Dewan, “Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards.” Note the wreath. Another along the same theme, but a closeup showing a mixture of fly ash and mud on the side of Perry James’ home decked in wreath and pine garland is here. Other photos are at the paper’s gallery here.


December 22, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge ruptured a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.Here’s a video of the initial news conference.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

It was good to see the national coverage of the fly ash spill in Tennessee in today’s NYT. In the case of Martin County, the NYT first reported on the October 11, 2000 sludge spill was also on Christmas, with Peter T. Kilborn’s story, A Torrent of Sludge Muddies a Town’s Future. Five years later, things looked normal, but they were not. And yet, because of the whitewash demanded of Jack Spadaro which cost him his job, no one prevailed in court. (See the bottom of this post, which also contains a chronology of national coverage). Pretty bad when The New River Free Press, a Blacksburg all-volunteer alternative monthly, can scoop the paper of record (and just about everyone but the AP and the local KY papers.

And this was actually the second story by the writer. The first, “Water Supplies Tested After Tennessee Spill,” was published December 24.

On a lighter side, for my favorite holiday image, take a gander at David Horsey‘s cartoon from December 23.


December 24, 2008

Illustration by William Duke accompanied Benedict Carey’s December 22 NYT article “Blind, Yet Seeing: The Brain’s Subconscious Visual Sense. “

Mysterious stuff, blindsight. The (poor quality) film on Dr. Beatrice deGelder’s (email) site shows a patient whose visual lobes in the brain were destroyed able to navigate an obstacle course. deGelder, head of the cognitive and affective neurosciences Laboratory at the University of Tilberg in the Netherlands, is principal author of a paper, “Intact navigation skills after bilateral loss of striate cortex” in the deceember 23 Current Biology.

Carey writes,

The man in the new study, an African living in Switzerland at the time, suffered the two stroke in his 50s, weeks apart, and was profoundly blind by any of the usual measures. Unlike people suffering from eye injuries, or congenital blindness in which the visual system develops abnormally, his brain was otherwise healthy, as were his eyes, so he had the necessary tools to process subconscious vision. What he lacked were the circuits that cobble together a clear, conscious picture.

The research team took brain scans and magnetic resonance images to see the damage, finding no evidence of visual activity in the cortex. They also found no evidence that the patient was navigating by echolocation, the way that bats do. Both the patient, T. N., and the researcher shadowing him walked the course in silence.

The man himself was as dumbfounded as anyone that he was able to navigate the obstacle course.

New Jobs: Green, "Shovel Ready" or Military-Industrial?

December 23, 2008

As the economy continues to sputter, the WaPo’s Paul Kane and Michael D. Shear front-page “Green’ Jobs Compete for Stimulus Aid: Obama Weighs Them Vs. Traditional Projects” contrasts with “Defense Spending Would Be Great Stimulus: All three service branches are in need of upgrade and repair” by WSJ board of contributors member Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan and a professor at Harvard. I’ve got to wonder about the latter, as Lawrence F. Skibbie paraphrased an observation by one of the members of his National Defense Industrial Association in his June 22, 1998 testimony to the Commission to Study Capital Budgeting:

it is unclear that a meaningful assessment can be made of the economic return on investment for resources committed to military capital assets

Kane and Shear write,

environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create “green-collar” jobs.

That’s drawing flack from the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative House Democrats. Congressman Baron P. Hill (D-IN), incoming co-chairman told

If we’re going to call it a stimulus package, it has to be stimulating and has to be stimulating now. I think there are members of our caucus who are trying to create a Christmas tree out of this

The Post paints this as “shovel-ready” union construction job v.s. green-collar job competition and in an example of stating opinion without supporting facts says the latter,

often have the long-term potential to revolutionize the economy but tend to lack the short-term bounce of old-fashioned infrastructure work

Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, a union group is quoted as saying,

In fact, we do have crumbling roads and bridges that need to be repaired. It’s not about pitting one against the other. It’s about how we find a sustainable economy.

Terence M. O’Sullivan, head of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, adds

We’re committed to green jobs and rapid transit and all the rest of it.

Senior aides in the new administration and the congressional leadership

suggest that there have been delays in identifying enough of the environmentally friendly projects to reach a dollar level that will truly jump-start the economy.

Democratic negotiators plan to reconvene around New Year’s Day to try to hash out the final details of the plan before the 111th Congress starts Jan. 6, with a goal of passing a bill out of the House and Senate shortly after Obama is sworn in Jan. 20. At a meeting of Obama’s transition team yesterday, Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed that the proposal would not become a “Christmas tree” for lawmakers’ policy earmarks. He defended it against the criticism on the left that too much of its focus would be on old-fashioned projects.

“We’ve let our infrastructure crumble for a long, long time from water to roads to bridges. It makes sense to invest in them now,” Biden said.

Colin Peppard, a transportation expert for Friends of the Earth was not as deferenital:

They’re going to put a bunch of money through a broken system to stimulate the economy. That doesn’t make sense to me….One minute they want to spend it quickly, the next minute they want to spend it well.

FOA has begun a Road to Nowhere campaign, saying that new roads would lead to “new pollution — keep the economic stimulus clean.” But what about existing roads that need repair?

Meanwhile, speaking of economic stimulus, you gotta laugh to keep from crying. Check out Chuck Collins‘s & Nick Thorkelson‘s Economic Meltdown Funnies from Jobs with Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.Check out Chuck Collins & Nick Thorkelson Economic Meltdown Funnies from Jobs with Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good.