Thursday, June 29, 2006

Remember Personal Responsibility?

by Elizabeth Bauchner
Ithaca Community News
June 21, 2006

I can't quite remember who coined the phrase, whether it was Newt Gingrich or some other right-winger, but the term became widely used to describe how welfare mothers needed to pull up their bootstraps and work their way out poverty. I wasn't following politics all that much in the early 1990s because I was too busy being a low-life welfare queen taking advantage of the hapless and hardworking taxpayers of America. My monthly $470 check made me dependent, lazy, and too stupid to get a job, so of course I took zero personal responsibility for deliberately putting myself in the position of young, single mother.

The logic that followed: I was raising the kid, so naturally I assumed no personal responsibility.

No matter, I'm getting off-track. Nowadays, when I think of personal responsibility, I think of a lot more than what I'm going to make my kids for dinner.

Nowadays, when I think of personal responsibility, I think of how much I'd LOVE to see our current administration take some personal responsibility for their choices. And if they can't take personal responsibility, I'd love to see some accountability. For those authorizing torture, killings, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction, I am ready to see them held accountable for their actions.

For a political party that so loves personal responsibility, why hasn't President Bush met with Cindy Sheehan and answered her question? She's been asking for two years what noble cause her son died for, and will be heading back to Texas again in August for another long, hot month while he vacations at his phony ranch. Why is he avoiding her so vehemently if he's so right?

And Rumsfeld? He's responsible, too, for those torture manuals. You know, the ones given to those in charge at Abu Graib and Guantanamo, authorizing the use of near drowning techniques, sleep deprivation, humiliation, and exploitation of phobias. Rumsfeld knows that you can do a lot to a person and not leave a mark; perhaps what he doesn't know is that it doesn't make you any less culpable.

I've got my fingers crossed that the marines involved in the Haditha killings will be prosecuted and forced to show some personal responsibility. President Bush said May 31, "If…laws were broken, there will be punishment." Well, guess what, Mr. Bush, twenty-five percent of the twenty-four civilians killed that day were children shot at close range, and whether or not you can ferret out some justification, shooting children is illegal, even in war. If not by your own questionable ethics, then certainly by your born-again morality.

Our congress needs to show some personal responsibility too, for continuing to appropriate $87 billion per year and more to the war machine alone, while telling us that they have to cut education, cut health care, cut social security. They finally did reauthorize welfare this year—after only five years since the 1996 welfare law (dubiously dubbed the personal responsibility and work reconciliation act) expired. For five years congress couldn't agree on the terms of the bills being introduced because they were too busy bickering over nickels and dimes compared to what we spend on war.

Still, no one cared. Did you see any headlines about welfare reform? Women and children are poorer than ever, and the fingers still point to their own bad choices as the cause of their plight.

As far personal responsibility goes, all I can say is this: I've been responsible for my kids, that much is true. Wherever my income has come from, I've done the mothering thing 24/7 for nearly fifteen years. I've been responsible, and I accept all the choices I've made in life that have gotten me to this point.

Isn't it time we asked our leaders to stand up and do the same?

Copyright © 2006 Ithaca Community News

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

U.S. Appetite For Mahogany Devastating For Peru

by Andrew Buncombe
The Independent
June 27, 2006

They are the people who turned their back on the industrialised world, having decided long ago to live in isolation or else having never made direct contact with outsiders.

But campaigners say that in the jungles of southern Peru, these so-called "uncontacted tribes" face an unprecedented threat from illegal loggers who are increasingly moving into remote areas in search of rare mahogany trees. They say the price of luxury furniture - mostly sold in the US - is a death sentence for these vulnerable people whose environment is being destroyed and who are being killed by disease and in clashes with loggers.

"Tens of thousands of tons of Peruvian mahogany are imported into the US for luxury dining room tables, household trimmings and automobile dashboards," Ari Hershowitz, of the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), said. "But Americans have no idea that buying mahogany contributes to the destruction of the rainforest and threatens the people who live there. People are dying - it is a crisis right now."

Experts say much of the logging takes place in the Tahuamanu rainforest, in areas specifically set aside for indigenous Indians and uncontacted peoples. Here, mahogany trees can reach up to 120 feet in height. Each can be worth $100,000 (£55,000) by the time their timber is sold in the US.

Situated near the border with Brazil and Bolivia, this rainforest area is home to at least four indigenous tribes, including the Yaminahua and the Amahuaca.

"There are two types [of isolated tribes]," Peter Kostishack, co-director of the non-profit group, Amazon Alliance, said. "There are small, scattered groups who have come into contact with outsiders but have decided that is not for them."

He said that there were also more literally "uncontacted" groups, who were known of only because of evidence seen by other indigenous groups and by these tribes now coming into contact with loggers. "It's devastating in terms of their culture. But also, people living in isolation tend to be very vulnerable to illness and disease," he said.

The NRDC and two Peruvian indigenous rights groups are suing three US timber importers, the Department of Homeland Security and two other federal agencies, accusing them of importing or permitting the import of illegal timber. The lawsuit says that their actions breach the US Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.

One of the Peruvian groups is the Native Federation of Madre de Dios, a coalition of indigenous communities, which has accused loggers of plundering "the territories of our indigenous brothers". Its spokesman, Julio Cusurichi, said the issue was partly one of racism. "In the last four years it has been getting worse," he said.

The US timber importers say trade in Peruvian timber is legal if the wood is accompanied with the documents provided by the country's government. The manager of one of the US companies, Bozovich Timber Products in Alabama, told the Mobile Register: "We can't figure out what [the NRDC] think they've got."

But campaigners say the network of forged documents and the widespread corruption means that all of the mahogany imports from Peru must be considered questionable.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

Monday, June 26, 2006

PVC Facts and Information

by My House Is Your House

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as "PVC" or "vinyl," is one of the most common synthetic materials. PVC is a versatile resin and appears in thousands of different formulations and configurations. Among plastics, PVC is second in quantity used only to polyethylene. Approximately 75% of all PVC manufactured is used in construction materials.

PVC is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective, posing great environmental and health hazards in its manufacture, product life and disposal.

Toxic Manufacturing Byproducts: Dioxin (the most potent carcinogen known to science), hydrochloric acid and vinyl chloride are unavoidably created in production of PVC and can cause severe health problems:

• Cancer
• Endometriosis
• Neurological damage
• Immune system damage
• Respiratory problems
• Liver and kidney failure
• Birth defects

In the U.S., PVC is predominately manufactured near low-income communities in Texas and Louisiana. The toxic impact of pollution from these factories on these communities has made them front line struggles in the environmental justice movement.

Global Impact: Dioxin's impact doesn't stop there. As a persistent bioaccumulative toxin (PBT), it does not breakdown rapidly and travels around the globe, accumulating in fatty tissue and concentrating as it goes up the food chain. Dioxins from Louisiana manufacturing plants migrate on the winds and concentrate in Great Lakes fish. Dioxins are even found in hazardous concentrations in the tissues of whales and arctic polar bears. The dioxin exposure of the average American already poses a calculated risk of somewhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 1,000 - thousands of times greater than the usual standard for acceptable risk. Most poignantly, Dioxins concentrate in breast milk to the point that human infants now receive high doses, orders of magnitude greater than those of the average adult.

Lethal Additives: PVC is useless without the addition of a plethora of toxic chemical stabilizers - such as lead and cadmium - and phthalate plasticizers. These leach, flake or outgas from the PVC over time raising risks from asthma to lead poisoning as well as cancer.

Deadly Fire Hazard: PVC poses a great risk in waste incineration and building fires, as it releases deadly gases such as hydrogen chloride long before it ignites. As it burns, it leaves behind toxic dioxin waste.

Can't Be Readily Recycled: The multitudes of additives required to make PVC useful make recycling on any significant scale nearly impossible and interfere with the recycling of other plastics. This led the Association of Post Consumer Plastics Recyclers to declare it a contaminant in 1998.

Widespread in the Construction Industry: While the many problems associated with PVC throughout its lifecycle far outweigh the minimal benefits, the construction industry has been unaware of its true cost and long considered it a cheap wonder material. Piping, vinyl siding, and vinyl flooring are the largest and most familiar uses of PVC. Roof membranes are another growing area. It also shows up in electrical wire, conduit, junction boxes, wall coverings, carpet fibers and backing, windows, door frames, shades and blinds, shower curtains, furniture, flues, gutters, down spouts, waterstops, weatherstrip, flashing, moldings and elsewhere. Fortunately, for each of these uses, there exists a wide range of cost effective alternative materials that pose less of a health hazard than does PVC to both workers and the larger community.

Listed here is just a sample of the many PVC free options available:

• Piping
Cast iron, vitrified clay, and plastics such as cross-linked polyethylene and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene).

• Siding

Fiber-cement board, stucco, recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified sustainably harvested wood, polypropylene and acrylic.

• Roofing Membranes

TPO (Thermoplastic polyolefin) and EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) membranes, low-slope metal roofing.

• Flooring & Carpet

Natural linoleum, bamboo, ceramic tile, carpeting with natural fiber backing, recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified sustainably harvested wood, cork, rubber, concrete slab, Stratica and other nonchlorinated plastics.

• Wall Coverings & Furniture

Natural fibers (wood, wool, etc), polyethylene, polyester, paint.

• Electrical Insulation and Sheathing

Halogen free, linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), thermoset crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE)

• Windows & Doors

Recycled or reclaimed or FSC certified sustainable harvested wood, fiberglass, and aluminum. Even for the average consumer, shower curtains do not have to be made of vinyl! For Charts of PVC free building materials and more information on the hazards of PVC, including a review of the science visit:

602 South Fifth Avenue
Wilmington, NC 28401

2425 18th St NW,
Washington DC 20009

Copyright © 2003 My House Is Your House

On Shower Curtains

by Umbra Fisk
Grist Magazine
June 26, 2006

I'm always full of suggestions -- in a wide range of usefulness and accuracy. Today's suggestion: polyester. I found, after looking a bit harder than usual -- some of you may have noticed that I don't get out shopping often, so "harder than usual" means I actually went to a store -- that my trusty Northwest housewares emporium did carry polyester shower curtains and liners.

I now have a duo in the (moldy) Grist Test Bathroom that works quite well. The inner liner is a densely woven but lightweight polyester; the outer, aesthetically pleasing cover is like a sheer window curtain -- you could use a cotton one for that purpose. But cotton and polyester aren't innocent fabrics themselves, you cry! Cotton's got the old pesticide problem and polyester is PET plastic, so petroleum, noxious chemicals, and massive processing are common to both materials -- all three materials, if you count vinyl. I suppose you could look for an organic cotton or hemp liner, or make your own from worn-out clothing, but let's face it: very few people will spend the money or time to do that. In this "which is better?" dilemma, cotton and PET are preferable to vinyl.

Anyway, the whole ensemble stays put and does not cling to my legs. When the pink mold begins to appear on the curtains, I throw them in the wash and then hang them in the sun. The sun is a definite mold-be-gone. If only I could put the entire bathroom in the sun; perhaps something could be done using mirrors.

When Grist relocates, I plan to move the whole shower rig to my new basement office. Unfortunately, moving the curtain will cost $10,000 -- we truly need your donations.

Oh, just kidding, I can carry the curtains over myself. We need the help to support actual operating expenses.

That way, we can run such fabulous articles as an interview with Bill Walsh from the Healthy Building Network, who aptly and succinctly describes the troubles with vinyl. I've focused on vinyl's dioxin/chlorine connections in the past. Another major problem is phthalates, which are used to soften vinyl, but have been fingered as suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters. From our backpacks to our sex toys to our shower curtains: No on vinyl, and that's final.

©2006 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says

By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
June 23, 2006

Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

"That image of people on roofs after Katrina resonates with me, because those people did not know someone with a car," said Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University sociologist who helped conduct the study. "There really is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."

If close social relationships support people in the same way that beams hold up buildings, more and more Americans appear to be dependent on a single beam.

Compared with 1985, nearly 50 percent more people in 2004 reported that their spouse is the only person they can confide in. But if people face trouble in that relationship, or if a spouse falls sick, that means these people have no one to turn to for help, Smith-Lovin said.

"We know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times," she said. "We're not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on [a popular networking Web site] and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important."

The new research is based on a high-quality random survey of nearly 1,500 Americans. Telephone surveys miss people who are not home, but the General Social Survey, funded by the National Science Foundation, has a high response rate and conducts detailed face-to-face interviews, in which respondents are pressed to confirm they mean what they say.

Whereas nearly three-quarters of people in 1985 reported they had a friend in whom they could confide, only half in 2004 said they could count on such support. The number of people who said they counted a neighbor as a confidant dropped by more than half, from about 19 percent to about 8 percent.

The results, being published today in the American Sociological Review, took researchers by surprise because they had not expected to see such a steep decline in close social ties.

Smith-Lovin said increased professional responsibilities, including working two or more jobs to make ends meet, and long commutes leave many people too exhausted to seek social -- as well as family -- connections: "Maybe sitting around watching 'Desperate Housewives' . . . is what counts for family interaction."

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of "Bowling Alone," a book about increasing social isolation in the United States, said the new study supports what he has been saying for years to skeptical audiences in the academy.

"For most of the 20th century, Americans were becoming more connected with family and friends, and there was more giving of blood and money, and all of those trend lines turn sharply in the middle '60s and have gone in the other direction ever since," he said.

Americans go on 60 percent fewer picnics today and families eat dinner together 40 percent less often compared with 1965, he said. They are less likely to meet at clubs or go bowling in groups. Putnam has estimated that every 10-minute increase in commutes makes it 10 percent less likely that people will establish and maintain close social ties.

Television is a big part of the problem, he contends. Whereas 5 percent of U.S. households in 1950 owned television sets, 95 percent did a decade later.

But University of Toronto sociologist Barry Wellman questioned whether the study's focus on intimate ties means that social ties in general are fraying. He said people's overall ties are actually growing, compared with previous decades, thanks in part to the Internet. Wellman has calculated that the average person today has about 250 ties with friends and relatives.

Wellman praised the quality of the new study and said its results are surprising, but he said it does not address how core ties change in the context of other relationships.

"I don't see this as the end of the world but part of a larger puzzle," he said. "My guess is people only have so much energy, and right now they are switching around a number of networks. . . . We are getting a division of labor in relationships. Some people give emotional aid, some people give financial aid."

Putnam and Smith-Lovin said Americans may be well advised to consciously build more relationships. But they also said social institutions and social-policy makers need to pay more attention.

"The current structure of workplace regulations assumes everyone works from 9 to 5, five days a week," Putnam said. "If we gave people much more flexibility in their work life, they would use that time to spend more time with their aging mom or best friend."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Ithaca Artist Bound for Cuba

by Elizabeth Lawyer
The Ithaca Journal
June 23, 2006

A local artist is planning on traveling to Cuba in defiance of the U.S. trade sanction and travel ban with the country.

Dan Burgevin, a painter who has created several murals in the Ithaca area, will be traveling with Pastors for Peace in a caravan full of art supplies and other donations to take to Cuba. The caravan will travel to Texas and cram into buses with their supplies and cross the border into Mexico. From there they will fly to Cuba.

This will be the 17th Pastors for Peace Caravan since 1992. Over 500 people have traveled to Cuba with the program. The caravan, run by Lisa Valanti, head of the US/Cuba Sister City Association, will be stopping in Ithaca today. The Cuba Friendship Group of Greater Ithaca will host a dinner at the Unitarian Church in honor of the caravan. Friday has also been officially declared “Cuba Friendship Day” in Ithaca by Mayor Carolyn Peterson.

“If you want to change a policy, you must do the work, gather support and spread the word about it,” Valanti said. “That's what this is — doing the work.”

Valanti, who has been to Cuba with every caravan since the first one, said her ultimate goal is to bring transparency to the hypocrisy of the situation. U.S. policy does not reflect the sentiments of the American people, she said as she rolled into town on Thursday. Valanti said the caravan often goes through Ithaca and has always found it to be a supportive community.

Bergevin said he's been fascinated by the island nation ever since he heard Fidel Castro speak at the U.N. when he was a child. He decided to go with Pastors for Peace because it shares his goal to end the 40-year economic sanctions against Cuba.

This is his first trip to Cuba, and he plans on meeting with Cuban artists to “share ideas, taste the food and meet the people.”

He will also give a lecture to a class at an art school. He said he wants to “de-mystify” the country that has held his imagination most of his life.

“It's an interesting, fine place. What's the big deal? Why shouldn't we go there?” he said.

Bergevin has painted murals at several places in Ithaca, including Collegetown Bagels on Aurora Street, the Museum of the Earth, P&C supermarket on Hancock Street and a new one at Pancho Villa Taqueria.

One of his dreams is to travel through South America with South American artists, painting murals. He said though other people his age are thinking about retiring and resting on their laurels, he feels the urge to keep going.

“I want to die on my way to the next mural,” he said jokingly. “Thunk! In the mud. ‘Oh, he's dead. Grab his pack.'”

He said his art focuses on things that are common to all humanity — what brings people together and what pulls them apart.

“As a muralist, you have to make political statements,” said Burgevin, whose credentials include time on a Greenpeace boat.

The travel ban prohibits Cuban Americans from visiting their families more than once every three years. Currently, only a few American cities have permission to have flight connections to Cuba, and only people with permission from the U.S. government can take those flights, including journalists, academic researchers and Cuban Americans. Those who violate the ban and enter Cuba through another country, as the caravans do, run the risk of being fined. However, Burgevin says these threats are all smoke and no fire.

“We want to bring to light the issue of the unfair sanctions,” Bergevin said. “We should treat our neighbor like we would people in our neighborhood. Would you refuse to sell food to your neighbor?”

Roy Josef, a Cuban living in Ithaca, said he hopes the caravans will attract attention to the cause. His mother still lives in Havana.

Burgevin said he expects trouble at the U.S.-Mexico border, but the customs officials always let the caravan through with their goods. On one of the first caravans, U.S. officials seized a small school bus and refused to let it pass. Valanti and others in the caravan went on a hunger strike lasting 23 days, eventually garnering international attention and even receiving mail addressed to “the Little Yellow School Bus.”

Copyright ©2006 The Ithaca Journal

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shielding the Flag, Shattering Liberty

by the Minneapolis Star Tribune
June 22, 2006

America is a nation built on four flimsy sheets of parchment. They're not as thrilling to look at as Old Glory, but the brittle pages of the U.S. Constitution have done more to sustain American liberty than any flag ever could. It's too bad, really, that Americans don't pledge allegiance to the Constitution -- and don't revere it as they do the Stars and Stripes. If they did, they'd see the folly in defending a rectangle of cloth at the expense of the parchment's promises.

Not that the flag really needs protection. It waves in the wind every day everywhere and is trampled underfoot rarely anywhere.

But whenever an election draws near, lawmakers trot out a constitutional amendment to ban "flag desecration." Pandering to public fondness for the most colorful symbol of U.S. freedom, Congress is gunning once again for the amendment's passage.

This is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Though the plan has failed time and again, this session could be different: Passed by the House last year, the measure is headed for a Senate vote next week. The latest head count shows the amendment is just one vote shy of passage.

That margin wouldn't be so close if senators who should know better -- Minnesota's Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman among them -- acknowledged that by protecting the flag with this amendment, they would severely undermine the substance for which it stands. Between protecting the cloth and the right, the choice is clear and unavoidable. The Senate can't have both.

That's where the four sheets of parchment come in: Its 4,543 words spell out the inviolability of American liberty -- and couldn't be clearer in instructing lawmakers to keep their hands off the entitlements citizens enjoy.

Among the most precious is the right to dissent -- even by means that most consider repulsive.

Copyright 2006 Star Tribune

CEO-Worker Pay Imbalance Grows

by Lawrence Mishel, President of The Economic Policy Institute
June 21, 2006

In 2005, the average CEO in the United States earned 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data. In 2005, a CEO earned more in one workday (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earned in 52 weeks.

The 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have been prosperous times for top U.S. executives, especially relative to other wage earners. This can be seen by examining the increased divergence between CEO pay and an average worker’s pay over time, as shown in Figure A. In 1965, U.S. CEOs in major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker; this ratio grew to 35 in 1978 and to 71 in 1989. The ratio surged in the 1990s and hit 300 at the end of the recovery in 2000. The fall in the stock market reduced CEO stock-related pay (e.g., options) causing CEO pay to moderate to 143 times that of an average worker in 2002. Since then, however, CEO pay has exploded and by 2005 the average CEO was paid $10,982,000 a year, or 262 times that of an average worker ($41,861).

Copyright © 2006 by The Economic Policy Institute

Secret Government or a Free Press?

by USA Today
June 21, 2006

France, Germany and courts in Japan could teach America a thing or two about one essential aspect of democracy: Their governments are more willing to make sure that journalists have the means to act as watchdogs on the people in power.

Several European nations guarantee that reporters cannot be forced to expose sources to whom they've guaranteed confidentiality. Just last week, Tokyo's high court upheld a Japanese reporter's refusal to reveal the sources of a 1997 news story about a U.S. health food company.

This is just common sense. Those in power keep secrets? sometimes to protect their power, sometimes for financial or political gain, and sometimes for more legitimate reasons, such as national security. The nation's Founders knew this. They created a free press in large part as a check on that sort of power. Reporters and commentators would serve as watchdogs.

But that history lesson seems lost on the current administration. In the past two years, federal prosecutors have tried repeatedly to turn those watchdogs into lapdogs, who instead of exposing wrongdoing turn in the people who give them information:

• Last year, two reporters refused for months to name the sources who outed CIA officer Valerie Plame in a convoluted Washington political drama that's still unfolding. Both ultimately capitulated after receiving "waivers" from their sources, to whom they had promised anonymity. One did so after serving 85 days in jail.

• Last year, a Rhode Island TV reporter spent four months confined at home by a judge for refusing to expose a source who had provided a videotape showing alleged corruption by public officials.

• In San Francisco, a federal prosecutor is trying to force two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to reveal sources of secret grand jury testimony used in stories about baseball stars bulking up on steroids. The stories led to hearings in Congress that forced baseball to boost its drug-testing policies.

Examples of what the public could lose through such intimidation are plentiful: In 1995, confidential sources helped lead reporters to unethical practices at a California fertility clinic. Without confidential sources, the nation might not have known about the Watergate scandal abuses. Or the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. Or the Bush administration's wiretapping of ordinary Americans' overseas phone calls without court permission. Or its gathering huge databases of domestic phone records.

The administration tries to dismiss the latter items on that list as threats to national security. But each called for public debate and congressional and judicial review? prisoner abuse in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and invasions of personal privacy by the executive branch without oversight by Congress or the courts that the Constitution intended. There is a long record of publications holding back stories that truly jeopardize security.

Unchecked secret government is far more threatening. What whistle-blower will expose information those in power are hiding if reporters are forced to turn them in?

The best solution is a federal shield law such as the one sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators and under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Similar laws in 32 states protect confidences shared with reporters, much as laws protect those shared with lawyers or doctors. The federal proposal is carefully qualified to allow for exceptions, for instance, when lives or national security are at stake.

The Founders thought press freedom critical enough to enshrine in the First Amendment. The U.S. government shouldn't have to learn from abroad that it is worth protecting.

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"I Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

by Martin Luther King, Jr.
The following is transcribed from the end of a sermon delivered in 1967.

I call on Washington today. I call on every man and woman of good will all over America today. I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don't let anyone make you think that God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.

God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment and it seems that I can hear God saying to America "You are too arrogant. If you don't change your ways I will rise up and break the backbone of your power. And I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I am God."

Now it isn't easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means being frustrated when you tell the truth and take a stand. Sometimes it means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it means losing a job. It means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a seven- or eight-year-old child asking you "Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so much."

I've long since learned that to be a follower of Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. My Bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it. Bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination.

And I have not lost faith. I am not in despair because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

I can still sing "We Shall Overcome" because Carlyle was right... "No lie can live forever."

We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant was right... "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again."

We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell was right... "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future."

We shall overcome because the Bible is right... "You shall reap what you sow."

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to go out and transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together and every man will sit under his own pine and fig tree and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual... "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we're free at last."

With this faith we'll sing it as we're getting ready to sing it now. "Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and nations will not rise up against nations... neither shall they study war anymore." And I don't know about you, but I ain't gonna study war no more.

A Proposed Gold Mine in Chile and Argentina Has Emails Flying

by Kelly Hearn
Grist Magazine
June 21, 2006

Last week, Chile's government green-lighted a controversial mining project known as Pascua-Lama. If the name rings a bell, odds are a chain email has found its way to your inbox, an appeal to "friends who care about our earth."

The far-reaching cyber-alert describes a messy international situation. Indigenous farmers in the mountainous Andean border between Argentina and Chile, it says, are fighting an international company that plans to mine for gold beneath massive glaciers. Doing so, the letter continues, will contaminate two key rivers fed by the glaciers, ruin water systems for the area's impoverished people, and line the pockets of yet another foreign corporate invader. Oh, and the mining company has ties to the elder George Bush.

The message's rounds have been so extensive that hoax-busting websites investigated, and they now report what folks in South America have long known: Pascua-Lama is very real. The proposed open-pit mine would sit at an elevation of about 15,000 feet, yielding an estimated 18 million ounces of gold and 685 million ounces of silver over 20 years. The brainchild of Canada's Barrick Gold, it would be the world's first binational mine, and is slated to begin operations in 2009.

Though the email played loose with some facts, it was enough on target to prick Barrick into crafting a point-by-point rebuttal -- choosing to clarify, for instance, that former U.S. President Bush served in an "honorary capacity as an adviser to Barrick's international advisory board for two years in the mid-1990s" and "was neither a director nor officer of the company."

But other than causing a PR headache, the e-protest has failed to make real-space dents. Now that the government of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has given Pascua-Lama the OK -- rejecting 44 of 46 complaints filed by local opponents after Barrick's environmental impact study was initially approved in February -- the company simply awaits a nod from Argentina. That country, which would host one quarter of the mine, has left the decision in the hands of provincial officials who are said to favor the deal.

While opposition to Pascua-Lama continues in the form of lawsuits filed by indigenous-rights groups, last week's decision drained many green hopes. It was, however, a feather in the cap of Barrick's public-relations team.

For well over a year, Barrick has worked to break the ice with locals -- who it says wrongly believe the mine will hurt water supplies -- and to dispel the concerns of activists around the world.

Vince Borg, the company's vice president for corporate communications, declined to comment for Grist. However, he has worked through other media channels to downplay negative portrayals of the project -- stressing, for example, that glaciologists declared that the ice fields in question were not glaciers, but "ice reservoirs." Barrick has also worked to counter claims that the entire lode is located under ice. "This is simply not the case," says the company's rebuttal to the chain mail. "[Ninety-five percent] of the orebody is not under glaciers/ice fields. Protection of the remaining 5 percent is a key condition of the Chilean authorities' approval of the project."

Ana Lya Uriarte, director of the Chilean environmental commission that gave the approval, assured local media last week that the glaciers "would not be removed, transferred, or interfered with, much less destroyed." And Barrick Chile Director Jose Antonio Urrutia issued a statement saying that "as with all of its other operations around the world, in Chile Barrick will maintain its philosophy of responsible mining."

But those promises are worth a bucket of melting ice to Lucio Cuenca of the Chile-based Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts. "People don't have trust in the government, and the [government's announcement] is rhetorical, saying only that there will be no harm done to the glacier," Cuenca says. "But the deposits are under or near the glaciers, so it is very hard to believe they are not going to destroy [them]." Another major concern for activists is the plan to use a common mining technique involving cyanide, which they worry could contaminate local river systems.

For now, opposition groups are pinning their remaining hopes on Argentine authorities. But Raúl Montenegro, president of the Foundation for the Defense of the Environment in Cordoba, Argentina, says local mining officials "are conditioned by political power" and have already made up their minds. He says the technical capacity of Argentina's regulatory machine is lower than Chile's, and accuses Barrick of giving Argentine officials an inferior environmental impact study. "There were two reports filed, and two different levels of information," he says. "It was much deeper for [the] Chilean side."

What's more, Montenegro says, Argentina's federal mining agency is legally bound to involve itself in Barrick's request. He says leaving the decision to lower-level officials is a way of giving tacit approval while keeping hands clean in the capital, Buenos Aires. San Juan, the province in question, approved a nearby mine also run by Barrick in 2003 -- an ominous bellwether, Montenegro says.

Ana Folgar of Argentina's Mining Secretariat confirmed that the decision has been placed in the hands of officials in San Juan, and referred Grist to them for comment. Those officials did not respond to interview requests.

Understandably, Barrick has played up the economic benefits for locals, promising 5,500 new jobs during the construction stage and 1,660 when the mine is up and running. In addition, the company estimates that each of those jobs will lead to the indirect creation of 2.5 more jobs in the local economy. For any developing country, that kind of promise makes environmental decisions even more complicated.

Critics say Pascua-Lama is another example of how permissive national laws, lax environmental enforcement, cheap labor, and peaking ore prices are prompting a modern-day gold rush in South America, home to some of the world's most sensitive ecosystems. And as indigenous groups, farmers, and greens butt heads with multinational mining interests and royalty-hungry governments in Argentina, Chile, and Peru, the money machine keeps turning.

A Canada-based consultancy, Metals Economics Group, reports that in 2005, nearly a quarter of worldwide mining exploration budgets -- which totaled $4.89 billion -- found their way to Latin America, making the region "the most popular destination for exploration." Victor Di Meglio, director of the Argentine Mining Chamber, a trade group, told reporters last year that he expects investments of $4.5 billion in Argentina alone over the next five to six years. Chilean officials reportedly expect mining investments to total $10 billion by 2008, and Peru's prospects aren't far off that mark, according to reports.

Those figures give the shakes to activists who say unemployment, poverty, and corrupt governments spell an all but open road for potential environmental abuse. And they are bound and determined to keep Pascua-Lama from being added to the list.

According to Mines and Communities -- an international coalition created by three British-based organizations -- the Pascua-Lama fight isn't over. Legal actions are under way to nullify the environmental-impact approval granted by Chile in February -- and even to challenge the legitimacy of the treaty between Chile and Argentina that laid the foundations for this project in the first place.

So What Can You Do?

Those involved in the battle over Pascua-Lama say you shouldn't count on email saving the day. "This is a local fight," says Lucio Cuenca of the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts. "The awareness has been welcome, but I am afraid it doesn't do much on the local level."

However, the organizations involved do need support, say activists, including financial donations. To learn more about the situation, visit Mining Watch Canada.

Kelly Hearn is a writer in South America. He is a former UPI staff reporter and a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and other publications.

©2006 Grist Magazine, Inc.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Coca Production on the Rise in Colombia

by The Associated Press
Published on June 20, 2006, by The New York Times

Colombia's coca crop increased by 8 percent last year despite a U.S.-backed eradication campaign that was the largest in history, U.N. drug officials said Tuesday.

Production of the plant used to make cocaine increased to 330 square miles in 2005 -- even as authorities sprayed coca fields totaling 25 times the size of Manhattan -- according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

The U.N. findings follow an April report by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy that reported a 26 percent increase in Colombia's coca production from 2004 to 2005, though that was partly due to a near doubling of the area surveyed.

Taken together, the reports are the strongest evidence yet that a cornerstone of the U.S.-led war on drugs -- the aerial fumigation of coca fields -- is failing to meet its goal of halving coca production in the Andes.

The anti-drug strategy known as Plan Colombia received about $4 billion in U.S. funding since 2000.

Colombia, the world's largest cocaine producer, is believed to be the source of 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

The biggest increases were observed in the largely uninhabited jungles near Colombia's borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, the U.N. report said.

Key members of the U.S. Congress and growing numbers of Colombians have suggested it may be time to halt the potentially environmentally harmful spraying.

Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, said the United States and Europe must curb their appetite for cocaine and increase support for alternative crop development programs in South America.

''Our aid efforts need to be multiplied at least tenfold in order to reach all impoverished farmers who need support,'' he said in a statement.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Iraq's Pentagon Papers

By Daniel Ellsberg
Los Angeles Times
June 11, 2006

A joint resolution referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) calls for the withdrawal of all American military forces from Iraq by Dec. 31. Boxer's "redeployment" bill cites in its preamble a January poll finding that 64% of Iraqis believe that crime and violent attacks will decrease if the U.S. leaves Iraq within six months, 67% believe that their day-to-day security will increase if the U.S. withdraws and 73% believe that factions in parliament will cooperate more if the U.S. withdraws.

If that's true, then what are we doing there? If Iraqis don't believe that we're making things better or safer, what does that say about the legitimacy of prolonged occupation, much less permanent American bases in Iraq (foreseen by 80% of Iraqis polled)? What does it mean for continued American armored patrols such as the one last November in Haditha, which, we now learn, led to the deaths of a Marine and 24 unarmed civilians?

It was questions very much like these that were nagging at my conscience many years ago at the height of the Vietnam War, and that led, eventually, to the publication of the first of the Pentagon Papers on June 13, 1971, 35 years ago this week. That process had begun nearly two years earlier, in the fall of 1969, when my friend and former colleague at the Rand Corp., Tony Russo, and I first started copying the 7,000 pages of top-secret documents from my office safe at Rand to give to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That period had several similarities to this one. For one thing, Republican Sen. Charles Goodell of New York had just introduced a resolution calling for the unilateral withdrawal of all U.S. armed forces from Indochina by the end of 1970. Unlike the current Boxer resolution, his had budgetary "teeth," calling for all congressional funding of U.S. combat operations to cease by his deadline.

Two other similarities between then and now: First, though it was known to only a handful of Americans, President Nixon was making secret plans that September to expand, rather than exit from, the ongoing war in Southeast Asia — including a major air offensive against North Vietnam, possibly using nuclear weapons. Today, the Bush administration's threats to wage war against Iran are explicit, with officials reiterating regularly that the nuclear "option" is "on the table."

Second, also in September, charges had been brought quietly against Lt. William Calley for the murder 18 months earlier of "109 Oriental human beings" in the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai 4. This went almost unnoticed until mid-November of that year, when Seymour Hersh's investigative story burst on the public, followed shortly by the first sight for Americans of color photographs of the massacre. The pictures were not that different from those in the cover stories of Time and Newsweek from Haditha: women, children, old men and babies, all shot at short range.

What was it that prompted me in the fall of 1969 to begin copying 7,000 pages of highly classified documents — an act that I fully expected would send me to prison for life? (My later charges, indeed, totaled a potential 115 years in prison.) The precipitating event was not Calley's murder trial but a different one. On Sept. 30, I read in the Los Angeles Times that charges brought by Creighton Abrams, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Vietnam, against several Special Forces officers accused of murdering a suspected double agent in their custody had been dismissed by the secretary of the Army.

The article, by Washington reporters Ted Sell and Robert Donovan, made clear that the reasons alleged by Secretary Stanley Resor for this dismissal were false (and that the order to dismiss the charges had most likely come directly from the White House). As I read on, it became increasingly clear that the whole chain of command, civilian and military, was participating in a coverup.

As I finished the article, it hit me: This is the system I have been part of, giving my unquestioning loyalty to for 15 years, as a Marine, a Pentagon official and a State Department officer in Vietnam. It's a system that lies reflexively, at every level from sergeant to commander in chief, about murder. And I had, sitting in my safe at Rand, 7,000 pages of documentary evidence to prove it.

The papers in my safe, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, constituted a complete set of a 47-volume, top-secret Defense Department history of American involvement in Vietnam titled, "U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68."

I had exclusive access to the papers for research purposes and had been reading them all summer; they made it very clear that I, like the rest of the American public, had been misled about the origins and purposes of the war I had participated in — just as are the 85% of the troops in Iraq today who still believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 and that he was allied with Al Qaeda.

The papers documented in stunning detail a pattern of lies and deceptions by four presidents and their administrations over 23 years to conceal their war plans — along with internal estimates of the high costs and risks of these plans (and their low probabilities of success), never meant to reach the public and provoke debate. They showed very clearly how we had become engaged in a reckless war of choice in someone else's country — a country that had not attacked us — for our own domestic and external purposes.

It seemed to me that to be doing that against the intense wishes of most of the inhabitants of that country was not just bad policy but morally wrong. Moreover, it became clear to me that the justifications that had been given for our involvement were false. Vietnam was not a just war, and never had been. And if the war itself was unjust, then all the victims of our firepower were being killed without justification. That's murder.

As I read the story in The Times that morning about the coverup of the Special Forces murder and compared it with what I'd been reading in the secret history, I came to see it as a microcosm of what had been happening since the war began. And I thought to myself: I don't want to be part of this lying machine anymore. I am not going to conceal the truth any longer.

I called Russo, who had been fired from Rand a year earlier, in part for inconvenient field reporting about torture of prisoners by our Vietnamese allies. I asked him if he had access to a copying machine.

He did.

We began on Oct. 1. Night after night, I brought out batches of papers from my safe, and we copied them. I gave them first to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hoping that they would make the documents public. But they did not. Eventually, I gave them to the New York Times, which began publishing them Sunday, June 13, 1971.

Two days later, the New York Times was ordered by a federal judge, at the request of the White House, to stop publishing — the first injunctive prior restraint of the press in U.S. history. I then gave copies to the Washington Post and, when it also was enjoined, to 17 other newspapers, while I was being sought by the FBI. On June 28, I turned myself in and was arrested and charged with violations of the Espionage Act and theft.

Today, there must be, at the very least, hundreds of civilian and military officials in the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, National Security Agency and White House who have in their safes and computers comparable documentation of intense internal debates — so far carefully concealed from Congress and the public — about prospective or actual war crimes, reckless policies and domestic crimes: the Pentagon Papers of Iraq, Iran or the ongoing war on U.S. liberties. Some of those officials, I hope, will choose to accept the personal risks of revealing the truth — earlier than I did — before more lives are lost or a new war is launched.

Haditha holds a mirror up not just to American troops in the field, but to our whole society. Not just to the liars in government but to those who believe them too easily. And to all of us in the public, in the administration, in Congress and the media who dissent so far ineffectively or who stand by as murder is being done and do nothing to stop it or expose it.

It is past time for Americans to summon the civil courage to face what is being done in their name and to refuse to be accomplices. We must force Congress and this president, or their successors if necessary, to act upon the moral proposition that the U.S. must stop killing men, women and children in Iraq, and must not begin to do so in Iran.

Neither the lives we have lost, nor the lives we have taken, give the U.S. any right to determine by fire and airpower who shall govern or who shall die in countries we have wrongly attacked.

Daniel Ellsberg was put on trial in 1973 for leaking the Pentagon Papers, but the case was dismissed after four months because of government misconduct.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Action Urged to Avoid Deep Trouble in the Deep Seas

June 16, 2006

Swift and wide ranging actions are needed to conserve the world’s entire marine environment amid fears that humankind’s exploitation of the deep seas and open oceans is rapidly passing the point of no return.

The call is made to governments by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) in a new report launched today in New York where countries and experts are holding talks on the law of the sea.

The report, entitled Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas, argues that the many lessons learnt on conserving coastal waters should be adapted and applied right across the marine realm, including in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director and until recently IUCN’s Director General, said: "Humankind's ability to exploit the deep oceans and high seas has accelerated rapidly over recent years. It is a pace of change that has outstripped our institutions and conservation efforts whose primary focus have been coastal waters where, until recently, most human activity like fishing and industrial exploration took place. We now most urgently need to look beyond the horizon and bring the lessons learnt in coastal water to the wider marine world."

“Well over 60 per cent of the marine world and its rich biodiversity, found beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, is vulnerable and at increasing risk. Governments must urgently develop the guidelines, rules and actions needed to bridge this gulf. Otherwise we stand to lose and to irrevocably damage unique wildlife and critical ecosystems many of which moderate our very existence on the planet,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Acting Director General of IUCN.

With more than 90 per cent of the planet’s living biomass—the weight of life—found in the oceans, the report underlines the value of the deep seas and open oceans and highlights how science is only now just getting to grips with the wealth of life, natural resources and ecosystems existing in the marine world.

Less than 10 per cent of the oceans have been explored [90 per cent of the oceans remain unexplored] with only one millionth of the deep sea floor having been subject to biological investigations.

The report, launched at the UN Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) which feeds into the UN General Assembly, also highlights the way fisheries, pollution and other stresses such as those arising from global climate change are impacting and affecting the marine world.

“Once limited largely to shipping and open ocean fishing, commercial activities at sea are expanding rapidly and plunging ever deeper. Deep sea fishing, bioprospecting, energy development and marine scientific research are already taking place at depths of 2,000 m or more,” says the report’s author, Kristina M. Gjerde, High Seas Policy Advisor to IUCN’s Global Marine Program.

“Throughout the oceans, shipping, military operations and seismic exploration have intensified with growing impacts on deep water and high sea ecosystems and biodiversity. The spectre of climate change and its impacts such as ocean warming and acidification underscore the need to reduce direct human impacts, because healthy ecosystems are better able to respond to changing oceanic conditions,” she adds.

Taking into account the discussions in various international fora and the emerging actions by individual countries, the author outlines options aimed at charting a course for progress into the 21st century for the conservation and sustainable management of the deep seas and open oceans.

This includes actions and measures that reflect an integrated approach to oceans management based on ‘ecological boundaries' rather than just political ones, giving higher levels of protection to vulnerable species like deep sea fish as well as to biologically and ecologically significant ecosystems such as cold water corals and hydrothermal vent communities.

Other steps include the creation of a “precautionary system of marine protected areas” along with improved impact assessments that reflect the full range of possible human activities across the total marine environment. Both approaches are vital to conserve valuable marine biodiversity and to save poorly studied or understood species - before it is too late.

Deep Waters

- 90% of the oceans are unexplored. Only some 0.0001% of the deep seafloor has been subject to biological investigations.

- About 50% of animals collected from areas deeper than 3,000m are new species.

- Cold-water coral reefs can be up to 8,500 years old, 35m high, 40km long, and 3km wide. They have been found so far off the coast of 41 countries from the poles to deep equatorial waters.

- Communities living on hydrothermal vents and cold seeps obtain their energy from chemicals seeping from the Earth’s crust or ancient sediments. They are examples of life on Earth which does not depend directly on energy from the sun.

Global Fishing

- In the last 42 years, capture of wild marine fish for human consumption increased from 20 million tonnes to 84.5 million tonnes, with more than 40% entering international trade.

- Global by-catch amounts to 20 million tons a year, approximately 25% of the fish caught.

- Over half (52%) of the global fish stocks are fully exploited. Overexploited and depleted species have increased from about 10% in the mid 1970s to 24% in 2002.

- Around 3.5 million fishing boats use the world’s ocean. 1% of these are classified as large, industrial vessels, which have the capacity to take around 60% of all the fish caught globally.

- Catch from high seas bottom trawl fishing in 2001 was worth an estimated US$300-400 million, equal to approximately 0.5% of the value of global marine catch. The sector employs an estimated 1,000-2,000 people using around 250-300 vessels (on a full time-equivalent basis).

- The worldwide value of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) catches is estimated between US$4.9-9.5 billion. Up to 30% of IUU fishing (US$ 1.2 billion) occurs beyond national jurisdiction.

Threatened marine biodiversity

- Each year, illegal longline fishing kills over 300,000 seabirds, including 100,000 albatrosses. 19 out 21 albatross species are now threatened with extinction.

- Populations of large fish with high commercial value, such as tuna, cod, swordfish and marlin, have declined by as much as 90% in the past century.

- Orange roughy, a commonly targeted deep sea fish, matures after around 32 years. A specimen of this species was recently found to be approximately 240 years old meaning that it was born about the time of Napoleon Bonaparte’s birth.

- Over 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of ocean today. In the Central Pacific, there are up to 6 pounds of marine litter to every pound of plankton.

© United Nations Environment Programme

Burying Urban Myths on Environment & Development

June 19, 2006

With over three billion people now living in urban areas, an innovative project to bring high quality public transport to some of the most polluted cities on the globe was announced to mark the opening of the World Urban Forum III.

The Forum, taking place in Vancouver, Canada and involving thousands of delegates from across the world, is being organized under the auspices of UN-Habitat, the city agency of the United Nations.

The new public transport project, executed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) through its Risø Centre in cooperation with government agencies and local authorities, underscores a growing determination among developing countries to balance urbanization and growth with local and global environmental concerns.

The multi-million dollar project, funded by the Global Environment Facility and involving Concepcion, Guatemala City and Panama City, aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100,000 tonnes a year, and potentially far more.

The project, which will lead to the creation of modern bus networks, cycle ways and pedestrianization schemes, will also tackle local air pollution linked with human ill health and damage to forests, agricultural land and other key ecosystems.

The cities will work with others in the region through a new information network called “NESTLAC” –Network for Environmentally Sustainable Transport in Latin American Countries.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “In 2007, for the first time in history, more people will be urban than rural dwellers. By 2050, some six billion people are expected to be city dwellers. The World Urban Forum is thus an important meeting central to all our interests”.

“The urban environment is inextricably intertwined with the rural one and inextricably linked with the way local, regional and global natural resources are soundly and sustainably managed. So it is vital that we get cities right if we are to meet the internationally agreed development goals, if we are to deal with such pressing global issues as climate change”.

He said UN-Habitat and UNEP were key partners in the Sustainable Cities Programme. This is working with more than 100 cities world-wide to promote environmental planning and management under Agenda 21—a comprehensive sustainability action plan born at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Mr. Steiner said he looked forward to ever deeper cooperation with UN-Habitat—which is co located with UNEP in Nairobi, Kenya-- and its Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka.

As part of the World Urban Forum III UNEP, along with the UN-Habitat, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainable Development and the Cities Alliance is showcasing a study of numerous cities from Cape Town, South Africa and Hyderabad, India to Honolulu in the United States.

The study underlines how many are proving that management of waste up top more efficient energy use makes both economic and environmental sense locally and globally.

Hyderabad in India is working with local women under a ‘community collection’ scheme to collect wastes and rubbish with the money made helping women get much needed access to credit via the local banking system.

The city is also turning the waste into ‘refuse derived fuel’ which, the city says, emits less greenhouse gases than traditional biomass like wood or agricultural wastes.

Honolulu has replaced traditional light bulbs in the city’s traffic lights with light emitting diodes saving over half a million dollars a year in reduced energy, maintenance and other costs.

Mr. Steiner said:”The rapid rate of urbanization, especially in developing countries, is a fact of life. But some cities are also demonstrating other facts. Namely that improving local air quality and curbing waste up to countering greenhouse gas emissions can go hand in hand with that urbanization and with that growth”.

“Around half the world’s population is already living in cities and the numbers are set to rise. So the quest for sustainability will be increasingly won or lost in our urban areas. However, it is a quest upon which many local authorities and city leaders are increasingly eager to embark often for hard nosed and pragmatic economic reasons,” he added.

© United Nations Environment Programme

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Free Trade Agreements" Continue To Be Unfair

by Oxfam
June 14, 2006

The US is pushing “free trade agreements” (FTAs) with the Andean countries of Peru, Colombia and Ecuador that will harm thousands of vulnerable small farmers, block access to affordable medicines and favor foreign investors, according to a new report released today by international agency Oxfam.

The report, “Song of the Sirens,” outlines the negative impacts the proposed agreements will have on millions of people in the Andean region. The US is demanding concessions that could affect the sustainability of development policies and weaken the ongoing process of integration with neighboring countries, Oxfam International says.

Although negotiations with Ecuador have been temporarily suspended, the agreement with Colombia is awaiting final executive approvals and the Peru agreement, already signed by both countries, will be considered by the Peruvian Congress in the coming days and in the US Congress in the coming months.

“Developing countries have been enchanted by the appeal of free-trade agreements, but much like the song of the Sirens, this attraction is ultimately self-destructive,” said Stephanie Weinberg, trade policy advisor for Oxfam International. “The benefits that an FTA offers Peru, Colombia and Ecuador will be far outweighed by the negative impacts of agricultural dumping, harsh patent rules and deregulated foreign investments.”

Oxfam believes that the Peru and Colombia agreements on agriculture, intellectual property and investment rules would harm the development of these countries. In agriculture, the agreements would dismantle safeguard mechanisms that are vital for food security and the livelihoods of small farmers, while making no attempt to address the unfair dumping of American overproduction.

“The livelihoods of a quarter of the population of these countries, especially the poorest in rural areas, depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” said Weinberg. “The FTAs pry open the markets of Peru and Colombia without any consideration for the damaging effects of dumped, cheap, subsidized American products.”

On intellectual property, the US has succeeded in extending pharmaceutical patents beyond 20 years, which goes well beyond agreements made at the World Trade Organization. As a consequence, medicine prices in Peru will increase by almost 10% in the first year of the FTA and 100% after 10 years. Colombia will have to spend an extra $940 million a year to buy more expensive medicines and nearly 6 million people will lose access to medicines. The new investment rules in the agreements would also curtail the powers of Andean governments to regulate foreign investment.

“Trade could be the engine to pull millions out of poverty, but instead the winners of this agreement are American and international companies,” said Weinberg. “In the Andean countries where half the population lives in poverty, this agreement will actually reduce access to affordable medicines and stifle opportunities for development.”

The US has started concentrating on bilateral agreements because the WTO’s Doha Development Round is deadlocked and talks on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) have stalled. Oxfam says that the US is using these new bilateral deals to force poorer countries to give up a lot more than they would at the WTO.

“The US Congress should not approve trade agreements that will harm developing countries. It should instead encourage developing countries to utilize trade as a means of achieving sustainable economic development and poverty reduction,” said Weinberg. “But with these free trade agreements, the US is locking in unfair trade rules that pull the rug from underneath Peru and Colombia.”

© Copyright 2006 Oxfam International

Bullet Trade Out of Control

by Oxfam
June 15, 2006

Up to 14 billion bullets are manufactured globally every year and there is no reliable data on how billions of those bullets are used or to whom they may be sold, according to a new report on the global ammunition trade released today by aid agency, Oxfam International.

The report, ‘Ammunition: the fuel of conflict’ shows that several big ammunition producers including China, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania and Israel provide no data at all on their ammunition exports, apart from shotgun cartridges.

Every year, lax controls mean millions of bullets end up in war zones and fall into the hands of human rights abusers. The report details how illicit ammunition has flooded into conflict-ridden countries including Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the last five years.

At least 76 countries manufacture ammunition, and the number is increasing as more countries acquire bullet-making equipment. Kenya and Turkey have both become producers in the last ten years. Globally, 33 million bullets are produced every day.

“Our research shows that new ammunition is widely available on Baghdad’s black market. There are two likely explanations for this: either it was smuggled in from neighboring countries or it has leaked from coalition or Iraqi forces’ supplies. In either case, weak controls mean lives lost on the streets of Baghdad,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

The report includes research conducted in May 2006 into the Baghdad black market. Researchers found:

  • New, high-quality ammunition is widely available in Baghdad, in contrast to the early days of the conflict when ammunition is believed to have largely come from old Iraqi stockpiles.
  • Bullets manufactured between 1999 and 2004 in factories in Czech Republic, Serbia, Romania and Russia were found on sale in Baghdad.
  • New ammunition stocks are either being smuggled into Iraq from neighboring countries or leaking from the vast supplies imported by coalition forces to equip the new Iraqi security forces. It is likely both are happening.
  • The average cost of an AK-47 bullet on the black market is US 30 cents. As most gun violence victims are killed by between four and 12 bullets, on average the price of taking away a human life in Baghdad is currently US $2.40.

The report also contains information on the vast stockpiles of old ammunition in Eastern Europe, finding that:

  • Ukraine alone is estimated to have about 2.5 million tons of ammunition stocks including several hundred million rounds of small arms ammunition.
  • Unscrupulous brokers, who buy these bullets and sell them to conflict zones, are making huge profits. In one case, a broker’s profit margin was over 500 per cent.
  • Bullets last at least 20 years, more if properly stored.

Ammunition plays a vital role in fuelling armed conflict, according to the report. In the Central African Republic, fighters have been known to throw away weapons because they could not buy the right bullets for them. However, bullets are frequently left out of arms regulations.

“If you’re not convinced about the devastating power a shipment of ammunition can have, think of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, during the civil war in 2003. In late June 2003, forces ran out of bullets and had to retreat. But once a new shipment arrived, they attacked again, ferociously, killing many innocent people. At the UN world conference on the small arms trade, governments must agree new global principles to govern both the small arms and the ammunition trade,” added Hobbs.

Bullet casings are often left at the scene of crimes and massacres. The report argues that if casings were properly marked, it would greatly increase the likelihood of bringing human rights abusers and criminals to justice. However, currently markings only enable the manufacturer to be identified.

The UN conference on the small arms trade begins in New York on 26 June 2006.

© Copyright 2006 Oxfam International

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Analysis of 1918 Flu in Ithaca

by Donna Eschenbrenner
The Ithaca Journal
June 17, 2006

In October 2005 a group of American scientists announced that they had finished their decade-long task of tracing the genetic sequence of the 1918 influenza virus. It was found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, according to a report in the New York Times.

This 1918 virus was a different strain of bird flu from the H5N1 virus that is infecting birds in Asia, Europe and Africa today, and it is not known how, or when, it moved from birds to humans. What is known are the grim statistics describing the devastating effects of that flu worldwide. In less than a year, 20-40 million people died (some estimates suggest an even higher number) — roughly two to four times the number of casualties from World War I.

In a 10-month period in late 1918 and early 1919, more than half a million Americans were reported dead from the flu. And, surprisingly, a disproportionate number of the victims were healthy young adults, between the ages of 20 and 40.
The effects of this pandemic at a local level are harder to determine. Personal records, such as diaries and correspondence, from this period are scarce. Much historical focus is, understandably, on the devastating world war being fought at the time. However, a recent donation to the archives at The History Center in Tompkins County brings the local story of this worldwide catastrophe to light. A student from Empire State College researched the effects of the 1918 influenza epidemic in Tompkins County, using information such as articles from The Ithaca Journal from October and November 1918, as well as a New York State Health Department report detailing influenza mortality rates. This generous student donated her research materials and her finished paper, and the collection provides a snapshot of the unfolding of this crisis in Tompkins County.

The earliest clippings from The Journal describe the alarming incidence of the flu in major American cities, such as Washington and New York. Its effects on troops too ill to be shipped to Europe were also significant. The first ominous mention of a local resident ill from influenza is on Oct. 5. Within a few days, other references are made, many with what the newspaper called “grip” (or grippe), which is an old-fashioned word for influenza.

School closings, the shutting down of restaurants and bars and other public gathering places, and cancellation of sporting events are reported throughout other parts of the country. But local health department figures dismiss the value of such precautions here, instead saying that residents should go about their regular daily schedules, paying particular attention to cleanliness and healthy living, and avoiding sick people.

Then, rather abruptly on Oct, 8, The Journal reports 300 cases of the flu in Ithaca, and the opening of Cascadilla Hall on the Cornell campus as an overflow hospital for the university's infirmary. As the days progress, more and more mentions are made of people taken ill throughout the county. By the next week the epidemic is thought to be on the decline, although there were “several hundred patients being treated at the Cornell Infirmary, the City Hospital, and in their homes.” Shopkeepers, many with staff out sick, were having a hard time keeping their stores open.

Later in October, the county health board opens the Masonic Hall as an overflow hospital to assist the City Hospital, which was full. But county health officers reported “the situation as a whole is not considered unduly alarming.”

Yet more deaths are reported from flu and pneumonia, and later, a total of 600 cases were reported in the city of Ithaca alone. Again, local health officers dismiss the option to close down public places — “ is believed nothing would be gained from such a procedure.” A shortage of nurses was also reported.

This pattern repeats itself throughout subsequent pages of Journal clippings: Health officers are quoted reporting “improvement” in the situation, while personal columns and obituary pages are reporting illness and death from flu and pneumonia.

Tragedy dealt families repeated blows — two adult sisters died within an hour of each other, one at City Hospital and one at her home in Trumansburg. One Town of Ithaca family was almost completely wiped out: Four children and their mother all succumbed within a two-month period, leaving a devastated husband and father to grieve alone.

The final figures on illness and mortality were high for this small county of 35,000 people in those years — roughly 140 died, and, while the number of sick was never fully calculated, it was certainly in the thousands.

It is impossible to determine whether a different approach by local health officers would have mitigated the tragedy in the county — many areas that did implement isolation and quarantine procedures also suffered terrible losses. But those of us who are interested in the lessons of history are grateful to at least have the opportunity, through this collection of historic materials, to examine the facts for ourselves.

Donna Eschenbrenner is the archivist at The History Center in Tompkins County.

Copyright ©2006 The Ithaca Journal

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rancid to the Core

by The Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon
June 14, 2006

Since 1998, the food industry has been pushing to repeal state and local food safety and labeling laws in Oregon and elsewhere through legislation called the National Uniformity for Food Act.

Don't be deceived by this bill's appetizing title, which suggests that it would create rigorous new national standards. It would do just the opposite, eliminating more than 200 important food safety laws across the country and setting an ominous precedent undermining states' rights.

If this proposal becomes law, nearly all of the decisions about the quality and safety of our food will be made in Washington, D.C. That's bad news for those who value the importance of local control - and who distrust the federal government's ability to make final decisions about the food we eat, whether its grits in Alabama or shellfish in Oregon.

Indeed, the only thing that's uniform about this bill is that it would wipe out consumer protections in nearly every state. Yet, amazingly, it breezed through U.S. House last March by a 283-139 vote without a single public hearing.

Well, perhaps that's not so amazing. The coalition of corporations and trade groups backing the bill contributed more than $3 million to federal lawmakers in the 2005-06 election cycle and a total of $31 million since 1998. Apparently that was enough to make lawmakers forget the important role that individual states have had in improving the nation's food safety.

California's Proposition 65 is a prime example. Approved by the state's voters in 1986, the law requires the labeling of substances that may cause cancer or birth defects. Since then, it has inspired many other states, including Oregon, to approve rules that are also more stringent than federal standards.

The passage of Proposition 65 prompted Big Food to push for legislation that would place all review of food standards at the federal level, where it could be more easily controlled by the industry. Under the National Uniformity for Food Act, states would have to petition the notoriously unresponsive Food and Drug Administration to maintain food safety laws, and the federal agency would have nearly unlimited authority to reject those petitions.

Public opposition to the House bill was widespread and included 39 state attorneys general, the National Conference of State Legislatures, as well associations of state food and drug officials and state agriculture departments. Yet the bill sailed through the House with little resistance, and now Big Food is ready to move in the Senate.

Last month, Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., introduced a Senate version that's nearly identical to the House version, with at least one significant difference. While House lawmakers approved an amendment permitting states to issue their own mercury warnings for seafood, the Senate bill allows for no such exceptions.

So far, the bill has encountered a cool reception in the Senate, where it has drawn opposition from most Democrats, including Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. Hopefully, Gordon Smith, Wyden's Republican counterpart from Oregon, and other GOP moderates will provide the swing votes needed to defeat this bill. If they're looking for motivation, they should start by considering the damage this bill would do to states' rights, once a sacred precept for Republicans in Congress.

Big Food already has gobbled up the House. Now it's up to the Senate to protect Americans who want their states to retain some say over the food that's on their grocery shelves and dinner plates.

Copyright © 2006 The Register-Guard

A Backdoor Plan to Thwart the Electoral College

The Christian Science Monitor
June 16, 2006

Picture it: On election day in some future year, a presidential candidate ends up with the most popular votes but not enough electoral votes to win.

It's a repeat of the 2000 election in which one contender, Democrat Al Gore, took the majority of the national popular vote, while the other, Republican George W. Bush, clinched the most electoral college votes and, hence, the presidency.

But this time there's a twist: A bunch of states team up and give all their electoral college votes to the nationwide popular-vote winner, regardless of who won the most votes in their state. Then, the candidate who garners the most citizen votes in the country moves into the White House.

Legislative houses in Colorado and California have recently approved this plan, known as the National Popular Vote proposal, taking it partway to passage. Other states, too, are exploring the idea of a binding compact among states that would oblige each of them to throw its electoral votes behind the national popular-vote winner.

At issue is the nation's presidential election system governed by the electoral college. Established by the US Constitution in 1787, the system has occasionally awarded the presidency to candidates who couldn't muster the most votes nationwide, as happened in 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000.

While an amendment to the Constitution could change or eliminate the electoral college, battleground states and small states would probably oppose any change that would leave them with less influence. Indeed, since the system's inception, numerous efforts to amend it have been defeated.

Instead, reformers have turned to the interstate compact, saying it would be constitutional because agreements between states already exist.

The compact is designed to take effect only if states representing 270 electoral votes approve the compact legislation, giving those states majority control of the electoral college. The result: The "compact" group of states would be able to determine a presidential election.

The plan is supported by electoral reform activists and a bipartisan advisory group including former GOP Rep. John Anderson (a presidential candidate in 1980) and former Sen. Birch Bayh (D).

They say the compact would allow long-ignored states to get attention again in presidential campaigns. The current system has "just taken a lot of states off of the presidential map," complains Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonpartisan organization based in Maryland, which supports the compact.

The compact proposal passed the California Assembly on May 30 with all but one Republican opposing. It awaits a vote in the state Senate and, if it passes, approval or rejection by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who hasn't publicly expressed an opinion about it.

Colorado's Senate approved the plan in April with bipartisan support, but it has not advanced because the legislative session there has ended.

Five GOP Assembly members are pushing a popular-vote bill in New York, and legislators in Missouri, Louisiana, and Illinois have introduced bills. Advocates hope to put the legislation before every state by 2007, says Mr. Ritchie.

Meanwhile, several newspapers have come out in favor of the plan, including The New York Times, which calls it an "ingenious solution."

But in California, GOP Assemblyman Chuck DeVore derisively refers to the proposal as a way to "amend the Constitution without amending the Constitution."

"It's like cheating," says Mr. DeVore, who predicts that the plan would force candidates to campaign primarily in urban areas with large populations to win the popular vote.

Under the current system "we discourage regional candidacies and basically force people who are running for president to have a message that resonates with the vast middle of America," he says.

DeVore supports a system that would allocate some of a state's electoral votes based on the popular vote in congressional districts, an approach that exists in Nebraska and Maine. All other states and the District of Columbia award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in their state.

It takes 270 electoral votes out of 538 total votes in the college to win the presidency. That total equals the number of members each state has in both houses of Congress, with the District of Columbia getting three of its own.

The electoral college system is "distinctly American," says Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside.

But the proposed system would have another idiosyncrasy: Electors, typically faithful party members, could be forced to cast votes for the opposing party. "You'll be asking dyed-in-the-wool Democrats to vote for Republicans, and that's not going to go down well," Mr. Bowler says.

In US history, there have been about 700 failed proposals in Congress to change the electoral college system, according to the Office of the Federal Register.

"It's safe to say that there has been no aspect of what the founders worked up in Philadelphia that has received more criticism than the electoral college," says historian Rick Shenkman of George Mason University.

If any state approves this new proposal, legal challenges are inevitable, Bowler says.

Copyright © 2006 The Christian Science Monitor